1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
This flagship Jeep is redesigned for the first time since its debut in 1992. It retains the good looks that helped it wear well and adds a first-ever Quadra-Drive four-wheel-drive system. Best of all, the new Grand Cherokee continues as a class leader in on- and off-road ride.
Looks can be deceiving
Just about everything, to be exact. Officials at parent company DaimlerChrysler note just 127 parts were carried over from the 1998 model.
A strong contender
"The challenge in designing the 1999 Grand Cherokee was to make it look new but without losing the well-established signature of the current vehicle," said Michael Moore, chief designer, interior/exterior, for Jeep.
It's easy to understand their dilemma. The Grand Cherokee came to market in 1992 with good looks and nice lines and aged well over the years. Sales rose steadily to more than 250,000 in 1996 before beginning to fall back as newer competitors from Mercedes-Benz and Lexus, among others, entered the market.
So, there was a need for change, and yet a sense of "don't mess too much with a good thing." Thus, even as the front end of the 1999 model seems awfully familiar, there are new jeweled headlamps at the sides now, the windshield is slanted more and the roofline is arced.
More power from a new V8
But few early-production 1999 Grand Cherokees have this optional power plant because engine production was still gearing up. Spokesman Jan Zverina said the company expects "the shortage with the new engine" to be worked out by the first quarter of 1999.
The 4.0-liter in-line six that was in the earlier Grand Cherokee returns for 1999—improved with 190 horses and lower emissions. It was the power plant in the test vehicle, which accelerated quickly on the highway, managed city traffic without hiccups and capably tackled dirt trails.
The only transmissions in the Grand Cherokee are automatics.
A technology first
Normally, Quadra-Drive puts power to the rear wheels. If a rear wheel loses traction, the speed variation in that wheel vs. the others activates a gerotor pump that applies hydraulic pressure to a multi-disc pack. This mechanism sends power to the front wheels virtually instantaneously to help compensate for the traction loss in back.
And if one of the front wheels has more traction than the other, the Vari-Lok mechanism works to shift more torque to the key wheel. DaimlerChrysler said Vari-Lok can deliver more torque to the high-traction wheel than is possible with conventional limited-slip systems.
"Quadra-Drive is a totally new concept," said David Van Raaphorst, executive engineer for powertrain.
Love that ride
Inside, the spare tire that used to gobble up precious cargo space is tucked neatly under the flat cargo floor. It's inside the vehicle, not under the cargo floor as in some other sport utes. That floor, by the way, was stretched three inches to make room for the tire.
Take a look inside
Rear seat head restraints now automatically fold forward when a latch is pushed, so you don't have to struggle to remove them in order to get the seatback down all the way for cargo storage. But only the two outer riders in the back of the Grand Cherokee get head restraints. The middle person back there must also make do with just a lap belt, and the Grand Cherokee doesn't offer side airbags.
Darkly tinted windows on the back doors seem to make the rear seat more confining, and rear windows don't go down all the way. Rear legroom is decent, though I couldn't tuck my toes under the front seats. In both front and backseats, there's a bit more headroom than before.
Seats are well-cushioned, and even at 5-foot-4, I didn't have to climb up to get into the Grand Cherokee. The company lowered the step-in height by 1.1 inches in the new model. Ground clearance is 8.3 inches.
Past models of Grand Cherokee struggled, however, in independent reliability ratings. Pricing is becoming an issue, too. The lowest-priced Grand Cherokee has a manufacturer's suggested retail price of more than $25,000, while the top-of-the-line model with the optional V8 carries an MSRP of more than $33,000.