Another in a series of my reviews that appeared in the online version of African Americans On Wheels, a now defunct automotive magazine that was included as an insert in the Sunday newspapers of major cities.
While many in my wife’s family swear by Toyotas, possessing a Jeep Grand Cherokee, however, declares, “I’ve made it!” My brother-in-law and his wife leased the first family Grand Cherokee in 1998, and made sure everyone knew it. They told us when my other sister-in-law saw it for the first time, she cried because she and her husband could never afford such a nice vehicle (she didn’t). My father-in-law leased one a couple of years later. “He’s trying to compete with me!” complained my BIL. Finally, shortly after his wedding in 2011, my wife’s other brother purchased – not leased – the all new Grand Cherokee in the lower-spec Laredo trim, but loaded to the gills to the tune of roughly $35,000. “He can’t afford a $35,000 car,” I thought. And the junior electrician and his elementary school teacher bride, who was saddled with a ton of student loan debt, really couldn’t. But it didn’t matter. They wanted the world to know they had arrived and, damnit, the dealer said they could afford it.
As much I liked the Grand Cherokee, I appear to be missing the “Gotta have it” gene. However, thanks to the GC and the Wrangler, Jeep is now pretty much the only truly worthwhile brand in the FCA….er….Stallantis portfolio. And, in case you missed it, the SUV fad has had tremendous staying power.
The below review was originally posted on January 18, 1999.
Bell bottoms. Pet rocks. Junk bond trading. Fads come and go, but it’s nice to see a fad that produces a vehicle as useful and practical as the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
The Grand Cherokee has been completely redesigned, and while the look is decidedly evolutionary, only 127 parts were carried over from the previous model. Offered in Laredo and up-market Limited trim, the new model is a little longer, wider, taller, and rounder with an entirely new interior. Jeep’s engineers thankfully lowered the step-in height by an inch for a more respectable entry/exit.
Powering our Limited was the new optional 235 horsepower, 4.7 liter V8 engine, an all-new engine that replaces last year’s 5.2 and 5.9 liter V8s. Although smaller, the new engine provides plenty of power while getting marginally better gas mileage than either of the previous V8s (gas mileage remains marginal, however, at 15 city/19 highway). The tried-and-true 4.0 liter inline six remains standard.
To maintain Jeep’s legendary off-road ability, the Limited comes with the Quadra Trac II full-time four-wheel drive system, which transfers power to the front wheels if it senses a loss of traction. Floor it on a wet road, and all four wheels grab like claws. A new option is the exclusive Quadra Drive system, which can transfer power to the left or right wheels. This means that if only one wheel has traction, all power will go to that wheel to get errant drivers and adventurers out of the stickiest binds. Its short 181.5-inch length and tight 37.5-inch turning radius gives the Grand Cherokee outstanding maneuverability.
The price for this prowess is a relatively harsh ride and high noise level on paved roads. Handling is above average, but you still must take turns much slower than you would in a car. Taller adults will find rear knee room tight, but the seat folds flat for a respectable 72 cubic feet of cargo room. The spare tire has finally been moved to under the cargo floor.
The new Grand Cherokee can deservedly be called a true Jeep, and it will assuredly live on long after the SUV fad has passed.
For more information contact 1-800-925-JEEP
Type:Four-door Sport-Utility Vehicle
Engine: 235-horsepower, 4.7 liter V8
EPA Mileage:15 city/19 highway
In 1998 we rented a first generation ZJ Grand Cherokee for a week’s vacation in upstate New York and New England. I had test driven a couple of GC’s three years earlier, including a rare 5 speed manual version, before buying our 80 Series Land Cruiser. I really enjoyed the on road comfort, performance (4.0 six) and especially fuel economy of the Jeep, but found its interior room and ride quality on a stretch of washboard gravel road I tried, far inferior to the larger Toyota. But the most annoying design flaw after living with it for a week, was the third brake light, which I hadn’t noticed on my brief test drives.
It was fixed to the upper rear headliner, not to the liftgate, with a sharp plastic bezel that angled acutely towards the opening, to fit flush against the glass when closed. That same angle was perfectly aimed to slice a bloody chunk out of my scalp each time I reached inside to extract some luggage or kid’s gear. I’m a slow learner, and did this multiple times. When the new WJ, as tested here, was released, I immediately noticed that the third brake light now was attached to the liftgate and hinged out of the way. Aside from personal safety, the relocation of even the small light housing significantly increased the useful access to the rear load space. Good move Jeep.
