Outside, the Grand Cherokee is edgy and angular, clean and contemporary, uncluttered by body cladding. Yet it is instantly recognizable as a Jeep.
Inside, the atmosphere is light, comfortable, and enveloping, with lots of seat adjustments, and excellent outward vision around relatively slim windshield posts. Switches and controls are clearly labeled and easy to find and use. In back is nearly 70 cubic feet of cargo space.
A wide range of engines is available. The 5.7-liter Hemi V8 is particularly good for towing or driving at higher elevations. The high-performance SRT8 model has a 420-horsepower 6.1-liter Hemi V8 and can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds. The smaller, 4.7-liter overhead-cam V8 gets 70 more horsepower for 2008 for a total of 305 hp; we found this engine works quite well. The 4.7-liter engine is offered in most states with E85 flex-fuel capability, meaning it can run on gasoline or up to 85 percent ethanol. The Grand Cherokee also offers a Mercedes-Benz-sourced 3.0-liter common-rail turbo-diesel (CRD) V6, which can tow up to 7,400 pounds (with proper equipment) and range 425 miles between fill-ups.
For 2008, Grand Cherokee benefits from minor interior and exterior design changes, as well as new entertainment and off-road and safety features.
For 2008, Grand Cherokee gets a revised front fascia and grille and a new headlight design with available high-intensity discharge headlamps.
For 2008, the instrument panel, steering wheel, center console, and armrests are revised, and the steering wheel adds a telescoping feature. The new entertainment options consist of Sirius Backseat TV with three child-oriented channels and Jeep's MyGig, a 20-gigabyte hard drive that holds songs, pictures, and navigation system map information.
Grand Cherokee was last redesigned for the 2005 model year. The current Grand Cherokee offers better handling than that of pre-2005 models, leaning less in corners. It rides better on all surfaces and its turning radius is tighter.
Hill-start assist holds the brakes on a hill to allow smooth launches. Hill-descent control uses the ABS to control the rate of speed when driving down steep hills. A trailer sway control system is available that applies braking pressure to individual wheels to help stabilize trailers during towing.
Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo 2WD ($28,520); Laredo 4WD ($30,490); Limited 2WD ($35,965); Limited 4WD ($38,555); Overland 2WD ($40,005); Overland 4WD ($43,440); SRT8 4WD ($40,525)
For 2008, the grille has been lengthened, the headlamps made more circular, and the front fascia has been redesigned as a two-piece unit with a lower section that can be removed to allow more clearance over rugged terrain.
While conventional SUVs, such as the Dodge Durango, are built on a separate frame like a truck, the Grand Cherokee uses an unusual construction scheme Jeep calls Uniframe, a close marriage of a welded steel unit-body and underlying front and rear modules. This is an extremely sturdy and rigid concept developed back in Jeep's days with unit-body pioneer American Motors. The Grand Cherokee has earned a five-star safety rating in both front and side impact tests from the federal government.
Limited models present a flashier appearance than Laredo models, with a chromed grille, bright inserts in the bumpers, and accent-color bodyside molding.
The Overland is distinguished by mesh-texture grille inserts between its traditional vertical grille bars, which are Platinum in finish; Platinum accents also appear on the bumpers, side molding, roof-rack side rails, liftgate light bar, and mirrors. Wheels are chromed, and the front sill guards are brushed stainless.
Jeep reached deep into its heritage for the Overland name. First built in 1903, the Overland automobile was the earliest ancestor of the Willys. Willys played an instrumental role in the development and production of the World War II-era Jeep, but was also the first automaker to seriously envision a civilian market for a military-style utility vehicle. The Willys Jeep debuted in 1946 and had its name shortened to just-plain Jeep in the early 1960s. Although the Jeep brand has passed through several owners since then, its lineage remains unbroken.
The SRT8 has a monochrome look all its own, relieved by bright trim at the belt level and bodyside and accented by enormous five-spoke, 20-inch forged aluminum wheels. Functional air ducts in its more buff front bumper fascia improve brake cooling. The rear bumper is cut out to accommodate dual four-inch exhaust tips, and the extended side sills are claimed to enhance downforce. SRT8 is available only in Bright Silver, Brilliant Black or Inferno Red.
The seats are large and cushy in all trim levels except SRT8, the better to enjoy the generous interior space. On Laredo they are upholstered in cloth with leather as a package option, while Limited seats are two-tone leather with perforated inserts. In Overland, the seats are upholstered in saddle-perforated high-contrast two-tone Ultrasuede, featuring accent piping and embroidered Overland logos. Overland also features real wood trim on the steering wheel, instrument panel, door panels, and gear selector. The center armrest is leather-upholstered, and unique colors are employed in the instrument cluster.
The SRT8 goes for the high-tech racer look with deeply contoured sport seats, and lots of carbon fiber and aluminum trim. Unique blue-accented gauges include a 180-mph speedometer plus oil pressure and oil temperature readouts in the center stack. The sport seats offer lots of support, with deep side bolsters, but drivers with larger frames may find them too narrow.
The instrument panel on all models is a cohesive design with a nice combination of shiny plated parts, matte-finish parts, and a first-rate layout. In all Grand Cherokees, the two-tone, dark-over-light theme set by the instrument panel flows into the door trim.
