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1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo

by John Heilig


ENGINE: 5.2-liter V-8 
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 220@4400 rpm/300 lb.-ft.@3200 rpm 
TRANSMISSION: Four-speed automatic 
FUEL ECONOMY: 14 mpg city, 18 mpg highway, 15.3 mpg test 
WHEELBASE: 105.9 in. 
OVERALL LENGTH: 177.1 in. 
OVERALL WIDTH: 70.9 in. 
CURB WEIGHT: 3931 lbs 
LUGGAGE CAPACITY: 40.8/79.3 cu. ft. (rear seat up/down) 
TIRES: P225/70R16 
INSTRUMENTS: Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, water temperature,
             oil pressure, battery voltage, compass, exterior temperature readout,
             digital clock. 
EQUIPMENT: Power windows, power door locks, power mirrors, power seats,
           sunroof, cruise control, air conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio with cassette,
           anti-lock braking, dual air bags.

Many of the other American sport utility manufacturers have been playing catch-up with the Jeep Grand Cherokee. For a while the Jeep was the only one with four doors. Then the Blazer and Bronco/Explorer caught up. Then the Cherokee was the only one with a V-8, now Explorer has a V-8 and there are others with V-8s. You have to wonder what will come next.

Cherokee is not the SUV with the most sexy styling. But it's solid, and it's a Jeep and there's no way you're going to mistake it for anything but a Jeep.

Grand Cherokee looks a lot better than the Cherokee. It's slightly more aerodynamic and has styling cues that set it apart from the more square Cherokee. As such it's a nice vehicle.

Grand Cherokee also has a lot of interesting features in it that made it surprising and also made it a more comfortable vehicle to drive. Besides that 5.2-liter V-8 which is rated at 220 horsepower, you can keep the transfer case in full-time four-wheel drive, which is a definite asset. It is possible to shift into four-wheel drive Low, but as one owner explained to me, with all the torque available in 4WD high, why switch to low?

All four wheels are driven through a four-speed automatic gearbox that is very smooth and powerful. The engine is, fortunately, very quiet as well. There are a lot of sport utility vehicles-that tend to be noisy and "trucky." This one isn't. Even though the Grand Cherokee is truck-based, it doesn't translate its "truckiness" to the driver.

Being by nature a truck, we had full instrumentation. But being the top-of-the-line Jeep, we also had all the goodies: AM/FM stereo sound system with cassette player, excellent heater, power windows, power mirrors, power door locks, remote door locks, power seats, power sunroof, compass, exterior temperature readout and an information panel.

Seats were leather covered and offered a decent amount of side support. My standard complaint about most vehicles is the lack of good side support to hold me in when I take corners on two wheels (just kidding!). If manufacturers are going to give us bucket seats they should give us side support to hold us in. Of course, there's always the problem with wider than standard drivers who end up sitting on the side support rather than in the seats.

Between the seats are two deep and useful cupholders.

Cruise control switches are on the steering wheel, which is a convenient location. But as I was driving along one day, I noticed a couple of bumps on the other side of the steering wheel from the cruise control switches. I pushed one of these buttons and the radio station changed. I pushed the right side and the volume changed. I fooled around with them a bit and discovered that these sound system controls could be used without removing your eyes from the road. What a clever idea!

Jeep has been a definite asset ever since Chrysler bought the brand from AMC. Eagle has struggled ever since that magic day, but Jeep has been a cash cow. It is so successful that Chrysler is reluctant to make any changes for fear that it will disturb the magic. Grand Cherokee is definitely at the top of the line of Jeeps and is very near the top (if not at the top) of American sport utilities. There are a lot of vehicles with higher prices, but you cannot deny that the Jeep Grand Cherokee sets the benchmark for the other vehicles. And as long as Chrysler doesn't fool around with it, the brand will continue to be a leader.