Leasing means you cant afford it, Very hard to see the appeal of these Grand Cherokee their values plummet once they leave the showroom here and reliability is marginal at best a friend bought one for his wife but just cant keep enough petrol in it when it runs it goes ok he reckons but it cant get past a petrol station, should have got the diesel model instead too late now its worth nothing as a trade in and thats the problem @ $10 per gallon nobody wants a Jeep.
It has been said many times before on this site, but the Grand Cherokee really is one of the very few vehicles that is viewed as a safe choice on the social status spectrum by people from virtually all walks of life. The contemporary Ford Explorer was another such vehicle, and I had a 1991 Explorer that offered plenty of room for passengers and cargo but fell far behind the Jeep on most other measures, including ride, handling, overall maneuverability and apparently 4WD capability. When shopping for an Explorer replacement, I personally liked this second generation GC, but we ultimately went with a Volvo V70 wagon because it was more spacious inside and returned far better fuel economy and it was what my wife really wanted.
My SIL and hr husband bought a used prior gen GC as their first car, not long after they were married, precisely for status reasons, as they were the ultimate non-outdoorsy types. Lived in San Mateo, never went into nature. It was all about status. Black; polished or chromed wheels.
That GC was a total POS; an endless stream of issues. It cost them a lot of money. But it must have been worth it for all the status it bought them.
Fortunately, their Grand Cherokee turned out to be one of the good ones and they still have it. His wife recently had a small accident and just wants to just trade it in rather than repair it. With their newborn, they can’t all ride in it together with the rear-facing child seat (they’re big people). If they do go in that direction, I’m not sure how exactly they’ll pull THAT off since my BIL just leased a $55,000 RAM. They wanted to buy the RAM, but they couldn’t afford the $1,000-per-month payments, so they decided to lease it to bring the price down to something they could afford in 3 years.
At least he’s now a supervising electrician!
I briefly had one of these. It was a 2000 limited 2wd with the 4.0. It was given to me as a trade for some work I did on a guys house. It was 4 years old when I got it and I was well aware of the reliability issues these were known for. But the 2 things I loved about it was the soft super comfortable leather seats and the soft padded dash. I kept it about 6 months and then used it as a trade in on a new Tahoe. On the way to the dealership to look at the Tahoe’s, the transmission slipped twice. It was a nerve racking experience when the dealer took it for a test drive to appraise it for trade in. I guess the transmission acted fine for him because I got a fair offer on it and it was gone!
To quote Sheryl Crow, If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad… 🙂
People spend their money on all kinds of things that only return pleasure to themselves. But as long as it does that for them, then I guess it did the job it was acquired to perform. It probably pleased the dealer too, come to think of it, so that’s two birds! 🙂
We had a 1998 Explorer V8 AWD at this time and I do not recall even looking at the Jeep, can’t recall why not exactly. Not that we had any particular real need for a V8 Explorer either but at least it was affordable for us at the time.
My sole experience with this generation is that the Realtor we purchased our first dwelling from owned one and it was perfectly fine for traversing the smoothly paved wilds of the Dublin/Pleasanton/San Ramon tri-city area that we were searching in.
Well, that and they are thick as fleas in the Mopar section of the junkyards so they did appear to sell extremely well!
IIRC, this generation had some serious reliability issues. Which continues the Sheryl Crow reference nicely, as the next line is “…then why the hell are you so sad?”
IIRC both this and the previous generation had a marked tendency to generate black dots in CR’s reliability stats.
There seemed to be an inertia of “prestige” that came with the previous generation ZJ Grand Cherokees, as a successor to the Wagoneer, but this generation pretty much made everyone realize it was just another low rent Chrysler, and just another SUV to look at, not the gold standard of the segment – they still sold a ton, but it wasn’t really a status symbol at this point. The styling didn’t help, this late 90s trend of trying to eradicate the last remnants of boxy (the 97 F150 being the most notable example) made these really dated, and their depreciation was rapid.
