Jeeps top-shelf model adds a five-speed automatic transmission for its V-8 engine but sees no major changes this year. Grand Cherokee, which is larger and more expensive than the Cherokee, was redesigned for the 1999 model year.
As Jeeps highest-volume SUV, it competes with the Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Blazer, Toyota 4Runner and other midsize rivals, as well as luxury models such as the Infiniti QX4 and Lexus RX 300.
Grand Cherokee comes in classic four-door SUV styling highlighted by a bold, upright grille that is a Jeep trademark. At 181 inches bumper to bumper, it is 14 inches longer than the Cherokee and 9 inches shorter than the Ford Explorer. The rear liftgate has a window that swings up separately.
Both the Laredo and Limited models seat five, but the ritzier Limited comes with standard leather upholstery (an option on the Laredo). Unlike the Cherokee, whose spare tire is in the cargo bay, the Grand Cherokees spare is underneath the rear cargo floor. Cargo volume is 72 cubic feet with the rear seat folded.
Under the Hood
A 195-horsepower 4.0-liter V-6 is the base engine and comes with a four-speed automatic transmission. This year, a 230-hp 4.7-liter V-8 is optional and comes with a five-speed automatic transmission instead of the four-speed.
Both engines are available with two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, and there is a choice of 4WD systems. Selec-Trac is a full-time system that can be left in 4WD on dry pavement or turned off. Quadra-Trac is a permanently engaged system that distributes power among the wheels as needed for traction.
The V-8 is a smooth, potent engine that generates neck-snapping passing power. Its only drawbacks are high fuel consumption and excessive engine fan noise when it is first started.
Despite being smaller on the outside than some key rivals, the Grand Cherokee doesnt seem short of passenger or cargo room, and the Limited model treats occupants to first-class accommodations. Neither the Laredo nor the Limited is cheap, so it may be worthwhile to shop other brands before making a decision.