Versus the competiton:
A Jeep with a Hemi?
Now that’s a novel idea, particularly a 330-horsepower Hemi V-8 with cylinder displacement, which allows it to shut itself down to just four cylinders to save gasoline during highway cruising.
The latest rendention of Chrysler’s legendary Hemi-type engines is offered as the top upgrade for the redesigned Grand Cherokee, which made its debut this past fall as a 2005 model.
The newest Grand Cherokee, available with not only the 5.7-liter Hemi but also a base V-6 or a midlevel 4.7-liter V-8, represents the third generation of the modern, unibody SUV that Chrysler introduced in 1992.
The most radical change is the addition of the Hemi to the lineup. (Even more power is coming this fall with the introduction of the 2006 Grand Cherokee SRT-8 model — with a 6.1-liter Hemi V-8 cranking out 415 horsepower.)
For 2005, the Grand Cherokee’s styling has updated, but the changes are subtle so the vehicle still looks like a Grand Cherokee. Still missing, though, is a third row of seating, which has become almost a requirement for SUVs in this class.
Instead, Jeep will introduce an all-new SUV later this year that is a bit larger than the Grand Cherokee, and which has a third seat. Based on the current Grand Cherokee, but with boxier exterior styling, that vehicle will be called the Commander.
The new Grand Cherokee’s Hemi V-8 engine is similar to the ones used in other DaimlerChrysler vehicles, rated at 330 horsepower and 375 foot-pounds of torque.
In our test vehicle, the 2005 Grand Cherolee Limited model with four-wheel drive (base price $34,045 plus $645 freight), the Hemi engine was a $1,245 upgrade, which also included electronic limited-slip front and rear axles, and an upgrade to Jeep’s Quadra-Drive II four-wheel-drive system from the midlevel Quadra-Trac II system that is included in the base Limited price.
The limited-slip differentials are part of a package designed to help make this Grand Cherokee as off-road capable as it can be — the hallmark of a real Jeep.
For serious off-roading, the Quadra-Drive II system is best. It includes a full-time transfer case with electronic limited-slip differentials in the front, center and rear. The midlevel system, Quadra-Trac II, has an electronic-locking center differential in the two-speed transfer case (the same one used in the Quadra-Drive system), but no locks for the front and rear axles.
For those who live in snow country and just need basic four-wheel drive there is the Quara-Trac I system, which is full-time four-wheel drive but with no two-speed transfer case. This one can’t be put into low range for serious off-roading.
Those who don’t care about four-wheel drive — such as most consumers in Texas — can opt for two-wheel-drive versions of the Grand Cherokee, which are less-expensive but not as versatile.
Chrysler says the Quadra-Drive II system on our Hemi test vehicle combines the NV245 full-time transfer case from the Quadra-Trac II system with those electronic limited-slip differentials “for best-in-class tractive performance.”
The system is designed to detect when a drive wheel begins slipping, and then to re-distribute engine torque to whichever wheels still have traction. In some cases, Chrysler says, the system will even anticipate low traction and adjust itself accordingly.
With the Quadra-Drive II system, there is a lever on the shift console that puts the vehicle into low range. And here is a plus for those with motorhomes: The transfer case can be shifted into “neutral” so the Grand Cherokee can be towed behind the motorhome with all four wheels on the ground.
Chrysler says the Quadra-Drive II system uses electronically controlled clutch packs to lock each axle automatically, as needed.
These electronic lockers aren’t quite as good as the simple locking front, center and rear differentials found in many modified Jeep CJs and other serious off-road vehicles, but for a car equipped at the factory, it’s a very good arrangement.
To address one of the biggest complaints with the prior Grand Cherokee models — that they were too cramped inside — the new generation is bigger and roomier, although not drastically so.
The new model is 3.3 inches longer than before, and an inch wider. But there is some loss of headroom, as the new one is 1.7 inches shorter. It has what Chrysler calls a “reduced glass-to-body” ratio, which means there is less glass area. That comes primarily from lowering the roof.
This has more to do with stability that esthetics, however. Lowering the roof brings the car closer to the ground and reduces its propensity to roll in a sharp turn.
The new Grand Cherokee’s base engine is the same 3.7-liter V-6 used in the compact Jeep Liberty SUV, which has 210 horsepower — up 15 from the 4.0-liter inline six-cylinder that served as base engine in the previous Grand Cherokee, including the one in my garage.
That inline six-cylinder had been a mainstay of the Grand Cherokee from the beginning, carried over from the Cherokee. The Liberty’s V-6 has proven itself to be more reliable.
