The name "Jeep" is synonymous with off-road prowess, and the company has an over-50-year history of making rugged all-terrain vehicles. But the modern market for Jeep's type of vehicle demands civilized comfort in addition to off-road ability. That demand is due in large part to the Jeep Grand Cherokee, which introduced carlike levels of comfort to the midsized sport-utility class when it was introduced as a 1993 model early in 1992. The Grand Cherokee combined the four- door versatility of the regular Cherokee with a car-like unit construction chassis that allowed better ride comfort and handling on or off the road and improved space utilization. It quickly became the class benchmark.
The second generation of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, new for 1999, builds on the strengths of the original. Jeep's new flagship is almost completely new, with only 127 parts in common with its predecessor. It's larger, with a more modern exterior and a redesigned, more spacious interior. Refinements to the chassis structure, suspension, and drivetrain keep it ahead of its ever more numerous competitors. The standard 4.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine may be familiar, but an all-new 4.7-liter V8 replaces the previous 5.2-liter V8. No worry about lost power - the new engine produces more horsepower on less fuel.
Two trim levels, the well-appointed Laredo and the luxury- level Limited, are offered in the 1999 Grand Cherokee range. The Limited is meant to take on the best of the world's luxury sport-utes on and especially off the road. It has all of the creature comforts expected in a luxury sedan. But, especially with V8 power and Jeep's no-fuss "Quadra-Drive II" four-wheel drive system, it can go where a luxury sedan can't.
A '99 Grand Cherokee Limited with the V8 engine and Quadra- Drive II 4WD system has been my transportation for the past week. It's roomier than the previous Grand Cherokee but still small enough outside to park easily. Access is easy, and it is nearly as comfortable on the road as a luxury sedan. I didn't get a chance to go off-road, but previous Jeep experience leads me to believe that this one should do just fine - and do it with extreme comfort. The benchmark has just gotten better.
APPEARANCE: From a distance, the new Grand Cherokee looks much like last year's version. Closer inspection shows otherwise. Although the styling is an evolutionary development of that of the original Grand Cherokee, the newest Jeep is a touch larger and much more convexly rounded. The windshield is more sloped, and there is a pronounced arch to the roofline. A bold interpretation of the vertically- barred Jeep grille, chromed on the Laredo and body-colored on the Limited, highlights the front. Automotive-type "jewel"-reflector faired headlamps and large wraparound taillights allow the Grand Cherokee to see and be seen.
COMFORT: The Grand Cherokee's unit-construction chassis helps access as well as ride and handling. Because the body is not mounted on a separate frame, the floor height is lower, making entry and exit easier and allowing more interior room. Relocation of the spare tire from the inside cargo area to underneath the rear of the vehicle has improved interior space utilization. Rear seat room and comfort have benefitted the most. Leather upholstery is standard in the Limited, and the front buckets are the "Wanderer" power-adjustable seats that are optional in the Laredo. Both models have power windows, mirrors, and doorlocks with remote entry; the Limited adds 13 programmable convenience features and infrared-sensing automatic dual-zone climate control. Small but useful storage areas are found around the interior. The rear seat flips and folds 60/40 for extra cargo room when needed. The back window can be opened separately from the liftgate for fast stowage of small items.
SAFETY: Safety features of the 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee include standard 4-wheel antilock disc brakes, dual depowered front air bags, side impact protection, and child-resistant rear door locks.
ROADABILITY: The new Grand Cherokee's suspension is designed for serious off-road ability and highway control and comfort. That's a difficult engineering feat, but Jeep has succeeded. Both front and rear suspensions are solid axles with coil springs for ruggedness. Solid axles can be rough-riding at speed on pavement, with noticeable bump steer. Congratulations to Jeep's engineers - on the road bump steer is almost unnoticeable and the ride comfort and handling of my test vehicle's optional "Up Country" suspension is as much like a luxury car's as possible in a seriously off-road capable truck. The Grand Cherokee is comfortable enough for a long vacation journey - just keep going when the road ends. The Quadra-Drive II 4-wheel drive system automatically sends power to the wheels or wheel that can use it, with no driver intervention other than choosing between high and low range necessary. It adds "Vari-Lok" automatic hubs to the standard Quadra-Trac II 4WD system.
PERFORMANCE: The new single overhead cam 4.7-liter V8 may be smaller than last year's 5.2-liter pushrod V8, but it has equivalent power . Its 230 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque compare well with the old engine's 220 hp and 300 lb-ft. It has the low-rpm torque that is necessary for pulling through a swamp or accelerating away from traffic hazards. The new 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic shifts very smoothly and quickly. Standard 4-wheel disc brakes stop the Grand Cherokee quickly and surely.
CONCLUSIONS: The all-new 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee keeps the backwoods-in-a-tuxedo character of the original and adds room and convenience.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 33,995 Price As Tested $ 36,420 Engine Type single overhead cam 16-valve V8 Engine Size 4.7 liters / 286 cu. in. Horsepower 230 @ 4600 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 295 @ 3200 rpm Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 105.9 in. / 181.5 in. Curb Weight 4007 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 17.4 Fuel Capacity 20.5 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded regular, 87 octane Tires P245/70 R16 Goodyear Wrangler SR-A Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear live axle with "Quadra-link" leading arms and coil springs / live axle with lower trailing arms and triangular upper arm, coil springs Ground Clearance 9.1 inches standard, 8.7 in. with skid plates Drivetrain front engine, full-time four-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 15 / 19 / 15 0 to 60 mph 7.5 sec Trailer towing capacity 2000 lbs standard, 6500 lbs with towing package OPTIONS AND CHARGES Quadra-Drive 4-wheel drive system $ 550 Up-Country Suspension Group - includes: skid plates under front suspension, fuel tank, and transfer case; tow hooks; heavy-duty suspension with gas shocks $ 390 4.7-liter Power Tech V8 engine and auxiliary transmission oil cooler $ 950 Destination charge $ 525