Sure sounded like a good idea at the time, a V-8-powered Jeep Grand Cherokee that would wait for no other machine.Need to tow a boat? The V-8 Grand Cherokee can pull the Queen Mary strapped to the back of the Titanic. Need to climb a hill? Take the V-8 Grand Cherokee up Mt. Everest, where the full-time four-wheel-drive and anti-lock brakes come in handy too. Need to move quickly from the light? Tap the pedal and you leave all other SUVs, and most sedans and coupes, in your fumes as the V-8 roars down the pavement as if awaiting a checkered flag at the other end. Unfortunately, the 5.9-liter, 245-horsepower V-8 in the Jeep Grand Cherokee for 1998 requires you stop as quickly as you start--each time you spot a filling station. The 13-m.p.g. city/17-m.p.g. highway rating is abysmal. At a time when some folks are questioning how fashionable it is to be seen in an SUV, with the V-8 Grand Cherokee, you'll be seen a lot--alongside it, with a lead-free gas nozzle in your hand. Dress nicely. Of course, those who buy a Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited with the 5.9-liter V-8 are going to have the funds to be fashionable. The homeless certainly can't afford $38,175, before options and freight. Chrysler boasts that the Grand Cherokee with its new 5.9-liter V-8 is the "fastest, most powerful Jeep vehicle ever built, with a 0- to 60-m.p.h. time of 7.3 seconds." Wow! But so what? Who pays $41,000 for a 4WD off-road-capable machine to take it to the drag strip? At 13 m.p.g. city/17 highway if you baby the machine, what does it obtain when you're checking out the 7.3-second claim? OK, gas prices are relatively cheap, so who cares about the cost of fuel when the 5.9-liter V-8 can blow the wheels off just about every other vehicle on the road except those with Italian names and those that travel banked tracks on Sundays? The 5.9-liter V-8 was added for '98 because the 5.2-liter V-8 was judged a bit under powered. Yet the 5.2 develops 220 h.p. and 300 foot-pounds of torque at 2,800 r.p.m. How much more power do you need? The answer seems to be the 245 h.p. and 345 foot-pounds of torque at 3,200 r.p.m. the 5.9 develops. Of course, the pros and cons of the 5.9-liter V-8 become moot in a few months when Chrysler brings out its redesigned 1999 Grand Cherokee with a new 4.7-liter V-8 to replace the 5.2-liter V-8. The 5.9-liter also will be dropped from the Jeep then. Why a 4.7-liter V-8? Because Chrysler figured it needed far better mileage from its big Jeep Grand Cherokee than 13 m.p.g. in the city and 17 m.p.g. on the open highway. While 13/17 might not bother those wanting the fastest SUV on the road, those aren't numbers that make the Environmental Protection Agency, keeper of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, ratings, cheer. With the arrival of the 4.7, Chrysler als o will revise the big SUV's suspension to one similar to that at Cadillac, which reads road surfaces and calculates engine speeds to provide more control and stability on flat, rolling, curved or winding surfaces. The suspension on the '98 Grand Cherokee we tested isn't bad. If anything, based on the 5.9-liter V-8 under the hood, you would expect it to be a bit firm, and somewhat harsh, for more aggressive driving. It turned out to be on the soft, cushy side so you barely feel road abrasions. You can expect that the more sophisticated computer-controlled electronic suspension for '99 will improve ride and handling, and by becoming more in tune with the pavement, make you feel as if the 4.7 is developing more horsepower than it does. An optional air suspension also will let the driver raise the chassis for off-roading or lower it for better mileage on the interstate. SUV heights are coming into question, especially when it comes to the fr nt bumper, which, on most SUVs, doesn't line up with the bumper on many sedans and coupes. So, i n an impact, the SUV overrides the other car. Outside this office, a subcompact Plymouth Neon parked nose-to-nose with the Grand Cherokee, made it clear that in a collision, the Grand Cherokee's bumper would meet the Neon's headlamps. The concern, of course, is for those in the Neon. The automakers have two options--lowering the SUVs or raising sedans and coupes. Anyone who has enjoyed the ability to see down the road in an SUV might vote for taller cars. But we digress. Looking to this fall, Chrysler also will focus more on Grand Cherokee ride and handling by stretching the wheelbase of the current 105.9-inch version. Should help, as would widening the track to add to road stability. Though the Grand Cherokee could use a mileage boost, the vehicle we tested had several noteworthy features, such as huge outside mirrors for excellent side and rear visibility; a spot inside against the side wall in back for the spare tire, where it took up very little cargo room; a plastic shade that slides out from the back seat and around the spare to hide items in the cargo hold; large plastic lower bodyside cladding to keep the body panels from bearing the brunt of misguided doors or grocery carts; and split folding rear seats that allow one or both to be lowered to enable you to toss in skis or 2-by-4s. The vehicle also comes with full-time 4WD, one reason the mileage rating is so low. A transfer lever lets you shift into four-wheel low when needed for off-roading, heavy snow or deep sand. Though the chassis is raised for off-road usage, you can enter or exit the Grand Cherokee without having to take a running leap. Other nice touches include two power plugs for accessories such as a phone; solid dual cupholders built into the center console; an armrest between the two frontseats that serves as a top for a stowage bin; pull-out storage bins in the doors; a rear hatch with a window that opens on its own (with a button so you don't have to fiddle with a key) or as part of the hatch; and well-designed dash and instrument panel controls that are easy to see and use. The only controls not within easy sight or reach are those for the heated leather seats that are behind the steering wheel. And it sure seemed a long time before the heat kicked in. The Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited comes loaded, as it should for that $38,175 base price. There are dual depowered air bags; rear window washer/wiper/defroster; a much-needed 23-gallon fuel tank; air conditioning; power windows and door locks; tilt steering; cruise control; garage door opener; AM-FM stereo with compact-disc player/cassette/10 speakers; leather-wrapped steering wheel; front and rear floor mats; power sunroof; automatic on/off headlamps; roof rack; power foldaway mirrors; an d 16-inch radial tires. Our test vehicle came with a preferred-equipment package that added little in comfort or convenience for $2,645 other than sun-screen tinted glass, all-season radials and heated mirrors. >> 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee Wheelbase: 105.9 inches Length: 177.2 inches Engine: 5.9-liter, 245-h.p. V-8 Transmission: 4-speed automatic EPA mileage: 13 m.p.g. city/17 m.p.g. highway Base price: $38,175. Price as tested: $41,020. Includes $2,645 for preferred-equipment package with overhead console, tinted sun-screen glass, all-season radials, day/night rearview mirror, power lumbar seat adjustment, upgraded Infinity radio with cassette, power heated mirrors, security alarm and fog lamps; and $200 for skid plate and tow hooks. Add $525 for freight. Pluses: Never have to wait at light or linger at bottom of s eep incline or sputter while towing a boat with potent V-8. Full-time 4WD. Four-wheel ABS. Passengers sit high without needing stool to enter/exit. Minuses: Very low mileage. Very high price. Trying to justify $2,645 for the items in the preferred-equipment package. >>
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||March 8, 1998|
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||December 12, 1997|
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