Some things sound just too good to be true. That pop-up that says “Click Here to claim your free iPad!” Or an e-mail from a “Nigerian Prince” wanting to deposit $20,000 into your bank account if give him your account information. But then some things come along that truly are good. Take my mom’s 1994 Jeep Grand Cherokee; a Toyota owner and hesitant of American cars, her experience with it was so good, that it completely changed her opinion of them… at least temporarily.
I was a year old in 1994 when my mom made a decisive purchase: a brand-new Jeep Grand Cherokee. What made this car so different from the previous ones she had owned was that: 1) it was an SUV and 2) it was an American car. Mom’s 1st car had been a used orange Fiat 124 Sport Spider convertible. That was followed by a new and more practical early ’80s Datsun 200SX, a new 1987 Toyota Camry DX, and a new 1991 Toyota Camry LE. But the ’90s had arrived and by the time I was born in ’93, and America was entering an exciting age of peace, prosperity, and low gas prices.
So it was only natural that she went ahead and purchased a new SUV. As a new mother, the increased ride height, size, and 4WD proved an added sense of safety, especially in the New England winters. The handsome styling, along with the classic “Jeep” name (and not to mention all the positive publicity at the time) sealed the deal on a navy-blue 1994 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo (photographed by yours truly above circa 1998).
In 1994, Laredo was the mid-level Grand Cherokee trim, bookended by the rare base SE model and the gold-trimmed Limited. Externally, gray lower body cladding, 15-inch 5-spoke alloys, and accent-colored body-side stripes differentiated Laredos from other models. Laredos came pretty well equipped with power windows and locks, AM/FM cassette, air conditioning, four-speed automatic, and a 4.0 inline-six making 190 horses. Mom’s Jeep also had the optional overhead console and tinted windows. The cloth seats were much plusher than the cloth in today’s Laredos.
As I grew older and my car awareness heightened around age 3, I wished she had purchased the Limited with its monochromatic appearance, gold pin striping and wheels, and leather seats. I still love the look of the ZJ Limited’s, especially the ’93-‘95 models. But the Grand Cherokee was no bargain in 1994, with the base SE 2WD starting at $21,256 ($32,930 in 2013 dollars) and Limiteds going for $29,743 ($46,078 adjusted); so a mid-level Laredo was perfectly acceptable. Regardless, the ’94 Grand Cherokee has been my favorite of the cars my mom has owned (at least up until her ’07 BMW)
The Jeep was quite a capable vehicle. Growing up in a house with four adults, the Jeep was my family’s vehicle of choice for journeys of any length that involved all five of us. It was also great for hauling three friends and me around on play dates. I always thought it was way cooler to be seen in the Jeep than the Caravans, Taurii, and Volvo wagons driven by most of my friends’ parents.
Basically trouble-free for the five years my mom owned it, the Grand Cherokee was an overall happy experience for my mom. So much that she decided to trade it in for a new one when the redesigned model came out for ’99. It’s a happy story that should’ve ended there; but the second Grand Cherokee was a complete disaster.
Being pressured by the dealer into leasing, thus loosing the trade in value she had consistently accumulated from every vehicle she owned, didn’t start things off well. But that was just the tip of the iceberg. From loose interior pieces falling off, to ongoing brake problems, the second Grand Cherokee was a reliability nightmare. Upon abruptly trading it in for a 2004 Toyota Highlander, my mom vowed never to buy another Chrysler product ever again. Her experience with the second Jeep essentially ended any positive attitude she had about American cars in general.