2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland
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by Greg Wilson

Photos by Grant Yoxon

Is it already three years since the Jeep Grand Cherokee was last redesigned? In the face of many new competitors, Jeep has upgraded the 2002 model with a new optional 260 horsepower version of the 4.7 litre V8 engine, and added new safety features such as head curtain airbags and a tire pressure monitoring system. As well, a new top-of-the-line Overland model has been added with a base price in excess of $50,000. But when will Jeep upgrade the Grand Cherokee’s solid front and rear axles?

New top-of-the-line model is handsome and fast, but suspension changes are needed

2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland
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Although it was completely redesigned in 1999, the Jeep Grand Cherokee is already starting to look dated in the face of fresh new competitors such as General Motors’ new Trailblazer and Envoy, Ford’s redesigned Explorer, the Acura MDX, BMW X5 4.6is, Mercedes-Benz ML500, Land Rover Discovery, and the upcoming Honda Pilot and Lexus GX470.

To keep pace with the competition, Jeep added a new optional five-speed automatic transmission last year, and for 2002 introduced a new high-output version of the 4.7 litre V8 engine, and more luxury and safety features. As well, a new top-of-the-line Overland trim level joins the Grand Cherokee Laredo and Limited models this year.

But the Grand Cherokee retains a traditional front and rear live axle suspension which offers superb off-pavement performance but has its limitations when travelling quickly over uneven pavement. This is something that probably won’t be addressed until the next generation Grand Cherokee.

More horsepower and improved 4WD

The new higher-horsepower version of the optional 4.7 litre V8 engine produces 260 horsepower at 5100 rpm, and 330 lb-ft. of torque at 3600 rpm, a 15-percent increase in horsepower and 12-percent increase in torque over the standard 4.7 litre V8. The new engine is optional on the Limited and standard on the Overland model. The previous 240 horsepower version of the 4.7 litre V8 continues to be standard on the Limited and optional on the base Laredo, and the base 4.0 litre inline six cylinder is still standard on the Laredo.

2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland
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In Canada, all Grand Cherokees have 4WD, unlike in the U.S. where base models are offered with 2WD. While Laredo models continue to offer the standard Selec Trac 4WD system, which allows the vehicle to operate in 2WD, part-time 4WD (Low or High range), and full-time 4WD, the Limited and Overland models feature a more sophisticated and slightly revised Quadra Drive system which includes the Quadra Trac II 4WD system which offers a choice of full-time 4WD or Low Range gears. For 2002, Jeep’s Vari-Lok axles replace the Trac-Lok option – Vari-Lok axles use progressive, hydro-mechanical speed-sensing torque transfer couplings in both front and rear differentials. This allows the Quadra Trac II system to send up to 100 percent of engine torque to just one wheel, if the other wheels have no traction. For comparison, the Selec Trac 4WD system has a constant 48/52 front/rear torque split.

New safety features

Jeep has also added some new safety features for 2002. Optional side curtain air bags now provide head protection for both front and rear outboard occupants, and multi-stage driver and passenger front air bags deploy at different force levels depending on the severity of the crash and whether the occupant has their seatbelt on.

Another new safety feature is an optional tire pressure monitoring system: sensors in the valve stems of each tire (including the spare), send signals to a receiver in the overhead console. When tire pressure exceeds or falls below acceptable limits, a warning message is displayed on the overhead console.

Also new for 2002 are rain-sensitive front windshield wipers. When the wiper control is turned to “AUTO,” the wipers automatically activates when it rains. Another new option are adjustable brake and accelerator pedals which have up to three inches of travel.

Jeep has also improved the performance of the air conditioning system which it says can lower temperatures by an additional 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

Lastly, Laredo and Limited models get bigger tires and wheels for 2002. The Limited has new standard 17 inch alloy wheels and tires, and the Laredo now has 16 inch tires and alloy wheels, previously offered on the Limited model.

New top-of-the-heap Overland model

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This week’s test vehicle is the Overland model, the new top-of-the-line Grand Cherokee with the more powerful 4.7 litre V8 engine and a high level of standard equipment. For its base price of $51,850, the Overland model comes standard with most luxury features, except the power adjustable pedals, tire pressure monitoring system, trailer towing package, and chromed alloy wheels. Unique Overland features include 17 inch ‘machined-rim’ aluminum wheels, metallic painted side rails and unique front and rear styling, a ‘dark slate’ interior with Redwood Burl wood accents, combination suede and leather seats and “Overland” embroidered floor mats. Standard features include the Up-Country Suspension Group, Skid Plate Group, P235/65R-17 outlined white letter all-terrain tires and full-size spare tire with a matching wheel, 10-disc CD changer in the cargo area, rain-sensitive windshield wipers, and side air bag curtains.

