New Car/Review

The Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited, The Revolution of Evolution

by Larry Weitzman

Jeep
Daimler/Chrysler Full Line factory footage (39:14) 28.8, 56k or 200k Part 1 and 200k Part 2

The all new 1999 Grand Cherokee (GC) is a far cry from the original Jeep vehicle of World War Two. The name Jeep is alleged to be from the letters "GP" which was short for general purpose. It was manufactured by Willys, which became part of American Motors and AMC, was eventually acquired by Chrysler Corporation some ten years ago.

Since the later acquisition, Jeep has been hard at work in developing great SUV's. Jeep helped developed the popularity of the small SUV in 1984 with the introduction of the Cherokee, which is still in production to this day, although significantly refined over the years.

The new second generation 1999 GC is a complete redesign of the first generation GC, which was originally introduced in 1992 as a 1993 model. The only thing or dimension that is the same is the 105.9 inch wheelbase. Everything else is new and improved. The suspension is new, the interior is new, the dash is new, the floor pan has been redesigned and the engines are new.

The GC is has grown slightly in size. Length is up about 4.5 inches to 181.5 inches and width is up about 1.5 inches to 72.3 inches. Room is up by more than a corresponding amount. Rear hip room is up by three inches, and legroom has been increased a couple of inches as well as the cargo area dimensions. The spare tire is now mounted flat below the rear cargo floor. The small penalty was a loss in fuel tank capacity from 23 gallons to a still plentiful 20.5 gallons.

In appearance, the new design is evolutionary. It retains the basic shape and styling cues of the previous model except it has a more refined look. The headlights are no longer rectangular and separate, but are now smooth, curved and high tech. The entire vehicle has a more rounded, finished look, a look that I have grown to like over the last several years.

The engine is my test vehicle was the 4.0L overhead valve (OHV) inline 6. It has new found power (up 10 hp from last year) at 195 hp at 4,600 rpm and 230 lb-ft of torque at 3,000 rpm. There is also a new V-8 available. Gone are the pushrod OHV 5.2 and 5.9 V-8's and enter a new state of the art OHC 4.7L V-8 that puts out 235 hp at 4,800 rpm and 295 lb-ft of torque at 3,200 rpm.

In performance, the six acquits itself well. It will accelerate from 0-60 mph in a quick 9.7 seconds. Passing performance is strong with 50-70 mph times running 6.4 seconds and going up a steep grade slowing that time to 9.6 seconds. The passing times were conducted with a full load of fuel, my entire family and plenty of luggage. I would estimate a half second improvement without the extra baggage. These are great times considering the load.

My first SUV was a 1987 Jeep Laredo with the 4.0 OHV inline 6. That initial version of the Power Tech 6 put out 173 hp. It was a strong vehicle and I used it to tow my 4,500 boat and trailer all over the place including steep grades. I was always able to maintain at least 55 mph going up any hill while towing that boat (second gear at about 3,500 rpm). I would expect even better performance from the new Grand with the inline six.

There are some other benefits with the Power-Tech 6. Fuel economy is up (especially over a V-8). In my 700 miles of driving, including a road trip to Monterey, I averaged about 18 miles per gallon. This driving includes acceleration and performance testing and hundreds of miles at over 70 MPH and maybe faster (I have to protect my Fifth Amendment rights just like our President). The EPA rates the Grand at 16/21 mpg city/highway. At a steady 68 mph the trip computer indicated a constant 22 to 23 mpg. Even at a steady 74 mph, I was pulling 20 mpg. Part of the reason was an engine speed of a low 2100 rpm at 70 mph. The six actually runs at lower rpm's than the V-8 at equivalent speeds.

The GC is suspended with the most rugged equipment of any sport ute. It has live, solid axles front and rear. This system usually means a choppy, unforgiving ride but not in the Grand Cherokee. The Grand uses coil springs, low pressure gas shocks (high pressure gas shocks are included with the Up Country suspension package at $575)) and locating arms to control motion and bumps and it works as good if not better than any sport ute in its class.

The rear suspension has a new center triangular locating arm that controls body roll better than the previous locating arm system. It works. The GC delivers ride and handling that borders on sport while maintaining balance and poise over poorer road conditions.

