It's not just a Cherokee. It's a Grand Cherokee. It's a four wheel drive off-road master for the streets. It's got the trail-rated badge, but the exterior design is rugged-elegant grocery hauler. It's got soccer mom and ski trip vehicle carved into the body panel dies. It has everyday creature comfort sewn into the interior.
It's that pretty Jeep that's been around for a long time, but really a very short time compared to the evolution of the Willy's wagons that started it all. It looks great outside with the chrome waterfall grille (unfortunately the one on our test ride was hidden in body color) and rounded square shape. It looks pretty good inside with current Chrysler Group design intelligence gracing controls and dash panels. A semi-rugged theme is portrayed inside, with flat, square lines forming door and dash panels. Most curvature is subtle, slight. The color is like dark sand.
Yet interior design is not something that seems to matter as much in this vehicle as it would in a luxury SUV or sedan. The beauty of the interior is not nearly at the level of the 300 and Magnum; yet, it is on par for a base level sport-ute in this price range.
The seats on our test ride were less than exciting - we remember Grand Cherokees for fairly plush seats with softer cloth coverings - this Grand Cherokee featured a cheaper number with stiffer foam and harsher seat covers. For a base level SUV this isn't bad but we've expected a bit more out of the Grand Cherokee in the past.
The ride is good - it is a refined off road warrior. Bumps are well-communicated to occupants, but the ride is far from tumultuous. Highway cruising is quite comfy, except when it gets really rough. An abundance of suspension travel makes speedbumps very exciting at 5 mph yet hardly noticeable at 20-30 mph...at least when the front half goes over. The Grand Cherokee handles pretty well, considering it is not a high performance SUV. The steering is relatively quick, and the turning radius is nice and tight.
The power of this V6 is good, leading to snappy acceleration and good movement uphills. A 3.7L block with a single chain-driven cam on each bank and a 9.6:1 compression ratio yields 210 horsepower at 5200 rpm and 235 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm. The off-the-line response is not too impressive, partially due to the 3.07:1 final drive ratio. This Grand Cherokee will not see much success as a rock crawler. But it will see success in pulling you up a mountain over rough terrain. It will see more than enough success in hauling kids and their toys and big kids and up to 3500 pounds (standard) of their big trailer-hauled toys - dirt bikes, jet skis, or maybe a spec Miata - to the beach or desert or wherever your weekend adventures take you.
The transmission is a decent, fairly basic unit with fine smoothness and slow kickdown. The choice of a 5-speed unit allowed the Grand Cherokee team to select a good low first gear (which is unfortunately countered on the V6 model with that tall rear end gear) and an overdrive 5th gear without sacrificing huge gaps between the middle gears. The W5A580 tranny also offers manual gear selection, which is a great gear holder for a variety of differt driving situations.
The suspension on the Grand Cherokee is great. It almost seems like they started with a very strong sedan platform, added suspension travel and stiffened the springs a bit but tuned the shocks perfectly. It rides softer than a typical truck, yet it is not wallowy. It handles bumps with much aplomb, absorbing the quick elevation changes easily as you drive quickly over them, or displays much of its vast suspension travel when you take a big bump at 5 mph...yeehaw! There is good dexterity in that suspension which spells offroad capability - hey, it's trail-rated, it's gotta be legit, right?
The steering was light and relatively quick and smooth - effective and drama free. Jeep knows that just because this thing can tackle mountains doesn't mean it has to steer like a stubborn mule.
Safety is ensured by the usual front airbag accomodations; front side airbags are offered, though some competitors do make this feature standard. Accident avoidence is boosted by both stability and traction control. Of course 4-wheel drive doesn't hurt either. You'd have to be doing something really silly to get this SUV to spin.
The Grand Cherokee is a more than basic 5-seater SUV, blending off-road prowess with everyday comforts. It is a family hauler with a good towing capacity, a comfortable passenger vehicle with a good package of electronic safety features, 4-wheel drive stability, and attention to design. It is accessible to the everyday driver while it is backed by Jeep's legendary all-terrain talents. It lets you do more - and comfortably - than most $32,000 automobiles. It's enough to satisfy the go-getter and the family guy/gal in you.