Interior looks and feels rich

2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland
2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland
2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland
Click image to enlarge

Though the Grand Cherokee has a high (221 m/8.7 in) ground clearance, the step-up height into the cabin is not too high – this is largely because of the Grand Cherokee’s car-like unit body construction which affords a lower ride height than typical truck-like body-on-frame designs.

Still, the Grand Cherokee’s driving position is high enough to see over most cars, and the driver has good visibility in all directions. Both front and rear passengers have plenty of legroom and headroom, but I noticed that plastic components under the front seats intruded on the rear passenger’s footroom.

The upscale Overland model has a richly-appointed interior which includes Redwood Burl wood trim on the dash, doors and steering wheel, a total of six white-faced gauges, leather seats with suede inserts, and a high-quality two-tone plastic finish. The centre dash area includes an AM/FM/CD stereo single disc in-dash CD player (in addition to a 10 disc trunk-mounted changer), and dual zone climate control with a bright, illuminated temperature readout. The stereo has separate volume and seek controls on the back of the steering wheel which can be operated with the forefingers while gripping the steering wheel � I like this design better than the front-mounted buttons used by everyone else.

The leather-covered driver’s seat is wide, soft, and comfortable, and for cold winter mornings, its seat heaters with two heat settings comes in really handy. I just wish there was a way of pre-heating the seats before getting into the vehicle.. Between the seats is a comfortable armrest which includes a large storage bin for CD’s, cassettes, and personal items. The lower centre console includes two 12 volt powerpoints and an open storage bin, and behind the shift lever, two open cupholders.

My vehicle had the optional power pedals: both the accelerator and brake pedals can be moved forward and backwards with the push of a button. This feature is especially useful for shorter drivers who don’t want to be too close to the steering wheel and the airbag..

2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland
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The automatic transmission lever and 4WD shift lever are located on the floor within easy reach of the driver’s right hand. The 4WD lever includes 4 All-Time (full-time 4WD), Neutral, and 4 LO (low range gear).

The rear seats are split 60/40 – the seat cushions pull up against the back of the front seats, and the seatbacks fold down to create a flat loading surface that is 1727 mm (68 in.) long and 1067 mm (42 in.) wide between the suspension housings. With the rear seatbacks in the ‘up’ position, the cargo floor is 1067 mm (42. in.) long.

At the rear is a lift-up hatch door with an easy-to-grab pull-type door handle. The cargo compartment has a wide opening but the loading level is fairly high. The cargo area includes a privacy cover, a 12 volt power outlet, four tie-down cleats, four wall hooks, a separate compartment on the left for securing smaller items, and a 10 disc CD changer integrated into the right wall. Underneath the floor is a full-size spare tire with an alloy wheel.

The rear hatch door features a separate rear liftglass, useful for depositing grocery bags and smaller packages. It’s also handy if you want to transport long objects like pipes and 2X4’s – you can stick them out the rear window with a red flag attached to the end.

Driving impressions

Like many tall SUV’s, the Grand Cherokee tends to lean in the corners and there is some side-to-side bouncing and sway. In fact, this would be my biggest criticism of the Grand Cherokee. The vehicle may be equipped like a luxury car, but it doesn’t ride and handle like one. Handling is competent up to a point, but with a tall ride height and solid rear axles front and rear, the Grand Cherokee doesn’t soak up uneven pavement ripples as well as vehicles with independent front and rear suspensions, notably the Ford Explorer and Acura MDX.

2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland
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Off pavement performance however, is probably the best in its class, because of its better-than-average ground clearance and superb 4WD system. As mentioned, the Quadra Drive system can distribute up to 100% of the power to one wheel, if necessary. I have taken previous versions of the Grand Cherokee over seemingly impassable tracks and can testify to its formidable off-road performance. My only criticism is that on regular blacktop, there is some binding when the steering wheel is turned full lock, say when making a U-turn. It feels like the tires are fighting against each other. Still, the Grand Cherokee has a reasonable 11.4 m (37.4 ft.) turning circle.

