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SEE ALSO: Jeep Buyer's Guide

1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited

by CAREY RUSS

Jeep started out by making basic, sturdy 4-wheel drive general-purpose military vehicles during World War II. That was over fifty years ago. Today, one of the company's best-selling vehicles is the Grand Cherokee, a medium-sized sport-utility vehicle that is at the other end of the comfort spectrum from the original military Jeep.

The Grand Cherokee is available in configurations that can make it ideal for anything from suburban grocery hauling to wilderness exploration. Rear wheel drive or a choice of two 4-wheel drive systems are offered with the venerable 4.0-liter inline six- cylinder engine. A 5.2-liter V8, matched with the Quadra-Trac all- time 4-wheel drive system, is optional. Both the exterior and interior have been subtly freshened for 1996.

At the top of the Grand Cherokee line is the luxurious Limited model. It combines all of the comforts of an American luxury car with the go-anywhere capabilities of a Jeep. It is as at home and in place in upscale suburbia as it is in the most rugged backcountry. In fact, during the week that I recently spent with a Grand Cherokee Limited, I was driving through one of the more prosperous local suburbs and noticed that there were Grand Cherokees in both other lanes of the highway.

APPEARANCE: The Grand Cherokee is in the mainstream of sport-utility design. It is an upright two-box design of medium height, length, and width. A very raked windshield, sloping hood, slightly arched passenger cabin, and gently rounded corners save it from agricultural boxiness while maintaining an air of functionality. Character lines on the hood and sides, and small fender flares add style. Body-colored bumper fascias and lower side cladding give the Grand Cherokee Limited an elegant, carlike appearance and protect against nicks and scratches on the trail or in the parking lot. The tooth-like body-colored grille gives an aggressive appearance. A roof-mounted luggage rack and alloy wheels complete the package.

COMFORT: The Grand Cherokee Limited is furthest from its military ancestors in its passenger accommodations and level of civilization. The interior of the Limited is the lap of luxury, American-style. The leather-covered front bucket seats are soft and cushy, heated, and power-adjustable. There is a two-position memory for the driver's seat, mirrors, and the audio system. Windows, mirrors, and door locks are power-operated, and remote keyless entry is included in the package. Essential instruments are well-presented. A multi-function trip computer and graphic display module present further useful information, although a total of three clocks in the interior can be confusing. There are small but useful storage spaces around the passenger compartment. The rear seat can fold down with a 60/40 split for extra cargo. The climate control system gives heats or cools the cabin quickly. The 8-speaker Infinity Gold AM/FM/cassette/CD sound system sounds great and has an entertaining joystick control for sound balance. A HomeLink universal transmitter means never losing your garage door opener.

SAFETY: The Grand Cherokee Limited has dual front air bags, 4- wheel antilock disc brakes and other safety features.

ROADABILITY: Even though there are rugged, seriously off-road- capable solid axles underneath the Grand Cherokee Limited, its ride and handling characteristics in civilized settings are quite good. Bumps and potholes are, as they should be, noticeable but not distressing. Because of the its rigid, carlike unit-construction chassis, the suspension is fairly soft, with plenty of wheel travel for soaking up irregularities. As is the case with sport-utilities and other 4-wheel drive vehicles, the high stance amplifies any body motion but does allow visibility over lower vehicles.

PERFORMANCE: The standard engine in the Grand Cherokee is the proven Jeep 4.0-liter inline six. It's fine for most uses. My test vehicle had the optional 5.2-liter V8 and trailer-towing package. This torquey 220-horsepower powerplant, matched with a 4-speed automatic transmission, gives the Grand Cherokee serious hill climbing and towing abilities. My Limited, with its pearlescent green paint, was much too pretty to use in that manner. But, I have a friend with a similarly-equipped Grand Cherokee. He has towed a 5000-lb. boat all over the state of California, and has done some pretty serious off-roading with his Jeep. He loves it.

CONCLUSIONS: The Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited combines off- road ability with American-style luxury.

SPECIFICATIONS
1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited
Base Price               $ 33,056
Price As Tested          $ 35,972
Engine Type              pushrod ohv V8
Engine Size              5.2 liters, 318 cu. in.
Horsepower               220 @ 4400
Torque (lb-ft)           300 @ 3200
Transmission             4-speed electronically-controlled automatic
Wheelbase / Length       105.9 in. / 177.1 in.
Curb Weight              3931 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower    17.9
Fuel Capacity            23 gal.
Fuel Requirement         unleaded regular
Tires                    P225/70 R16 Goodyear Eagle RS m+s
Brakes, front/rear       vented disc / solid disc
Suspension, front/rear   live axle with coil springs, multi-link location/
                         live axle with coil springs, multi-link location
Drivetrain               front-engine, full-time all-wheel drive
Ground Clearance         7.7 inches
PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed           14/18/16
0 to 60 mph                             8.4 sec
Towing Capacity                         6,500 lbs 

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