by Jim Bennett
Jeep products have been around before the SUV era began. The Cherokee and Grand Cherokee have sold a significant share of units and contributed greatly to the revenue generating capacity of Chrysler at $16,000 to $35,000 a copy.
The newly introduced Grand Cherokee is an evolutionary redesign of a proven formula. It's a personal and versatile vehicle that commands a loyal following in this highly competitive segment. It's brawny good looks and 4 liter straight 6 cylinder engine provides adequate all-around power with good on road and occasional off-road flexibility.
The vehicle ride seems to have been improved a bit, but still may be uncomfortable for some on rough roads. Handling and cornering still seem to be "works in progress", which were hard to evaluate in LA traffic. Other SUVs offer better handling and stability.
Drivers who are tall, like myself, will find seat adjustments very limited. When finally made all the adjustments, the steering wheel and air bag were much too close to me. This needs be corrected immediately.
In the era of inexpensive gasoline, the addition of the new 4.7 liter V-8 engine coupled to a five speed automatic transmission will be a welcome addition for many. This potent combination makes the Grand Cherokee one of the fastest SUVs available.
During the limited test drive, I found the V-8 was a blast to drive and it did have audible engine noise. It eagerly attacked any steep road I put in front of it. The transmission worked in concert with the engine's demands to seek out optimum horsepower and torque points. This will be of great benefit during towing situations and in hilly or mountainous terrain. Handling was capable for the most part, but not as refined as other, more car-like SUVs.
Interior design and appointments were satisfactory apart from the serious lack of drivers front seat adjustments. Engine and road noise as masked well as can be expected and this vehicle seems to divide its strengths between on road and off-road applications. Fuel economy, comfort and refinement are some of the trade-offs in a powerful SUV.
Dated: May 1999