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Car reviews - Jeep - Grand Cherokee - Limited 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Powerful V8, more car-like than most big 4WDs
Room for improvement
Thirsty, 'rubbery' ride and handling

20 Feb 2001

JEEP's second generation Grand Cherokee arrives with a swag of high-tech 4WD refinements that, on first impressions, appear to make it equally formidable on or off-road.

Apart from being taller, longer and wider than the outgoing ZG series Grand Cherokee, the new WJ series offers an impressive array of temptations on top of its (optional) new Quadra-Drive 4WD system.

For openers, there is a new overhead camshaft 4.7-litre V8, fitted only to the top of the line Limited model, that endows the relatively light Jeep with eye-popping performance.

This 162kW powerhouse, though somewhat rowdy when started from cold, has no trouble picking up the 1837kg Limited and running with it.

It makes comparisons with Land Rover's 4.0-litre pushrod V8 seem unfair.

Mid-range power is always there when you need it and the step-off from a standing start is more like a V8 sports sedan than a bulky off-roader.

There is also a new gearbox, nominally a four-speeder, but actually in possession of a fifth ratio dropped in between second and third gears for smoother kickdowns. The V8 is strong enough to pull a relatively high 3.01 first gear, giving swift off-the-line acceleration.

Jeep says the new gearbox was specially developed for the new V8 and will also be used in light and heavy duty Chrysler trucks.

Although the Grand Cherokee may look decidedly similar to the previous model, the reality, according to Jeep, is only 127 parts were carried over in the transition. These include items such as the internal rear-view mirror and the oil filter from the six-cylinder Laredo model.

The new model runs on the same wheelbase but is slightly wider tracked. It is 11cm longer, 5.5cm higher and 4cm wider in the body than before.

Jeep also tells us the step-in height has been reduced by 2.8cm for easier entry and the seating height has been lifted 2.5cm for a more commanding driving position. The rear loading area offers an extra 35 litres of space.

Considerable work has also been done on the suspension which has an all-new three-link, live axle layout at the rear and a refined version of the leading link, solid axle front end from the previous Grand Cherokee.

The coil springs have been given new rates and the control arms are considerably stiffer - all of which is aimed at improving ride and handling.

But the company has not gone to the expense of semi-active suspension control such as that optionally available on the Land Rover Discovery.

At the centre of the new Jeep is the very clever Quadra-Drive 4WD system.

Unlike most other limited-slip systems, it is wheel speed sensing rather than torque sensing and sends power to the wheel with most traction by means of a hydraulic pump. Unlike other traction control systems, it does not brake the slipping wheel in order to send drive to the wheel with grip.

The bottom line is the Grand Cherokee, in theory, is capable of still making progress even if only one wheel has traction.

The main problem is that Quadra-Drive is optional and then only on the Limited version.

Standard is the familiar Quadra-Trac II transfer case that uses a full-time 4WD system similar to that adopted in Nissan's new Pathfinder. It employs a multi-disc central clutch to deliver power to the front wheels when necessary.

Most of the time the Jeep runs as a regular rear-drive vehicle.

To the observer, the latest Grand Cherokee may not look all that different, despite the absence of carry-over panels.

The theme established with the outgoing WJ is clearly evident but there are a handsome, bold new front end and a reworking of the side view to maintain Jeep signatures such as the squared-off wheel arches and low-slung - by the standards of most others - profile. But compared to the strong front and side views, the Grand Cherokee's somewhat bland rear end is disappointing.

Inside, the upmarket Limited is resplendent in soft, loose-cushioned leather seats and lashings of blatantly fake woodgrain. Front legroom is adequate for practically all sizes, except the driver's seat never really seems able to adopt a comfortable shape and position for taller drivers.

Rear seat legroom is okay, if nothing special, and there is that slightly bigger but still class average loading area that can be covered with a roll-out blind.

The tail gate is top-hinged and provides a handy shelter in unfavourable weather. It also includes the bonus of a rear window that can be opened separately if you simply want quick access into the back of the vehicle.

On the road, the new Jeep is a mix of car-style handling and the driver disassociation experienced in most big 4WDs. The difference is the Jeep has a distinct rubbery feel, in both suspension and steering, that in some ways makes it feel quite refined but in others tends to compromise the sense of driver control that is the cornerstone of a satisfying on-road experience.

The Grand Cherokee tends to pitch and rock sideways noticeably - despite Jeep's claim this has been lessened in the latest model - and the steering, while relatively sharp and responsive, manages to feel disconnected with what is going on at the wheel-road interface.

The V8 engine, on the other hand, is nicely reassuring with plenty of urge always available for acceleration or for towing heavy loads. The Limited has a towing capacity of 2954kg.

And there is always the knowledge that all-wheel drive is the pulse of a speed sensor away if the going gets slippery.

The V8's new four-five gearbox is indeed a pleasant unit but the extra gear is difficult to detect, which Jeep would see as a good thing because it is there to smooth out the gear changing process. The box can actually be heard to emit a slight thump on the occasional light-throttle shift.

The more car-like driving position and the general softness of the Grand Cherokee makes it a different proposition to the more upright but less roll-prone Discovery. The Jeep's main deficit is the shortage of driver feedback that makes it feel more "nervous" when pushed.

And, like any big 4WD, it is thirsty - not helped by a relatively small 78-litre fuel tank - with around 13 litres per 100km the best that could be expected on a lightly-loaded country tour.

Off-road, the Grand Cherokee Limited - with Quadra-Drive option - is an assured performer, its main deficit being a slight lack of ground clearance compared to the Land Rover opposition.

But with its style, V8 performance and that warm, inviting feel imbued by all the soft leather and fake wood - and a killer sound system - the Grand Cherokee Limited has a place at the cushy end of the 'real' 4WD market.

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