2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
The Jeep Grand Cherokee has been a fixture in the sport-utility vehicle market for years, but is badly showing its age.
While the Grand Cherokee is the flagship of the respected Jeep line, its on-road ride and handling can't match that of rivals. It's another story during off-road driving, but most owners of upscale sport-utes such as the Grand Cherokee don't plunk down about $30,000 and up to go rock-bashing with it.
A redesigned 2005 Grand Cherokee arrives this fall, but that doesn't mean that this accomplished player should be overlooked. It's handsome, comfortable and has a lot of comfort and convenience equipment.
The Grand Cherokee was introduced as a 1993 model and got a $2.65 billion redesign for 1999. It hasn't been changed a lot since then. The 2004 model gets slightly revised front styling and an available Navigation Radio, which combines a 4.9-inch color display, AM/FM stereo, CD player and navigation system into one unit.
The $27,410-$39,425 Grand Cherokee lineup has been expanded to five trim levels to cover a wider price spectrum. There's the carryover Laredo, Limited and Overland and new limited edition Special and Freedom versions, which arrive this spring. The Special Edition has the monochromatic exterior design cues of the midrange Limited.
This Jeep comes with rear- or 4-wheel drive. My test Limited had Jeep's Quadra-Trac II 4-wheel-drive system. There also are Select-Trac, Quadra-Trac I and Quadra-Drive 4-wheel-drive systems. All have low-range gearing for tough off-road jaunts and are excellent. After all, if Jeep can't offer really good 4-wheel-drive systems, nobody can.
Besides all the trims, the Grand Cherokee offers such a large number of stand-alone options and option packages that buyers should do homework before entering a Jeep showroom.
The Grand Cherokee is unusual in that it has a car's integrated unit-body chassis and the rigid front and rear axles of a rugged off-road vehicle.
That suspension setup, which also uses coil springs, delivers a good ride on smooth surfaces and go-anywhere driving abilities. But it causes side-to-side pitching motions—called "head toss"—on uneven surfaces.
The power steering is quick, but very sensitive. It calls for frequent small corrections at highway speeds. Handling is decent and strong brakes provide good stopping power. Optional adjustable pedals make the brake pedal easier to use for someone with short legs and let such a person move farther from the steering wheel airbags.
That V8 makes the Grand Cherokee the most powerful Jeep ever and is standard in the Overland and optional for the limited. In fact, the 265-horsepower Grand Cherokee is among the quickest sport-utes, hitting 60 mph in 7 seconds and providing quick merging and passing.
The hot rod engine requires a 5-speed automatic transmission but is very responsive and better than the 4-speed automatic used with the 6-cylinder engine. The 5-speed unit has a second overdrive gear, which allows the hot rod V8 to loaf at 2000 rpm at 70 mph.
However, fuel economy is mediocre; both V8s provide only an estimated 15 mpg in the city and 20-21 on highways. The 6-cylinder engine doesn't do much better at 16city and 21 highway.
Jeep has kept the wheelbase of the Grand Cherokee short for good off-road use, but thus has given up some rear legroom and a third-row seat.
Big door handles facilitate entry to the quiet, upscale interior. Occupants sit high, although driver vision to the rear is somewhat limited. Large outside mirrors help here.
It's generally easy to get in and out of the 5-seat Grand Cherokee, although rear door openings are rather narrow. There is good room up front, but knee room is tight for a 6-footer behind a driver who moves his seat back a lot. The center of the rear seat isn't too hard for comfort—at least on short trips.
Gauges can be quickly read, and the mostly large, smooth controls are easy to operate. The large front seats provide good under-thigh support, but insufficient lateral support to hold one in place securely when moving through curves. Front dual cupholders are nicely positioned to avoid beverage spills.
The hatch has a pop-up upper glass window and large outside handle that makes it easy to open. The cargo area opening is wide and moderately high. Cargo space is very good and is impressive with the back seats folded entirely forward.
A redesigned Grand Cherokee is overdue, but the current model has plenty of strong points.