Of all the used car reviews I’ve produced, writing about a used Jeep Grand Cherokee has proven the most vexing. Why? Because, over its many decades of existence, the Grand Cherokee has been described as both brilliantly capable and maddeningly unreliable. It has as many loyal fans who swear by it as it does disgruntled first-time buyers.
The Grand Cherokee is both a near-luxury SUV and a tenacious off-road warrior. It has numerous iterations in between these two extremes running the gamut from a simple 2-wheel drive grocery getter to a tire-scorching 707-horsepower lightning bolt on wheels. The Grand Cherokee is not the most spacious SUV in its category, nor the most fuel-efficient. Its cargo space is modest, its suspension soft at times and it can be a pain in the backside to work on. Yet, for all its flaws, a used Grand Cherokee remains an SUV that rides and handles better than most of its competition. It also offers luxury and safety features ahead of its time. Overall, it qualifies as one of the best off-road SUVs money can buy.
Which Jeep Grand Cherokee Should I Buy?
Although the first Jeep Grand Cherokee came into existence way back in 1993, we’re going to condense the first two generations into a few simple sentences. If you’re looking at anything this old, we’re going to assume it’s either as a second vehicle for off-road customization or you need an SUV and have a limited budget. If the answer is the latter, don’t do it.
A Grand Cherokee more than 20 years old is going to come with many miles and potential issues. Like the man-eating plant in “Little Shop of Horrors,” it will devour what little budget you have left in the bank and still demand more. The first generation (1993-98) and the second (1999-2004) are similar in size and appearance. But, the second generation offered more engine options as well as the superior Quadra-Drive 4×4 system that allowed for full-time 4-wheel drive.
Both generations used solid front and rear axles, which are great for off-roading but not so great for ride comfort or handling. Engines included the 4.0-liter inline-6, 5.9-liter V8 (first gen) and later a 4.7-liter V8. While all three of these engines offered solid performance and good longevity, issues around other equipment such as transmissions, rear axles, transfer cases and suspension parts figure prominently in the Grand Cherokee’s poor reliability ratings. Also troubling are early Chrysler engine electrical and computer control systems, which can be difficult to diagnose and even more difficult when it comes to finding certain replacement parts.
2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee
The next Grand Cherokee launched in 2005 and was given the model designation WK. Designed after Daimler’s takeover of Chrysler in 1998, it featured better engineering, hardier 4×4 systems and improved build quality. The solid axles gave way to an independent front suspension that improved ride quality and handling without sacrificing off-road capability. Engines included a 210-hp 3.7-liter V6, 215-hp 3.0-liter turbodiesel, 235-hp 4.7-liter V8 and a 330-hp 5.7-liter Hemi V8. Although at the time the Grand Cherokee was priced competitively with other SUVs, it offered a host of options that put it in the near-luxury category.
Included in the mix were heated leather seats, a high-end audio system, GPS navigation, HID headlights and driver aids like rear parking sensors. The styling was a bit angular and rather dull by today’s standards, but the familiar Jeep grille was still there to set the record straight. The Grand Cherokee also included an easily removable lower front bumper cover to improve approach angles when off-roading. The interior grew larger, but this Jeep’s rear seat was still snug compared to many of its competitors. Over its five-year run, the 3rd-generation Grand Cherokee saw a number of firsts, including the first offering of a diesel engine and the first high-performance SRT model featuring a 415-hp 6.1-liter Hemi engine. By the end of its model run, Jeep also increased the hp on its 5.7 and 6.1-liter V8s to 357 and 420, respectively.
A look at the Autotrader.com classifieds shows a wide range of possible prices. A 2006 Grand Cherokee Laredo 2WD with less than 120,000 miles sells in the $5,000-$7,000 range, while a 2010 Limited 4×4 V8 model with around 75,000 miles might sell on a dealer’s lot for between $10,000-$13,000. A private party sale will be less.
The 4th-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee
The 4th-generation Grand Cherokee (WK2) arrived in 2011 and continued for nearly 10 years right up to the 2020 model. That’s a long run for any vehicle, so in order to keep this SUV competitive, Jeep made a number of improvements and upgrades over the run. If you’re looking to buy a used Grand Cherokee, this is the model you want. This version of the Grand Cherokee shared a number of its advanced engineering techniques with the Mercedes-Benz ML, although contrary to popular belief, it was the Benz that borrowed from the Jeep, not the other way around. Jeep built the Grand Cherokee with an emphasis on luxury, power, off-road ability and safety.
The result was one of the most highly awarded SUVs ever built, pulling in impressive crash test and safety scores from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as well as numerous accolades from off-road and outdoor magazines. The only organizations that weren’t thrilled by this Jeep were the consumer groups that tracked long-term quality and reliability. Said issues aside, the Jeep offered a number of impressive features. These include a 4-wheel independent suspension with an available air suspension that could lift the Grand Cherokee 11 inches off the ground. Also optional was Selec-Terrain, a multimode system with settings for Sport, Rock, Sand, Mud and Snow.
