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