2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee

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1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee

This 1999 review is representative of model years 1999 to 2004.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 8.5
Pros:
  • Impressive ride—on- and off-road
  • Unique Quadra-Drive system and new, more efficient V8
  • It's still a Jeep
Cons:
  • Reliability record on previous models less than impressive
  • No head restraint or shoulder belt for middle rider in back
  • Don't expect bargain pricing

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
Sure, the 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee looks a lot like its predecessor. But don't be fooled. A lot is changed here.

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
Yes, company designers struggled to make changes while keeping the character and style of the old Grand Cherokee. This is why the new model's changes—outside at least—seem so subtle.

"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
A big change is a new, 4.7-liter V8 that, while smaller in displacement than its predecessor, provides a bit more horsepower—235 at 4800 revolutions per minute. It's cleaner in emissions than the old 5.2-liter V8 and gets one mile per gallon more in fuel use.

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
For 1999, Jeep has a new four-wheel-drive system called Quadra-Drive that is the first in a sport ute to use a progressive, speed-sensing torque transfer front axle and Vari-Lok progressive front and rear differentials to shift power among the wheels as needed. It works mechanically within fractions of a second and without the driver doing anything.

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
The old Grand Cherokee rode well both on-road and off. The new model is even better, thanks to suspension improvements and a more rigid body. It also comes standard with big, 16-inch tires that also add to the vehicle's sharp styling and sport-ute stance. The test vehicle was especially impressive in holding its line in high-speed, sweeping curves where body sway was noticeably reduced.

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
The 1999 Grand Cherokee is the first vehicle in the world with dual-zone, infrared, automatic climate control. It works via sensors on the instrument panel that measure the "surface temperature" of the driver and front passenger continually, and automatically adjust the air flow temperature out of the vents to keep each person comfortable. They system is on the upscale Limited model.

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.

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BB05 - 8/27/2014 8:24:39 AM