Under the hood, 290-hp 3.6-liter V6 was standard, with the 360-hp 5.7-liter Hemi V8 optional. The V6 was a pretty stout engine and had more than enough power for rapid acceleration, towing and off-roading plus got pretty good fuel economy. The SRT also returned this time around, only now with a 470-hp 6.4-liter Hemi V8. After 2014, a 240-hp 3.0-liter diesel V6 that got 28 miles per gallon on the highway was added to the mix. The diesel was dropped for the 2020 model. The ultimate absurdity occurred in 2018 when the 707-hp supercharged 6.2.-liter V8 was dropped into the Trackhawk trim, giving Jeep an SUV variant of the hot-selling Dodge Charger Hellcat. Three 4WD systems were offered. Quadra-Trac I was a simple full-time AWD system with no hi-lo transfer case. Quadra-Trac II added a 2-speed transfer case while Quadra-Drive II was always active and added an electronic rear limited-slip differential.
This generation is the most luxurious and technically advanced of all the Grand Cherokees. Over the model years, Jeep added such desirable options as a dual-pane sunroof, Harman Kardon audio, ventilated front seats and, on the Overland trims, driver aids such as adaptive cruise control,lane-departure warning, forward-collision warning and braking, rear cross-traffic alert and blind spot monitoring. Pricing for early models with low mileage is really quite reasonable considering the content. A 2013 Grand Cherokee Overland V6 4×4 with 80,000 miles sells in the $15,000 range, while a newer 2018 Grand Cherokee Limited 4×4 V6 with around 45,000 can be had for around $25,000.
Is the Jeep Grand Cherokee a good off-road vehicle?
Absolutely. The Grand Cherokee was designed to be a comfortable, luxurious SUV on-road and a capable, rugged SUV off-road. The WJ, WK and WK2 series have more advanced off-road systems that make them nearly the equal of more expensive SUVs like the Land Rover Discovery and Toyota Land Cruiser, albeit on a smaller scale.
How much can a Jeep Grand Cherokee Tow?
How much a Grand Cherokee can tow depends on the year and engine. In almost all cases, the Grand Cherokee’s towing abilities will best that of a similar year competitor like the Toyota Highlander or Nissan Xterra. The second generation can tow up to 6,500 pounds, the WK up to 7,500 and the WK2 up to 7,200 pounds with the gas engine. It can tow up to 7,400 with the diesel.
Does the Jeep Grand Cherokee offer a 3rd-row seat?
No. The Grand Cherokee never offered the option of a 3rd-row seat. It was just too small. However, if you’re looking for a 3-row Jeep with the same engines and 4×4 systems, the short-lived 2005-2010 Jeep Commander will probably work just fine.
What Are Some Known Issues With the Jeep Grand Cherokee?
Across all four generations, there are numerous issues with the Jeep Grand Cherokee. All have lengthy recall and TSB histories, so be sure to check the NHTSA.gov website for any recalls associated with your model year. Among the more common issues with the 1st-generation GC are paint and rust issues, electrical problems and leaks from the axles and transfer case. The 2nd-generation WJ suffered interior issues with the A/C system blend doors sticking and steering wheel clock spring (the part inside the steering wheel that allows all the steering-wheel-mounted controls to work).
There are also issues with the 4.7-liter engine, broken radiators and difficulties with stalling and starting. The WK has a number of problems, mostly in the first few years (2011-2013). They revolve around poorly performing transmissions, engine stalling, various electrical gremlins and the need for numerous software upgrades. From looking at Jeep forums and various rating sites, its seems the Grand Cherokee’s most prominent problems occur shortly after a new version is launched. These issues lessen after about two years into production. This might suggest its best to buy the later model years of the generation you’re looking at.
How Does the Jeep Grand Cherokee Stack Up to the Competition?
Used Jeep Grand Cherokee vs. Ford Explorer
The Grand Cherokee is a better off-road vehicle, even though the early explorers used a body-on-frame design. The Explorer can seat more people and has a better track record for reliability, but pre-2011 Jeep Grand Cherokees ride and handle better. After 2011, the Explorer ditched the frame and moved to a unibody platform similar to the Grand Cherokee.
Used Jeep Grand Cherokee vs. Used Toyota 4Runner
The 4Runner is superior to the Grand Cherokee in just about every aspect. It’s a tough off-roader, has superior reliability, longevity and resale stats, offers more interior room and has cool features like a roll-down rear hatch window. The 4Runner isn’t as quiet or luxurious as some Grand Cherokee trims, and it doesn’t handle as well. It also lacks the wide range of engines and 4×4 systems offered by the Jeep.
Used Jeep Grand Cherokee vs. Used Nissan Xterra
If you’re looking for an older, low-cost SUV, the 5-passenger Nissan Xterra makes a better choice. It’s pretty rugged and very off-road capable. Its 4.0-liter V6 is a powerhouse with a good reputation for longevity and minimal repair costs.
Used Jeep Grand Cherokee vs. Used Land Rover Discovery
The more luxurious trims of the most recent Jeep Grand Cherokee put it in direct competition with a number of Land Rovers, but most closely the Discovery. The Series 1-4 models are rugged, capable and luxurious, but like the Grand Cherokee, not terribly reliable.
Is the Jeep Grand Cherokee a Good Vehicle?
When it comes to comfort, features and off-road ability, the Grand Cherokee is a step ahead of most rivals. Regrettably, the Jeep’s problematic history of recalls, electrical glitches and overall frequency of repairs say it’s not for everyone.
If you’re a die-hard Jeep fan, capable of working on your own vehicle or don’t mind the occasional visit to the repair shop, then a Grand Cherokee will probably serve you well. It certainly is a good vehicle to have in places where snow is a frequent visitor. Newer models have some very nice luxury and infotainment systems considered among the best in the industry. Find a Jeep Grand Cherokee for sale.