By Jeremy Cato
The Jeep Grand Cherokee franchise has been built on the fact that this truck is no mere four-by-four pretender. It definitely does the job off-roading, yet offers lots of comfort for the riders inside.
Jeep, of course, reinvented the Grand Cherokee for the 1999 model year. The updated model was a significant improvement over the first-generation Grand Cherokee. There was new styling and virtually all new mechanical pieces. In fact, just 127 pieces were carried over from the first Grand Cherokee – and all of them were little things like fasteners.
And there was a new powertrain offering: a 245-horsepower 4.7-litre V8 engine and the ultra-sophisticated Quadra Drive four-wheel drive system. Somewhat lost in all that was the fact that Jeep also upgraded the base 4.0-litre six-cylinder for 1999. It was engineered to be cleaner-running, more fuel efficient and more powerful (195 hp. versus 185 hp.) and torquier (up 10 ft.-lbs.).
Better still, handing and off-road ability were and remain Grand Cherokee strengths. This is a civilized truck, but a very capable one in the outback, too.
Speaking of which, the standard four-by-four system in the base 1999 Laredo is the well-proven Quadra Trac. If you’re shopping, look for a used model with the optional Trac-Lok differential. It really makes a difference in tough road or off-road conditions.
The Laredo has long been the base version of the Grand Cherokee. But “base” is a relative term, for even the Laredo is quite luxuriously equipped. Meanwhile, all versions have essentially the same styling and mechanical bits under the skin. Including the suspension, which for 1999 was re-made to limit back-and-forth lateral movement – that jiggly feeling. Overall, the ride is good, although the short wheelbase and higher-than-a-car ride height means there is noticeable body roll in cornering and some measure of body motions at highway speeds.
But overall this truck feels solid. As it should. The Grand Cherokee is a so-called unibody (the body and frame rails are integrated, not like a truck where they’re mated at assembly) with a very stiff, but lightweight body structure. Among other things, that means fewer squeaks and rattles.
Inside, the cabin of all Grand Cherokees is very dressy. The instrument panel sees the radio within the driver’s reach, at the top of the centre stack. All the materials were upgraded for 1999, so be alert to the differences between 1998 and 1999 models.
The Grand Cherokee’s heavily padded seats are comfy, though they lack sideways support. There’s also plenty of sound insulation which makes for a pleasing ride. As for roominess, it’s fine up front and while there’s adequate rear hip room, there’s less room for your knees than the average six-footer would like.
In the cargo area, you’ll find just wide open spaces because, in the re-design for 1999, Jeep moved the spare tire under the raised rear load floor. So there’s more usable space overall than you’ll find in the 1998 truck. However, the Grand Cherokee still has considerably less cargo room than a Ford Explorer and a Chevrolet Blazer of similar age. Folding the backseat makes for more room.
Of all the sport-utes of the late 1990s, the Grand Cherokee is arguably the best looking. In everyday driving it’s agile and smooth, the steering is firm, and the brakes are powerful and easy to modulate. Clearly the six-cylinder is not as powerful as the V8, but in most applications it does the job just fine.
Pricing is fairly reasonable on the used market, perhaps because of a fair number of safety recalls and noteworthy reliability issues well documented in service bulletins. There is good value to be found in a used Grand Cherokee, but don’t neglect a thorough mechanical inspection.
Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.
For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.