The introduction of the all-new Jeep Grand Cherokee represents a bold move by DaimlerChrysler. The 2005 Grand Cherokee is not a Jeep from the tradition of American Motors, but rather a Jeep from the Mercedes-Benz tradition, with a little Dodge Magnum attitude thrown in.
You can't mistake it for anything but a Jeep. Yet its proportions are completely different from before, with more steel and less glass, a laid-back windshield, the trademark giant wheel well flares, and a slickly angular body without the cladding of the previous generations; just one small spear. The D-pillar has been laid forward, which cuts into cargo space, but it sure looks cool. It's got a replaceable chin spoiler on it, and it looks mean. Inside, it's got nearly 70 cubic feet of storage and three modern, if not brand-new, powerplants.
Interior materials are dramatically improved over the previous model's, which left much to be desired. The atmosphere inside the new Grand Cherokee is light, comfortable, and more enveloping than the previous model, more bolted in than hanging on from the driver's perspective, with lots of seat adjustment, excellent outward vision around the relatively slim posts, and all the switches and controls clearly labeled and easy to find and use.
For the first time, a Jeep can be married to the engine that put Chrysler back on the map, the 5.7-liter Hemi. It's particularly good for towing or driving at higher elevations. However, we found the 4.7-liter V8 worked great. The standard V6 is a vast improvement over Jeep's old inline-6. A new suspension gives the Grand Cherokee much better handling, leaning less in corners, along with better ride quality. Its turning radius is tighter, too, good when driving off road or in crowded parking lots.
Jeep engineers have come up with a larger, edgier and more macho SUV with an engine that's among the most powerful in the segment. This is after years of being afflicted with old, weak engines and saddled with a small cargo compartment.
Jeep Grand Cherokee comes in two models, Laredo and Limited. The basic Laredo comes standard with a 210-horsepower 3.7-liter V6 and a five-speed overdrive automatic transmission. A 4.7-liter V8 or 5.7-liter Hemi V8 is available for both Laredo and Limited. Both V8s come with a five-speed automatic; both come with two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive.
The Laredo ($26,130) comes with air conditioning, 17-inch tires and wheels, an eight-way power driver's seat, AM/FM/CD changer, a driver information center, 60/40 split folding rear seat, and remote keyless entry. Laredo 4x4 models ($28,100) come with Quadra-Trac I full-time four-wheel drive.
The Limited ($31,455) adds the 4.7-liter V8 engine and larger capacity automatic transmission, power adjustable floor pedals with memory, rain-sensing wipers, adjustable roof rails, eight-way power passenger seat, leather upholstery and trim (optional on the Laredo), HomeLink, MP3 capability for the entertainment system, Boston Acoustics premium sound with 276 watts of power, and adjustable roof rails. Limited 4x4 ($34,045) gets the Quadra-Trac II drive system.
Standard safety features include front smart air bags with four levels of deployment, brake-controlled traction control, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes (ABS), and a tire-pressure monitoring system. Side curtain air bags are optional.
A Dynamic Handling System (DHS) is available as part of the Quadra-Drive II 4x4 system on late-2005 Hemi models. DHS reduces body roll, or lean, when cornering, resulting in sportier handling. An Electronic Stability Program (ESP) is also available, and comes packaged with the Hemi.
Options include GPS navigation built into the radio ($1,200), a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, a trailer tow package ($255), Boston Acoustics audio, UConnect hands-free communication system ($275), Smart Beam headlamps that sense the available natural light and adjust accordingly, and rear park assist ($1,200). The traditional Off-Road package ($420) with tow hooks is available, along with chromed alloy wheels, and an engine block heater for winter trekking. Side curtain air bags are also available for the first time on Grand Cherokee.
The Grand Cherokee is 4 inches longer in wheelbase, about 6 inches longer overall, and 2.5 inches wider in track than the previous model, so it will be more stable in both on- and off-road situations.