The available navigation system integrates the audio system and other functions, and for 2008 it adds Jeep's MyGig, a 20-gigabyte hard drive that holds songs, pictures and the navigation information. It can hold about 1600 songs, and you can program it to display your own digital pictures. The screen has a nice display, generates crisp maps, and does a good job of directing you to your destination, both visually and audibly. It isn't as easy to program as similar systems from Acura and Lexus, however. There's a separate Enter button, which can be annoying because intuition suggests pressing the toggle switch down. The daytime setting is so bright at night as to be distracting.
Similarly, all Chrysler products, including Jeeps, use a separate Set button for pre-setting radio stations, which seems unnecessarily difficult. Setting these on most radios is just a matter of holding down the desired preset.
The rear DVD entertainment system gains available Sirius Backseat TV for 2008. The TV system requires a monthly subscription for its three channels: Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, and Nickelodeon. We tried it and found the reception to be good. With Sirius Backseat TV, if you forget the DVDs, you can still keep the kids entertained.
One area of concern for family shoppers is rear seating. Despite its midsize SUV dimensions, the Grand Cherokee's rear seat lacks the leg room to make rear adult occupants comfortable, especially if taller passengers are riding up front. Such an issue might be a deal breaker for customers who regularly carry adult-size passengers.
The cargo area, on the other hand, is quite useful. It features a reversible load floor panel that flips over on itself to create a shallow container, for more versatility in the rear storage compartment. The second-row seats fold down for a total of 67.4 cubic feet of cargo space, but they don't fold flat for optimal utility.
Laredo comes standard with Chrysler's 3.7-liter V6, borrowed from its sister trucks, the Jeep Liberty and Dodge Ram, with its own five-speed overdrive automatic transmission. The single overhead cam V6 produces 210 horsepower and gets an EPA-rated 15/20 mpg City/Highway with rear- or four-wheel drive, not much better than the V8s.
The 4.7-liter V8, on the other hand, is significantly improved for 2008, and it works really well in the Grand Cherokee. This modern, overhead-cam engine is smooth and powerful for around-town and highway driving. It has a broad torque band, a lovely sound, and electronic throttle control (drive-by-wire) that's easy to use and precise in tricky downhill off-road situations. If you don't live in the mountains and don't usually tow anything, this engine might be your best choice. The 4.7-liter V8 produces 305 horsepower at 5650 rpm and 334 pound-feet of torque at 3950 rpm. (Those numbers are up 70 and 29, respectively, from 2007.) It's EPA-rated at 14/19 mpg with rear- or four-wheel drive. It's also flex-fuel capable in 45 states, meaning it can run on gasoline or up to 85 percent ethanol (E85).
The 5.7-liter Hemi V8 is a thoroughly modern engine, featuring twin spark plugs, direct ignition, and electronic throttle control, though it is a pushrod-overhead-valve design. The 5.7-liter Hemi produces 330 horsepower at 5000 rpm and 375 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. Fuel economy is an EPA-rated 13/19 mpg with rear drive and 13/18 mpg with four-wheel drive. Note that it delivers much stronger torque yet matches the fuel economy of the 4.7-liter. Torque is that force that propels you from intersections and helps you tow trailers up long grades, and you can really feel it with the Hemi. Its highway fuel economy rating is aided by Jeep's Multi-Displacement System, which shuts down four of the engine's eight cylinders whenever it detects a steady-state cruise condition and then reactivates them on demand. For 2008, Grand Cherokees with the Hemi get a Fuel Saver Mode display that informs drivers when four cylinders have been shut down.
Both V8 engines use a heavy-duty five-speed automatic transmission with a direct fourth gear for towing. Both this transmission and the five-speed automatic that's mated to the V6 feature a manual shift gate.
The 3.0-liter common-rail turbo-diesel (CRD) V6, engineered by Mercedes-Benz, produces 215 horsepower at 4000 rpm and 376 pound-feet of torque at 2000 rpm. That's as much torque as the Hemi, at half the engine speed. Towing capacity also matches the Hemi, at 7400 pounds (with 2WD); while EPA fuel economy of 18/23 mpg with rear-wheel drive (17/22 mpg with four-wheel drive) yields a driving range of more than 400 miles on one tank of fuel. Clean-diesel technology reduces carbon-dioxide emissions by 20 percent, but the diesel is not clean enough to be sold in Maine, New York, Vermont, Connecticut or California.
The Grand Cherokee offers a nicer ride and better cornering than any other Jeep in history. We don't recommend flinging 4500-pound SUVs into corners, but the Grand Cherokee is competent in this sort of socially unacceptable behavior because it's easy to drive and rewarding within the limits of its tires. There seems to be a flatfooted, stable attitude with this Jeep, similar to that of the car-based crossover SUVs recently introduced (in fact, it's better than some). The steering is reasonably quick, accurate, and nicely weighted. A tight, 37.1-foot turning circle provides advantages off-road as well as in crowded parking lots or when making a U-turn. Still, the Grand Cherokee feels more like a truck than the typical crossover SUV.
Tow ratings are 3,500 pounds for the 3.7-liter V6, 6,500 pounds for the 4.7-liter V8, and 7,400 po
The Jeep Grand Cherokee is an icon among sport utility vehicles and this latest-generation version is far better than older models. It looks wonderful. It's powerful and quiet at the same time. It offers good space efficiency and comes loaded with standard and optional features. The Grand Cherokee is a great choice for those who want to tow, go off-road, or both. And if fuel economy is your goal, the available diesel has it without sacrificing power.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw filed this report from Santa Barbara, California, with Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles and correspondent Kirk Bell reporting from Chicago.