In my drive on Ponderosa Road, little harshness entered the passenger compartment and around Ponderosa's bumpy corners, the rear end stayed firmly planted and controlled. Green Valley Road and Apple Hill roads were a breeze. This sport ute is downright sporty. The utility becomes a bonus.

The steering is positive and accurate. On center feel is just right and the GC goes where you point it. Dive it into corners and use throttle near the apex and a smile will become affixed to your face. We are talking fun.

In my over 400 miles on the interstate, the ride quality was firm, controlled, smooth and supple. Yaw encountered over bumps and dips are a thing of the past. Road joints and tar strips are eliminated.

Inside, the comfort is even more grand, if that was even possible. I remember the previous Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited as having some of the most comfortable seats I ever sat in. The engineers at Jeep outdid themselves, they improved on seats that I thought couldn't be improved. The contour and support are perfect.

Just sitting in them make me say "ah". They are chair high and offer just the right amount of padding in all the appropriate places. And they stay comfortable and fatigue free for hours. They are also beautiful in design and covered in soft leather. The rear seats offer room for three with more than adequate leg, hip and head room.

The rear cargo area of 39 cubic feet was well received by my tennis bag, golf clubs, camera bags, briefcases and suitcases for my family which includes two young boys that seem to take their entire closet wherever they go. Thank you Jeep for all the room. My wife spent one day shopping the proceeds of which also made the return trip home. Plenty of room and my view out the rear window was not blocked. This sport ute makes travel a pleasure.

The GC dash has been redesigned and improved. A large tach and speedo take center stage in the instrument pod with fuel and temp flanking left and volt and oil pressure flanking right. The center of the dash houses the great sounding Infinity Gold sound system and electronic HVAC controls with separate temp controls for the driver and passenger.

The center console has two levers, one for the electronic four speed automatic transmission and the other for the four wheel drive. The GC uses a new QuadraTrac II (standard) system, which is full time all the time and can transfer up to 100 percent of the power to the wheel with the most traction. About the only way you could get stuck in this SUV is if you were upside down. Remember no Jeep design goes to a dealer without first doing the Rubicon.

The GC has a warm faux wood trim on the dash and doors. The dash and door paneling is covered in a rich soft, dense padding that feels very luxurious and safe (energy absorbing).

Now for the good news. Pricing of this Limited is very competitive. My GC Limited test vehicle stickered for $33,890 plus a few option. My test vehicle had skid plates and tow hooks ($200) and the 10 disc remote CD changer (a bargain at $300). Add Cal emissions ($200) and destination ($525) and the bottom line was $35,115.

The better news is that a two wheel drive Laredo stickers for $25,695 and a four wheel drive Laredo comes in at $27,665. And it comes with full power (doors, windows, locks, keyless entry, etc). Add skid plates ($200), upgraded sound system with CD ($335), leather ($580 and a bargain), limited slip ($285) and a couple of other small items and you've got a loaded, very well equipped Jeep Grand Cherokee for under $30,000. That's a real value.

SPECIFICATIONS

Price                            $25,695 to about $37,000

Engines

4.0L OHV inline six              195 hp @ 4,600 rpm               
                                 230 lb-ft of torque @ 3,000 rpm

4.7L OHC V-8                     235 hp @ 4,800 rpm
                                 295 lb-ft torque @ 3,200 rpm

Configuration

front engine, rear wheel 
drive and full time four
wheel drive

Transmission

Four speed electronic 
automatic

Five speed* electronic 
automatic (V-8 only)

Transfer case

NV 242 Selec-Trac
NV 247 Quadra-Trac

Dimensions

Wheelbase                         105.9   inches
Length                            181.5   inches
Width                             72.3    inches
Height (including roof rack)      69.4    inches     
Ground clearance                  8.7     inches
Weight                            3960    pounds
Tow capacity                      5000    pounds
Fuel Capacity                     30.5    gallons

Performance

0-60                              9.7     seconds
50-70                             6.4     seconds
50-70 uphill                      9.6     seconds
Top Speed                         Well over 100, but governor limited 
                                  to 114 and CHP limited to about 70+
Fuel Economy                      16/21 mpg city/highway.   My estimate
                                  is about 18 mpg in El Dorado County
                                  and 22-23 mpg at legal highway speeds.

*The five speed automatic operates as a four speed with two second gears, 
a higher ratio used for upshifting and a lower ratio used for downshifting, 
i.e. passing and engine braking.

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