The all-new Grand Cherokee is built in Detroit using a new steel uniframe construction, a close marriage of a welded steel unit body and underlying front and rear modules, a completely different approach from the new body-on-frame Durango, so although its inside volume and overall size are both similar to the Dodge's, this Jeep is not a clone of the Durango, but a unibody Jeep design through and through.
Laredo models come with a body-colored grille, Limited models with a chromed grille.
Just about everything on the inside of the Grand Cherokee is new, with a new two-tone dark-over-light-over-dark instrument panel and door trims, with new grains, materials and finishes that are generally much richer and better looking than the previous Jeep interior materials roster, which were not particularly good.
We found the seats to be larger and cushier than any previous Jeep seat, with supportive contours and more seat track travel, always important for us tall guys. On top of the travel and legroom increments, there's also increased headroom that adds the feeling of extra space to the interior.
The instrument panel has no more of that pasted-together black-plastic of the last generation, but is a real, cohesive interior design with a nice combination of shiny plated parts, matte-finish plated parts, and a first-rate instrument layout. A new four-gauge instrument cluster with LED illumination has black gauges with brilliant red pointers. On the Limited model, the gauges are surrounded by chrome rings.
The cargo area features a reversible load floor panel that flips over on itself to create a shallow container, for more versatility in the rear storage compartment. As a system, the new interior is far better organized, more light in feeling and color, and altogether more roomy than the previous version, which had been around since 1993.
To be honest, we didn't like the old Grand Cherokee very much, because we never thought it was very grand. It was small inside, with a dark, confusing interior, too much plastic, really cheap seats, and not much cargo space, but always fun off-road. This new Grand Cherokee erases all the bad stuff about the old version, but keeps the mountain-goat-like off-road performance, finally becoming grand in the process.
The basic Laredo comes standard with the Chrysler-made 210-horsepower single-overhead-cam 3.7-liter V6, borrowed from its sister trucks, the Jeep Liberty and Dodge Ram, with its own five-speed overdrive automatic transmission. The 3.7 replaces the tired, old 4-liter inline six engine that was in the last Grand Cherokee and was a relic from American Motors' inventory of 25 years ago (still used in the Wrangler). The V6 gets an EPA-rated 16/21 mpg City/Highway, while the V8s get 14/21. Both automatics feature the Chrysler/Mercedes-Benz manual override function for the automatic transmission.
The 4.7-liter V8 engine in our test truck was terrific. We don't want to undersell the power and torque of the Hemi, but this smaller, slightly less thirsty V8 engine was a paragon of power and smoothness for around-town and highway driving if you don't live in the mountains and don't usually tow anything, where the Hemi would be best suited. It has a broad torque band, a lovely sound, and an electronic throttle control (drive-by-wire) that's comfortable and easy to use and very precise in those tricky downhill off-road situations. Both V8 engines get a heavy-duty five-speed automatic transmission with a direct fourth gear for towing.
The Hemi engine in the Jeep features automatic cylinder deactivation, which shuts down four of the engine's cylinders whenever it detects a steady-state cruise condition, and reactivates them on demand, for up to 20 percent additional fuel economy.
The new independent front suspension system, used on both 2WD and 4WD models works beautifully and is some 100 pounds lighter than the old suspension. It's coupled with new lighter, more compact and more precise power rack-and-pinion steering that's reasonably quick and accurate, and nicely weighted. There's plenty of understeer dialed into the handling, good for a vehicle this tall and this heavy where you don't want directional changes to happen too quickly. There seemed to be a more flatfooted, glued-down attitude with this big Jeep, with far less body roll than the previous model, which had a bit of body roll built into it that paid some comfort dividends off-road. This one is just as comfortable on- and off-road without it.
Front suspension travel is increased by almost 10 percent over the previous Grand Cherokee, and the new steering geometry yields a tighter turning circle, which counts heavily off road. A new five-link rear suspension combined with the new steering and new front suspension produced a boulevard ride, and cornering prowess, like no other Jeep in history, an enormous improvement. We don't usually go around flinging 4500-pound SUVs into corners, but this one invited a little bad behavior, which was very rewarding within the limits of its tires. We can only imagine what a Hemi version with DHS and ESP would be like.
