2005 Grand Cherokee Road Test
From the Detroit Free Press:
MARK PHELAN: A grand re-entry
Refined with more room, comfort and power, '05 Grand Cherokee is a major improvement
September 2, 2004
BY MARK PHELAN
FREE PRESS COLUMNIST
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- The replacement for Jeep's flagship Grand Cherokee sport-utility vehicle was the only program DaimlerChrysler executives scrapped after the merger that created the company nearly six years ago.
The new company's executives noticed a funny thing as they went over their plans for future models: Chrysler was about to spend well over $1 billion to build the new Grand Cherokee in its Jefferson Avenue assembly plant near Detroit's waterfront, but the new model wasn't much of an improvement. Most damning, it didn't address the Grand Cherokee's greatest failing, a cramped interior with tight passenger and luggage space.
This was one of the first uh-oh moments as they realized Chrysler Group had some lean years ahead. They could have rushed the flawed model into production to generate some quick cash, but Jeep customers are demanding, and the brand's reputation is one of Chrysler's greatest assets.
They wisely chose short-term pain for long-term gain. They started over nearly from scratch, even though it meant delaying the new vehicle by more than a year, which would mean lower sales and higher incentives down the road.
The all-new 2005 Grand Cherokee turns out to have been worth the wait.
The new Grand Cherokee is unmistakably a Jeep, from its round headlights and seven-slot grille to its extraordinary off-road ability. It also adds features ranging from Chrysler's outstanding 5.7-liter Hemi V8 to DVD video and ultrasonic rear object detection, giving it the oomph and upscale appeal to compete with luxury SUVs such as the BMW X3 and Lexus GX 470. The Grand Cherokee's main competition includes mainstream SUVs such as the Chevrolet TrailBlazer, Ford Explorer, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota 4Runner.
To that end, the $26,130 base Grand Cherokee comes with a 210-horsepower, 3.7-liter V6 engine and five-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive. Rear-drive models account for 20 percent to 25 percent of Grand Cherokee sales.
The new V6 and five-speed replace the aged 195-horsepower, 4.0-liter straight-six engine and four-speed automatic that were the base combination for the 2004 model.
The V6 and five-speed provided more than adequate acceleration both around town and in highway driving, though with its 3,500-pound towing capacity and 235 pound-feet of torque, I wouldn't recommend them for anyone who tows trailers, lives in the mountains or does much off-roading.
The least expensive four-wheel-drive model gets the V6 and five-speed and has a base price of $28,100. All prices exclude destination charges.
Between the V6 and the brawny Hemi V8, Jeep offers an optional 4.7-liter V8 that produces 235 horsepower. Prices for that model start at $31,455 for rear-drive and $34,045 for four-wheel drive.
The 4.7-liter V8's 235 pound-feet of torque boost the Grand Cherokee's towing capacity to a more useful 6,500 pounds. That may make the engine more practical than the V6, but it provided only marginal improvement in highway acceleration.
The Hemi produces 330 horsepower and 375 pound-feet of torque in the Grand Cherokee. Prices start at $37,215. The Hemi increases the Grand Cherokee's towing capacity to a best-in-class 7,200 pounds. Acceleration is excellent.
Both V8s use the same five-speed automatic transmission, which is a different model from the one offered with the V6.
To get the Hemi, you also have to pony up for Jeep's top-of-the-line four-wheel-drive system, which is called Quadra-Drive II. It's the most sophisticated and effortlessly effective of the Grand Cherokee's three four-wheel-drive systems, combining a dual-range transfer case, electronic traction control and stability control and front and rear electronic limited slip differentials. Quadra-Trac II eschews the electronic limited slip differentials and is available with the 4.7-liter engine. The 3.7-liter is available with Quadra-Trac I. Like the other systems, it offers full-time all-wheel-drive, but its single-range transfer case does not have a low range for extreme off-roading.
I tested Quadra-Drive II and Quadra-Trac II systems over a set of daunting hills and ravines in the San Rafael Mountains of central California. Both got the Grand Cherokee around or over every obstacle, but the pricier Quadra-Drive II made what looked impossible easy. Quadra-Trac II never struggled, but I could feel it working as the wheels began to spin until the traction and stability control took over.
With Quadra-Drive II and a number of other features that are optional on lower models, the Hemi-powered Grand Cherokee justifies its substantial price tag.
On the road, all models of the 2005 Grand Cherokee were quiet, smooth and comfortable, with minimal wind or road noise.
The vehicle also offers substantially more luggage and passenger room than the previous model. There's more shoulder room and legroom, although I think the rear seat would still feel cramped for tall passengers on a long drive.
Customer research convinced Jeep executives that Grand Cherokee owners like the SUV's modest dimensions -- at 186.6 inches long, it's several inches shorter than the Explorer, Pathfinder, 4Runner, and TrailBlazer -- so there's no model with third-row seating as some of its competitors have. Jeep owners who want to carry seven or eight people will have to wait for the larger upcoming Commander model.
Despite its compact proportions, the Grand Cherokee has a larger turning diameter -- the room it takes to do a 180-degree turn -- than the Explorer, 4Runner or TrailBlazer.
The appearance and comfort of the interior are a huge step up for Jeep and the Chrysler Group, with attractive metal or sycamore wood trim, firm and comfortable seats with optional leather surfaces, and a good-looking and modern four-gauge instrument panel.
Those creature comforts and a list of safety equipment that includes standard antilock brakes and tire-pressure monitors and optional side-curtain air bags make the new Grand Cherokee the midsize SUV of choice for any buyer who puts a premium on off-road ability or doesn't need to carry more than five passengers.