The improved 260 horsepower 4.7 litre V8 engine has an incredible amount of power during take-off or when passing on the freeway. Notably, it offers 330 lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm, the most torque in its class, which makes the engine react more quickly to throttle input. As well, the Quadra Drive full-time 4WD system helps direct most of that power to the ground, so that there is minimal wheel slippage particularly in rainy, or slippery conditions.

The standard 5 speed automatic transmission has a second overdrive gear which helps increase highway fuel economy and reduced engine noise at highway speeds. I found that it was quiet, and responded quickly to throttle input, changing smoothly rather than abruptly under hard acceleration, and providing the Grand Cherokee with a sporty feel. An on/off overdrive lockout button on the shift lever allows the driver to hold third gear when climbing or descending hills or when tooling around town. With a Class IV trailer hitch, the Grand Cherokee can tow up to 2948 kg (6500 lb.)

2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland
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Fuel consumption is not particularly good though. In the city, the Overland offers 17.3 l/100 km (16 mpg) and on the highway 11.6 l/100 km (24 mpg) � fortunately, it uses Regular grade gasoline. The Chevy Trailblazer, with its new 4.2 litre inline six cylinder engine, has more horsepower and better fuel consumption than the Grand Cherokee.

Though the Grand Cherokee still uses a traditional recirculating ball-type steering mechanism, I found the steering direct and responsive and easy on the arms. The standard four wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake distribution provided sure, quick stops with good pedal feel.

Competitor overview

The Grand Cherokee certainly has a lot more competitors than it used to, and more are on the way. In terms of its styling, engine performance, off-road ability, luxury features, and safety features, the Grand Cherokee is at or near the top of its class. The Grand Cherokee Overland’s 0 to 100 km/h time of 8.3 seconds is an improvement over the Limited and quicker than the Ford Explorer with its 230 horsepower 4.6 litre V8 engine, the Chevy Trailblazer/GMC Envoy with a 270 horsepower 4.2 litre inline six cylinder engine, and the Acura MDX with a 240 horsepower 3.5 litre V6 engine. Fuel consumption however, is worse than all three of those competitors.

The Grand Cherokee comes up short in interior room: it is smaller inside than the Chevy Trailblazer/GMC Envoy and the Ford Explorer both of which have longer wheelbases. As well, the Explorer offers a third row seat option, and the new extended wheelbase Trailblazer/Envoy models will offer three rows of seats.

Though the Grand Cherokee has a comfortable ride on good roads, it is the only mid-sized SUV which doesn’t have an independent front suspension which affects steering, ride and handling over uneven surfaces. An independent rear suspension would also go a long way to improving ride and handling.

The Grand Cherokee’s warranty includes Chrysler’s new 5 year/100,000 km powertrain warranty which is now matched by Ford and the imports, but not by GM.

The MSRP of the 2002 Grand Cherokee Laredo model starts at $39,005, Limited at $44,885, and Overland at $51,875. Options on my Overland test vehicle included a Trailer Tow package ($300), chromed alloy wheels ($470), power adjustable pedals ($250), and tire pressure monitoring system. With a/c excise tax and freight charge of $835, my test vehicle came to $54,080.

Grand Cherokees sold in Canada are built in Detroit, Michigan, and for overseas markets, they are also produced at the Steyr-Daimler-Puch assembly plant in Graz, Austria.

Technical Data:

2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland
Base price $51,850
Options $1,295
Freight $835
AC Tax $100
Price as tested $54,080
Type 4-door, 5-passenger mid-sized sport-utility vehicle
Layout longitudinal front engine/4WD
Engine 4.7 litre V8, SOHC
Horsepower 260 @ 5,100 rpm
Torque 330 lb-ft @ 3300 rpm
Tires Goodyear Wrangler SR-A P235/65R-17 all-terrain
Curb weight 1979 kg (4364 lb.)
Wheelbase 105.9 (2691)
Length 181.6 (4613)
Width 72.6 (1845)
Height 70.3 (1786)-includes roof rack
Ground Clearance Front axle 9.2 (233)
  Rear axle 8.3 (211)
Cargo Volume Rear seat up 39.0 cu. ft. (1104 litres)
  Rear seat tumbled 72.3 cu. ft. (2047 litres)
Maximum Payload (Occupants and Cargo) 1000 lbs. (452 kg)
Fuel consumption City: 17.3 l/100 km (16 mpg)
  Hwy: 11.6 l/100 km (24 mpg)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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