The Grand Cherokee chassis is much stiffer and stronger than the previous version, with nary a squeak or a rattle in our short experience with it.
Tow ratings for the Grand Cherokee are 3,500 pounds for the 3.7-liter engine, 6,500 pounds for the 4.7-liter V8, 7,200 pounds for the 5.7-liter Hemi.
Four-wheel-drive systems vary by packaging and come with confusing names and complicated mechanical differences. If you order a V6 4WD, you will have a Quadra-Track I single-speed, full-time four-wheel-drive system called NV140, which uses electronic clutches in the center differential to pass out torque to the four tires as needed for best traction. No switch
Based on brief driving sessions, we have to put the Grand Cherokee right in the thick of the battle for supremacy in this class. It looks wonderful, exactly as it should, like a Jeep. It's powerful and quiet at the same time. It has the best name in the business to trade on, good space efficiency for what it is, plenty of power with a choice of two big engines. It has more standard equipment and more kinds of optional equipment than any previous Jeep, which should make it more attractive to more people and hence, more competitive. It looks new and traditional at the same time. If the Jefferson North Plant can build these with the kind of quality levels the market is demanding now, the Grand Cherokee should be a welcome addition to Chrysler/Jeep showrooms and customer garages.
Reporting from Santa Barbara, California, was New Car Test Drive correspondent Jim McCraw.
|Model Line Overview |
|Base Price (MSRP) |
|Model lineup: |
|Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo 4x2 ($26,130); Laredo 4x4 ($28,100); Limited 4x2 ($31,455); Limited 4x4 ($34,045); Laredo 4x4 Hemi ($37,215) |
|210-hp 3.7-liter sohc 12-valve V6; 235-hp 4.7-liter sohc 16-valve V8, 330-hp 5.7-liter sohc 16-valve V8 |
|5-speed automatic overdrive |
|Safety equipment (Standard): |
|ABS, front airbags |
|Safety equipment (Optional): |
|side curtain air bags |
|Basic warranty: |
|3 years/36,000 miles |
|Assembled in: |
|Detroit, Michigan |
|Specifications As Tested |
|Model tested (MSRP): |
|Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo V8 4X4 ($28,100) |
|Standard equipment: |
|air conditioning, eight-way power driver's seat, AM/FM/CD changer, driver information center, 60/40 split folding rear seat, remote keyless entry, power windows, power mirrors, power locks, eight-way power seats, 17-inch tires and wheels |
|Options as tested: |
|Navigation ($1200), ParkSense ($1200), trailer tow ($255) |
|Destination charge: |
|Gas Guzzler Tax: |
|Price as tested (MSRP) |
|four-wheel drive |
|4.7-liter sohc 16-valve V8 |
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm): |
|230 @ 4600 |
|Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm): |
|295 @ 3600 |
|5-speed automatic overdrive |
|EPA fuel economy, city/hwy: |
|16/21 mpg. |
|186.6/73.3/67.7 in. |
|109.5 in. |
|Track, f/r: |
|62.0/62.0 in. |
|Turning circle: |
|37.1 ft. |
|Seating capacity: |
|Head/hip/leg room, f: |
|39.7/57.6/41.7 in. |
|Head/hip/leg room, m: |
|Head/hip/leg room, r: |
|39.3/60.6/35.5 in. |
|Cargo volume: |
|67.4 cu. ft. |
|Towing capacity: |
|6500 lbs. |
|Suspension F: |
|Suspension R: |
|live axle |
|Ground clearance: |
|8.0 in. |
|Curb weight: |
|4613 lbs. |
|P235/65R17 Goodyear Wrangler HP |
|Brakes, f/r: |
|disc/disc with ABS in. |
|Fuel capacity: |
|20.5 gal. |