Completely redesigned last year, the 2000 Grand Cherokee has minor upgrades this year. A new, softer leather is now available on Laredo and Limited models, all models now have improved air vents on the dashboard, and Laredo models get new chrome interior door handles. Still one of Canada’s most popular SUV’s, the Grand Cherokee has one of the finest V8 engines in its class: a sporty 4.7 litre SOHC V8 engine with 235 horsepower.
4.7 litre V8 puts the ‘sport’ into sport-utility
Recently, I had a chance to drive a Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited with the optional 4.7 litre V8 engine. I had driven this vehicle briefly in the Fall of 1998 when the redesigned Grand Cherokee was introduced, but not long enough to get to know it.
My week-long test-drive confirmed why this remains one of North America’s most sought after upmarket sport utility vehicles – it’s combination of looks, luxury, versatility, power and price is very attractive. Of course, like most other sport utility vehicles, it is heavy, thirsty, and relatively expensive – but compared to its V8 competitors, the Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Blazer/GMC Jimmy, Land Rover Discovery, Dodge Durango, and Mercedes-Benz ML 430, the Grand Cherokee offers a very competitive all-around package.
In terms of styling for example, I think the Grand Cherokee is probably the sportiest SUV in its class, with better proportions than most of its competitors with the possible exception of the Durango. The Grand Cherokee’s ‘trapezoidal’ styling theme, bold grille slats, prominent fender flares, and large covered headlamps are very distinctive.
Less obvious is the Grand Cherokee’s car-like unit body construction which differs from its competitor’s traditional truck-like body-on-frame design. Though hard-core off-roaders prefer the latter, unit body designs have the advantage of lighter weight and greater body stiffness which contributes to better handling and reduced vibrations and squeaks. Given that most mid-sized SUV’s spend most of their time on the pavement, a unit body design is probably a better idea, any way. Off-road, the Grand Cherokee is a superb performer too, and with modern rustproofing techniques, there’s no longer any worry about the body rusting through and compromising the unit body’s integrity.
Base Grand Cherokee Laredo and Limited models are equipped with the venerable inline 4.0 liter six cylinder engine. This is a wonderfully smooth, torquey, and quiet engine that provides adequate, though not abundant power for these 4000 lb vehicles.
But if you want something sportier, I would recommend the 235 horsepower 4.7 litre SOHC 16 valve V8 engine. With the possible exception of the ML 430’s 4.3 litre V8, the Grand Cherokee’s 4.7 litre engine is a class leading powerplant. This single overhead cam engine demonstrates flexibility and responsiveness at both low and high speeds, and makes the Grand Cherokee come alive in a way that the standard six cylinder engine doesn’t.
If an SUV could feel like a sports car, the 4.7 litre V8-equipped Grand Cherokee is the closest thing. It’s quick off the line, and accelerates up to a fairly high redline with the ease of a multi-valve, overhead cam engine. At the same time, it has plenty of torque (295 lbs-ft @ 3200 rpm), and pulls away cleanly at city or highway speeds without much hesitation. Properly equipped, the Grand Cherokee can tow up to 4763 kg (10,500 lb.). Cruising on the highway, the engine turns over just 2000 rpm at a steady 100 km/h in top gear.
I can always tell a great engine when I wish the vehicle was equipped with a manual transmission so that I can really get the most out of the engine.
For the record, the 4.7 litre V8 offers more horsepower, better fuel economy, and lower emissions than the 220 horsepower 5.2 liter pushrod V8 engine which preceded it.
Though some of the Grand Cherokee’s competitors have 5-speed automatic transmissions, the Grand Cherokee’s 4-speed automatic unit provides satisfactory performance with smooth shifts, and features a unique alternate second gear ratio for quicker kick-down responsiveness.
Three Different 4WD Systems
Base Grand Cherokee Laredo models have a standard Selec Trac 4WD system which includes 2WD, part-time 4WD High, full-time 4WD High, and 4WD Low gear. Grand Cherokee Limited models have a Quadra Trac II 4WD system which has full-time 4WD High and 4WD Low gear. Quadra Trac 11 includes a new type of Vari-Lock differential axle that provides a more seamless transfer of power to the front wheels should the rear wheels lose traction.
Optional on both Laredo and Limited models is a more sophisticated version of the Quadra Trac 11 system called Quadra Drive. It adds Vari-Lock Axles at the front and rear, so that if only one wheel has traction, it will allow almost 100% of the engine power to go that wheel.
During my road tests on dirt and gravel roads, I found this system does work – there is no lag in power transfer to the front wheels, and there’s very little vibration or jerkiness. On slippery surfaces, the Grand Cherokee has great grip, and it’s automatic – there’s no need to switch in an out of Quadra Drive. The transmission whine I experienced last year has almost disappeared, though not entirely.
The Grand Cherokee has a three-link rear suspension with coil springs and solid axle, and a refined front suspension with coil springs and solid axle. A combination of stiffer front and rear control arms, modified springs, wider track, and standard 16 inch tires minimizes ride choppiness and enhances stability even though the Grand Cherokee has a fairly high ride height.
Here’s a real plus: the Grand Cherokee has one of the tightest turning circles in it class: 11.1 meters (36.5 feet).
All Grand Cherokee’s have standard four wheel disc brakes, ABS, and electronic brake distribution which provide excellent braking power and stability.
Minor Changes for 2000
Changes to the Grand Cherokee for the 2000 model year are minimal. A new, softer leather is now available on Laredo and Limited models, all models now have improved air vents on the dashboard, and Laredo models get new chrome interior door handles.
My test vehicle, a Grand Cherokee Limited, was luxuriously-equipped with features such as dual-zone climate control with an infra-red sensing system that detects passengers’ temperature and adjusts the air temperature accordingly; AM/FM/cassette and 10 disc CD changer with 100 watt amplifier and eight speakers; and leather seats and 60/40 split folding seatbacks.
Other standard features on the Limited include an alarm, overhead console and floor console, power heated mirrors, power front seats with ‘easy-exit’ feature on driver’s side, power windows and door locks with remote keyless entry, cruise control, tilt steering wheel, and P245/70R-16 inch tires with alloy wheels.
Cargo room is generous. With the rear seats up, there’s 1104 litres (39.0 cu. ft) of cargo area, or about twice the trunk space of a Buick Park Avenue. With the rear seats down, there’s up to 2047 litres (72.3 cu. ft.). The spare tire is now under the cargo floor to free up interior cargo space.
Grand Cherokee prices start at $38,860 for the Laredo model and $45,215 for the Limited model – plus options and $715 freight.
The Grand Cherokee has a sportier character than most other SUV’s particularly when equipped with the optional 4.7 litre V8 engine. I won’t say it’s fun-to-drive, but it’s probably the best compromise between an off-road machine and performance car in the mid-sized SUV market.