I think of the Jeep Grand Cherokee as the original SUV; it's the SUV everyone had before everyone had SUVs. It's still popular today with plenty of moms. The Grand Cherokee provides ample room for a family of four without being too cumbersome. It's comfortable and stylish without being obnoxiously overloaded, and it has a reassuring steadiness under the toughest road conditions.
I do have one major issue with the 2009 Grand Cherokee, though, and that's its fuel economy, estimated at 14/19 mpg city/highway (and realistically below that). I had to fill 'er up twice in one week, and that did not make this mama happy. My test car was flex-fuel capable - meaning you can fill it with E85 ethanol - but even that didn't inspire warm fuzzies. When using ethanol, the Grand Cherokee's fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 9/13 mpg. Not good. The whole ethanol situation needs to be tweaked a few hundred times before we consider it as the savior to our fossil-fuel dependency. I'm not counting it out entirely, I'm simply suggesting that some work needs to be done.
The 2009 Grand Cherokee's exterior doesn't look much different from the 1999 Grand Cherokee that my husband drove when I first met him. Apparently, my taste in cars and men hasn't changed, as I liked the look of both back then and still do today (one might argue that my husband might even look better, since the love of a good woman is bound to make any man shine).
The Grand Cherokee has that classic seven-slot grille that's become a Jeep trademark, and a relatively compact body (at least compared to others in this segment, like the Ford Explorer or Toyota 4Runner). It fit into my garage easily, offering plenty of room to get myself and the kids in and out of the car, even with my husband's SUV parked there. A word of caution: The doors are really heavy. It's almost guaranteed that one of your kids will bonk their head on them, so watch out for your little ones.
The 4.7-liter V-8 engine gives the Grand Cherokee some punch, but it's that same engine that hungrily eats gas. I'm always conflicted about powerful engines: I get the allure of power and I enjoy being behind the wheel of such a powerful engine, but I really hate the gas-guzzling. I don't like having to fill up my tank very often, and I prefer to be a bit more green in my car choices.
I'm totally into the cool things manufacturers are doing with headlights these days, and the Grand Cherokee is no exception in this arena. The SmartBeam headlights that come standard on the Grand Cherokee Limited automatically adjust the high-beams' brightness when oncoming traffic approaches. With my horrible night vision, these smart headlights are immensely useful.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times
Compared with other cars I've tested recently, the 2009 Grand Cherokee seemed almost barren on the inside. It's not that the variety of accoutrements isn't sufficient, it's just that they aren't presented in a flashy way. Your eyes aren't immediately blinded by a large and glowing nav/entertainment system, which gives you the freedom to look elsewhere - like the road, for instance. What a novel idea.
Don't get me wrong, every techie thing you need is there, it's just packaged in a more Spartan manner than seems to be the fashion these days. There's Bluetooth connectivity; Sirius Satellite Radio and traffic service included for one year; a universal garage door opener; and the ever-handy navigation system with a screen that's just the right size. You also can opt for the second-row 9-inch overhead TV, although my test car wasn't equipped with it.
The front seats are reasonably comfortable, with a standard eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat and a four-way power-adjustable passenger's seat. The two-tone leather that covered the seats in my test car was stylish and soft to the touch. They were so pretty that it left me wondering how easily they'd clean if someone, say, spilled a drink or left a lollipop to melt on them. Fortunately, my son didn't offer me the opportunity to find out, but I was able to easily remove a teeny, tiny speck of chai that found its way onto the driver's seat.
Speaking of two-toned things, the Grand Cherokee has a two-tone instrument panel with a darker top portion that not only creates an elegant look, it also reduces glare from the sun. That was very useful here in sunny Colorado.
Power-adjustable pedals are also featured on the Grand Cherokee, which is a brilliant feature for those of you who are on the petite side. The second row is roomy, and I was able to easily fit between my kids' car seats. I found the SUV to have plenty of cargo space.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
Jeep began including side-impact airbags as standard on the Grand Cherokee beginning in 2007. There appears to be some room for improvement, however, because the Grand Cherokee received a Marginal score in crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. I'd love to see Jeep improve upon those results so they can achieve the highest safety rating in the side-impact category. There's no reason a car this large and seemingly sturdy shouldn't protect its passengers completely.
The all-wheel-drive system, electronic stability system and traction control all work together to make the Grand Cherokee a sturdy ride. I always felt safe driving it, even in the ice and snow that greeted us one day. Added to this sturdy extravaganza are Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist, which come standard with all-wheel drive and are designed to keep the Grand Cherokee slow and steady when traversing difficult terrain, and keep it from rolling backward on an incline, respectively.
Antilock brakes and a tire pressure monitoring system are standard, as is a smart key that immobilizes the engine in a theft attempt. My test car also had a rear backup camera, which is optional, but something I'm beginning to think should one day be standard.
In Diapers, In School, Teens: There's plenty of room in the backseat for kids of all sizes.