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review and photos by Greg Wilson
Santa Barbara, California – Lets be honest for a minute. Despite the 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee’s capable on and off-road performance, its chief asset is its strong styling. Look at the GMC Envoy, Chevy Trailblazer and Ford Explorer – not exactly an exciting bunch of 4X4s. The 2004 Grand Cherokee is the sexiest mid-size SUV under $50,000, and that’s why they sell so many of them, in my opinion. Which makes me wonder why DaimlerChrysler would deliberately tone down the styling of the new 2005 Grand Cherokee.
The styling changes aren’t major, but they make the 2005 Grand Cherokee a little more ordinary. The hood is flatter and the nose blunter, despite the sculpted hood lines and round headlamps. The side windows are smaller because the ‘beltline’ has been raised. The lower side panels, which used to pinch in under the body, are now more slab-sided, ostensibly to prevent stone chips – this is noticeable from the rear where it looks squarer. The front and rear wrap-under panels are now more upright and there’s a new (removeable) front spoiler. These changes aren’t enough to make the 2005 Grand Cherokee unrecognizable – the bold 7-slot front grille is still front and centre – but there’s something less distinctive about the 2005 Grand Cherokee. During the day that I drove it around the Santa Barbara, California area, few observers gave it a second look – not something I expected in a redesigned vehicle that’s not even on the market yet.
Styling aside, I can report that just about everything else about the 2005 Grand Cherokee has been improved, particularly its handling and ride. The 2005 model is no bigger than the previous model – apparently Grand Cherokee owners were surveyed, and they said they liked the size – but it’s got more features, better front and rear suspensions, a wider track, longer wheelbase, a new rack and pinion steering system, and improved 4WD systems. The base 195 horsepower 4.0 litre inline six cylinder engine has been replaced by a 210 horsepower 3.7 litre V6, and the Grand Cherokee is now available with the 330 horsepower 5.7 litre Hemi V8 engine giving it best-in-class horsepower, torque and towing capacity of up to 7200 lb. This engine features Chrysler’s cylinder de-activation system which allows it to run on four
cylinders when full power is not required improving fuel economy by up to 20%. Indeed, the fuel consumption readout on the 5.7 litre Grand Cherokee’s onboard driver information centre indicated average fuel consumption of 15.5 mpg (U.S.) compared to 14.2 mpg (U.S.) for the Grand Cherokee with the 4.7 litre V8.
The previous Grand Cherokee’s solid beam front axle has been replaced by an independent short and long arm front suspension which does wonders for its steering, ride and handling. DaimlerChrysler Marketing VP, Ron Smith, said the company wanted to refine the Grand Cherokee’s on-road performance while maintaining its off-road abilities – and that they did. The 2005 Grand Cherokee is a surprisingly comfortable, quiet and easy-to-drive vehicle on the freeway, around town, or out on a twisty highway. On bumpy roads, there is more suspension travel and less ‘head toss’. And though the new variable ratio rack and pinion steering lacks feel, it is quite precise and easy to steer. Later in the year, Jeep will introduce a new Dynamic Handling System that includes a new hydraulically controlled stabilizer bar to improve the ride further.
Over the course of a day, I drove Grand Cherokees with all three available engines. I didn’t get a chance to do any official timing, but I would rate the V6 ‘slow but smooth’, the 4.7 litre V8 ‘adequate’, and the 5.7 litre V8 Hemi ‘quick and sporty’. Remember, Grand Cherokees weigh 4200-4700 pounds, so there’s a lot of bulk to pull, even though it is unit body construction. I found the 5-speed automatic transmission performed flawlessly, and its new manual operation provided sportierperformance in slow, twisty backroads, and allowed
a choice of lower gears when travelling off-road. The 5-speed automatic transmission is available with all three engines.
On Jeep’s tortuous off-road course, I found the new Grand Cherokee wonderfully competent on trails that would leave other 4X4s struggling to get through. The standard Quadra Trac 1 transfer case is a full-time, hands-off system that splits front to rear torque 48/52. Grand Cherokees with Quadra Trac 1 also include a standard traction control system that brakes any wheel that is slipping to allow power to be transferred to the other wheels. A mid-level Quadra Trac 2 system includes a Low Range gear as well as traction control. And top-of-the-line Quadra Drive 2 features Low Range and front and rear electronic limited slip differentials.
