Jeep's flagship, the Grand Cherokee Limited, drives like a tall-riding luxury sedan, is loaded with creature comforts and has one whale of a V8 engine.

In a time when buyers seem to snap up all the luxury SUVs automakers can build, the Limited has glove-soft leather seats, wood trim and an automatic dual-zone climate control on top of an off-road pedigree that gives it serious off-road capability.

Realistically, not many owners soil their Grand Cherokee in off-road excursions, and I don't blame them. It's too nice, and too expensive, to knock around even though it is capable of performing quite well in the rough. Back in 1999, when this model was first introduced to journalists, I drove one over a very rugged off-road course and it was most impressive.

The heart of the Limited is the SOHC, 4.7-liter V8 with the soul of a sports car and the obseqiousness of a maitre d'. This engine is as smooth as frozen yogurt, yet when called upon, it can flex its muscles impressively. One weekend I drove the test car to a friend's country cabin, and the brawny V8 absolutely shined on two-lane highways. I passed slow-moving 18-wheelers in the blink of an eye, courstesy of the 235 horsepower.

For 2001, Jeep has added a five-speed automatic transmission whose extra gear allows more relaxed highway cruising. Because it was quiet on the highway, I could easily hear the rear axle whine, and that was bothersome after a while. I have heard about this from other Jeep owners, too.

Another new item for 2001 is a hydraulic cooling system that replaces electric and mechanical fans. This is a first for a DaimlerChrysler vehicle, and it results in improved air conditioning and a quieter idle.

The test vehicle was equipped with Jeep's Quadra-Drive four-wheel-drive system that uses a speed-sensitive, torque-transfer system that allows drive to be distributed from front to rear or from side to side, as conditions require, with no driver involvement. Quadra-Drive will pull the vehicle when only one wheel has grip.

When Jeep redesigned the Grand Cherokee for 1999, it kept the same 105.9-inch wheelbase but made the vehicle taller, longer and wider. The spare tire was mounted under the rear floor and that freed up interior space. There is more hip room in the back seat and back doors are wider, too.

The second seat has new child-seat tether anchorages. No third seat is available, but Automotive News reports one will be offered on a future model. The lack of a third seat could be a negative when most of the competition has one.

Inside, ergonomics and aesthetics are quite good. The Limited has light-faced gauges that look sporty and are easy to read. Auxiliary switches and controls are grouped logically and are easy to reach. The radio is mounted up high in the center of the instrument panel, and climate controls are similar to those from the Chrysler Concorde and Dodge Intrepid.

The dual-zone climate contr ol system uses infrared sensors to measure the air around the driver and passenger, and temperature adjustments are then made accordingly.

"His" and "her" keys are linked to memory functions so that unlocking the vehicle automatically sets seats, mirrors and radio to one person's preferences. There are 13 functions that the driver can program simply using the overhead console.

Muted colors and soft textures throughout the interior mimic those of a luxury sedan.

In urban driving, handling is quite good. The ride is smooth and compliant and corners are dispatched without excessive body lean. The 17-inch wheels enhance grip and look great.

The brakes, with 12-inch rotors and an integrated anti-lock system, are powerful enough to stop strongly.

For those who tow, the 2001 has a standard connector under the instrument panel for use with aftermarket electric trailer brakes, and a wiring pigtail is packaged with the trailer towing option.

It's true hat the Grand Cherokee Limited is a pricey package, but then so are most of its comparably equipped competitors. The Jeep shines in three areas: The engine's power is pleasing, it looks terrific and the interior is as well-finished as a luxury sedan.


The base price of the Grand Cherokee Limited was $35,095. Options included AM/FM/cassette player with 10-disc CD changer, Quadra-Drive, power 10-way heated seats, 17-inch wheels, Up Country suspension and the five-speed automatic transmission.

The sticker price was $38,230.


Three years or 36,000 miles.

Point: The Grand Cherokee Limited has the style and panache of a luxury sedan and the rugged pedigree of a serious off-roader. It looks great, has a smooth and powerful 4.7-liter V8 engine and is loaded with creature comforts.

Counterpoint: Compared to competing SUVs, the Grand Cherokee is not as big inside as some of its competitors, and there is no optional third seat as yet.


Engine: 4.7-liter V8

Transmission: automatic

Four-wheel drive

Wheelbase: 105.9 inches

Curb weight: 4,134 lbs.

Base price: $35,095

As driven: $38,230

Mpg rating: 14 city, 19 hwy.