Carried over from the previous model was the midlevel 4.7-liter V-8 engine, rated at 235 horsepower. Most Grand Cherokee owners probably will choose this engine, as it will offer the best value for the money.
To help with fuel economy, the Hemi comes with a system the Multi-Displacement System, which deactivates half of the cylinders during cruising and light acceleration to increase fuel economy by up to 20 percent, depending on driving conditions, Chrysler says.
Fuel-economy ratings for our Hemi model were 14 miles per gallon in the city and 19 mpg on the highway, compared with 15 city/20 highway for the smaller 4.7-liter V-8. Surprisingly, the V-6 doesn’t do much better; the ratings are 16 city/21 highway.
An all-new five-speed automatic transmission comes with the 3.7-liter V-6, while the five-speed automatic from the previous model carried over to the new models with V-8 engines. Chrysler had to use different transmissions because the one for the V-6 wasn’t able to handle the torque of the two V-8s.
These transmissions feature electronic range-select shift control, Chrysler says, which shifts automatically in the “drive” position, but allows the driver to shift manually by moving the shifter left and right from the “drive” position (no clutch, though). Although our test model started at nearly $35,000 and, with options, carried a sticker price of $41,385 (including freight), V-6 base Laredo models begin as low as $26,775 (including freight). That is $1,780 less than the starting price of the 2004 model.
The Laredo models come with the V-6 engine, while the Limited models get the 4.7-liter V-8. The Hemi can be added only to the Limited model, and only with four-wheel drive. The big engine isn’t offered in two-wheel-drive models.
Standard features on the Laredo include 17-inch satin-silver wheels, power windows/mirrors/door locks with remote, cruise control, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, four-way power driver seat with driver and passenger lumbar adjustment, and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
With the Limited model, extras include power adjustable pedals with memory; rain-sensing automatic windshield wipers; leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel;
electrochromatic rearview mirror; six-way power driver and four-way power front passenger seat; dual-zone automatic climate control; AM/FM/compact-disc audio system with six-disc in-dash changer and MP3 playback, along with a Boston Acousics premium six-speaker system and 276-watt digital amplifier; and leather interior.
Options on our test vehicle, besides the Hemi engine and locking axles, included a “preferred package” ($1,925), which added electronic stability control, power sunroof, hands-free communications, and SmartBeam headlights; an electronic information group ($1,200), which tacked on an overhead rear console and rear entertailment system; a four-by-four equipment package ($595), which brought underbody skid plates, tow hooks and off-road tires; a navigation system with six-disc MP3-capable CD changer ($1,245); Sirius satellite radio ($195); rear back-up alarm system ($255); and a tire-pressure monitoring system display ($85).
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G. Chambers Williams III is staff automotive columnist for the San Antonio Express-News and former transportation writer for the Star-Telegram. His automotive columns have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1995. Contact him at (210) 250-3236; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee
The package: Midsize, four-door, rear- or four-wheel-drive, five-passenger, six-cylinder or V-8 powered sport-utility.
Highlights: The third generation of Jeep’s unibody SUV debuted for 2005, a bit larger than before and with more luxury features and more available power — including a Hemi V-8. The base engine now is the same V-6 from the Liberty.
Negatives: Poor fuel economy, even with the V-6 (but typical for this class of vehicle); no third row of seating offered.
Engine: 3.7-liter V-6, 4.7-liter V-8, 5.7-liter Hemi V-8.
Transmission: 5-speed automatic.
Power/torque: 210 hp/235 foot-pounds; 230 hp/290 foot-pounds (4.7-liter), 330 hp./370 foot-pounds (Hemi).
Length: 186.6 inches.
Curb weight: 4,2,54-4,665 lbs.
Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.
EPA fuel economy: 14 miles per gallon city/19 highway (Hemi V-8; 15 city/20 highway (4.7-liter V-8); 16 city/21 highway )V-6).
Major competitors: Ford Explorer, Chevrolet TrailBlazer/GMC Envoy, Toyota 4Runner, Nissan Pathfinder, Dodge Durango.
Base price range: $26,130-$34,045 plus $645 freight.
Price as tested: $41,385, including freight (Limited four-wheel drive with Hemi engine and options).
On the Road rating: **** (four stars out of five; points off for poor fuel economy and lack of available third-row seating).
Prices shown are manufacturer’s suggested retail; actual selling price may vary according to manufacturer and/or dealer rebates, discounts and incentives.