I brought my Mother’s ’95 GC home a few days ago to prepare it for sale as she has handed in her keys. While a little later than ideal, I’m happy she was able to make the decision on her own.
My neighbor had the subject car generation for a long time, so I recognize a lot of similarities between the generations. For the price, I’d agree they are noisy, rough riding and cramped in the backseat with a tall driver. My neighbor was a lady in her 50s when she bought hers new, replacing a Camry. Her husband said she had been Jonesing for one for years. He had a Tahoe, I’m not sure her car even saw snow very often, it was always in the garage.
My Mother could probably justify her choice, she lived in the steep Iowa Loess Hills, had to travel several miles of gravel to get to her house, and faced 6 months of risk of snow, ice and thaw mud. She lived on an acreage, the the ability of the car to off-road to three buildings on the land accessed over steep grass embankments did show off its capabilities.
She bought it used in 1999 with 46,333 on it according to the title. With just short of 158,000 miles, I suppose it is nearing the end of its driving career along with my mom. As a low option Laredo with the 6, it served her fairly well.
Cleaning it up last night, I had to admire it a bit. For always being parked outside, the paint borders on amazing. It has strong lines that I like, and its relatively compact size does not really stand out next to our 2016 Fusion. It has a size and stance that a lot of people leaving sedans obviously found comfortable enough to transition into in the ’90s.
If anyone has hints on how to get gravel dust off tires, I’d appreciate them!
This second generation of the GC was still a common sight on our roads. The owner of a (classic) Jeep shop nearby had one. All black, tinted windows, immensely fat on-road tires and with the 3.1 liter VM Motori turbodiesel under its hood, an inline-5.
Throughout the last three decades, VM Motori 4-, 5- and 6-cylinder engines were used in Jeeps for our market (2.5, 2.8, 3.1 and 3.0 liter displacement).
From what I recall about the 90s SUV craze of my youth, Explorers were trendy, 4Runners and Pathfinders were cool, but the Grand Cherokee was the “it” car. It seems like you had to splurge for an Eddie Bauer Explorer before you could approach the status of a base Laredo GC.
Aside from the unfortunate third generation, Jeep’s been quite successful in maintaining the upscale image throughout the years. I really like the way this one looks, very clean and subtly expensive in appearance, without the overt blockiness of the first generation. The current GC is very similar in appearance. Anyone know how he current ones are holding up?
The Grand Cherokee (and their unreliability) were immortalized in the excellent 1997 movie Breakdown with Kurt Russell and Kathleen Quinlan.
Here’s the movie in clip form from Movieclips.
Yeah, but IIRC that GC was sabotaged at a gas station. In the movie, I mean 🙂
You’re right. For those that never saw the film, the name of the movie and the imagery of the Jeep in the marketing probably did enough to associate the Jeep with unreliability.
Let’s not forget that it was this generation of Grand Cherokees that nearly broke Chrysler. They overstated the retained value of these leased vehicles in order to get them off the lot and get some cash flow. When they were turned in three years later, the real value was so far below the inventory value that the balance sheet became a major disaster. Stock prices plummeted and cash was very short. The inventory write-offs were more than substantial.
I had a ’93 Grand Cherokee, and by mid ’99, it had a lot of miles on it, and it was time for it to go. I took a ’99 GC Laredo on a very short test drive, and bought it. That short test drive taught me a lesson, never take anything you haven’t driven before on a short test drive. Within a month, I came to just hate it. The seat killed my back, the steering wheel was offset just a tiny bit more than I could tolerate, and I had to duck my head down to see traffic lights much of the time. We paid the loan down as fast as we could, and then we went on long test drives of both the 2000 Ram and 2000 Chevy/GMC half ton trucks. I liked the Ram itself better than the GM trucks, but in 2000, the only engines available were the beyond tired 318 and 360, so we went with the GMC Sierra. My only complaints/problems with it were the rear ABS issues that GM refused to acknowledge, and the lifter noise on startup that GM claimed was “Carbon”. Carbon my ass. When the Sierra got wrecked and it became obvious that it was never to be right again, I traded it for a 2003 Ram, which I loved and still miss.
I had a 93 ZJ Limited with the 5.8 v8.
that one was worth owning.
the later ones with any .7 engine were junk when they were built.