I drove a Grand Cherokee with the 4.7 litre V8 engine and Quadra Trac 2 system through the off-road course, and it had no problem climbing steep, slippery grades, negotiating steep declines, and straddling creek beds and uneven outroppings. The Quadra Trac 2 system allows individual wheels to slip when accelerating, but the traction control system brings them under control in half a second. Even in loose sand on a steep uphill grade, my Grand Cherokee was able to find traction. The Quadra Drive 2 system, with its limited slip differentials, offers even more traction and less wheelspin than Quadra Trac 2 – but both systems are excellent in really bad off-road conditions. I would recommend Quadra Trac 2 over Quadra Trac 1 because the latter doesn’t have a Low Range gear.
The new Grand Cherokee has a unique method of engaging Low Range. After putting the shifter in Neutral, the driver pulls up on a chrome lever in the centre console, holds it up for three seconds, and lets it go. The same method is used to disengage Low Range.
The Grand Cherokee is available with 2WD in the United States, but in Canada all Grand Cherokees are 4WD – or more correctly, AWD.
In Canada, all Grand Cherokees include standard Electronic Stability Control which automatically corrects the direction of travel if the vehicle begins to understeer or oversteer. As well, it includes anti-rollover sensors which attempt to avert a rollover if the vehicle leans over too far when cornering.
The redesigned interior of the new Grand Cherokee is about the same size, and there’s adequate headroom and legroom for four adults. The interior features a new four-gauge instrument cluster with metal trim, a new gated automatic transmission shift lever, and a simple centre control console. I wasn’t overly impressed with the quality of the dash materials for a vehicle in this price range, but the controls are easy to use. The split folding rear seatbacks now have rear head restraints that fold down automatically when lowered, saving you the trouble of removing and storing them.
Safety advances include multi-stage front airbags and passenger seat detector, new curtain airbags, a tire pressure monitoring system, rear park sensors, and new SmartBeam headlamps which automatically vary the intensity of the lighting depending on whether another vehicle is coming in the opposite direction.
The cargo area has a new under-floor storage compartment, and a handy waterproof, plastic storage tray – but as before, the loading height is quite high and the area below the sliding privacy cover is smaller than you’ll find in a typical mid-size sedan trunk. On the plus side, the spare tire has been moved under the floor.
The rear hatch lifts up from floor height revealing a wide, easy to access cargo opening. As well, the rear hatch has a separate opening glass window.
2005 Grand Cherokee Laredo models ($38,990) come with standard 3.7 litre V6 engine, 5-speed automatic transmission, Quadra Trac 1 AWD, traction control, 17 inch tires and wheels, four wheel disc brakes with ABS and ESP, 8-way power driver’s seat, lumbar adjuster, mini trip computer, and tire pressure monitoring system. Options include the 4.7 litre V8, leather seats, moonroof, curtain airbags, navigation system, 6-disc CD changer, off-road package with tow hooks and skid plates, and new rear DVD entertainment system.
2005 Grand Cherokee Limited models ($48,595) include a standard 4.7 litre V8, 5-speed automatic transmission, Quadra Trac 2, two-tone leather seats with heaters, power moonroof, dual zone automatic climate control, power adjustable pedals, 4 way power passenger seat, 288 watt premium sound system with 6-disc in dash CD player, woodgrain trim and chrome accents.
Of note: the price of the base model has dropped almost a thousand dollars even though it has more standard equipment. Canadian MSRPs are as follows: Laredo 4X4 3.7 litre V6 $38,990; Laredo 4X4 4.7 litre V8 $42,030; Limited 4X4 4.7 litre V8 $48,595; Limited 4X4 5.7 litre V8 Hemi $49,990.
The basic warranty on the Grand Cherokee is 3 yrs/60,000 km, while the powertrain warranty is 5 yrs/100,000 km (not 7 yrs/115,000 km).
Grand Cherokees will arrive in dealerships this Fall.