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Jeep promotes the Grand Cherokee as a full-size SUV, but that's only partly true. In its physical dimensions and towing capacity, Grand Cherokee is a mid-size, like the Ford Explorer or Chevrolet TrailBlazer. At the base level, it's priced like a mid-size. It isn't even Jeep's biggest SUV, as that honor now belongs to the Commander. Still, Jeep clearly sees Grand Cherokee as the flagship of its fleet, and that means that you won't find a Jeep, at least, that's more comfortable, sophisticated, or better appointed.
Outside, 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 adjustment, excellent outward vision around relatively slim windshield post. All switches and controls are clearly are labeled and easy to find and use. In back is nearly 70 cubic feet of cargo space.
Anyone familiar with Grand Cherokees of just a few years ago will find that the chassis is now far more sophisticated, giving the current model much better handling than that of pre-2005 models. Today's Grand Cherokee leans less in corners while riding better on all surfaces. Its turning radius is tighter, too, good for crowded parking lots.
A wide range of modern 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 and can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in less than five seconds. The smaller, 4.7-liter overhead-cam V8 works quite well, too, and is offered in most states with E85 flex-fuel capability, meaning it can run on gasoline or up to 85 percent ethanol. Even the standard overhead-cam V6 is quite competent. For 2007, the V6 is available with Jeep's most sophisticated Quadra-Drive II four-wheel-drive system.
Also new for '07 is 3.0-liter common-rail turbo-diesel (CRD) V6, which can tow up to 7400 pounds (with proper equipment) and range 425 miles between fill-ups. It will be offered across the entire range (except SRT8), with either two or four-wheel drive.
Grand Cherokee had its last total redesign for 2005. For 2006, Jeep expanded the Grand Cherokee model range with the luxurious Overland and the high-performance SRT8. For 2007, Jeep has added a number of refinements. Most significantly, side-curtain air bags with roll detection are now standard on all models, and all models now offer the ParkView reversing camera and active turn signals. Standard tires are wider. Remote start is standard on Limited and Overland, and optional on Laredo and SRT8. In fact, the base-level Laredo has been significantly upgraded, with more standard trim and many more available options.
As we said at the outset, the Jeep Grand Cherokee is a midsize sport utility, no matter what Jeep may call it. It's actually smaller than a Ford Explorer.
In appearance, the Grand Cherokee is modern and square-edged, with a fashionably high waistline and small side windows. The shape of the body is designed to protect the sides of the vehicle from potential road debris. Revised taillights distinguish the '07; otherwise Grand Cherokee's outside appearance hasn't changed significantly since '05.
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.
New for 2007: The base-level Laredo model has been dressed up a bit. Door handles are now body-color (instead of black), and the black bodyside moldings have been redesigned.
Limited models still present a flashier appearance, 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 side-view mirrors. Wheels are chromed, and the front sill guards are now brushed stainless.
Jeep has reached deep into its heritage to revive 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 bluff 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. It looks hot, very sporty.
If you haven't looked at a Grand Cherokee in several years, you'll be surprised at how nice the interior has become. The instrument panel 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 handbrake lever has a spindly, low-quality feel to it, however.
New for 2007: The finish on the upper panel has been improved. A four-gauge cluster with LED illumination features black gauges with brilliant red pointers. The Laredo has been upgraded here for '07, with the same chrome gauge rings that used to be exclusive to the Limited, plus chrome-accented HVAC controls and a matching-color bezel (replacing black) on the console. Cup holders are keyed to the interior hue.
The seats at all levels are large and cushy, 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 high-contrast two-tone Ultrasuede, featuring accent stitching 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, on the other hand, 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 cargo area in all Grand Cherokees 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 navigation system, which integrates the audio system and other functions, is a handy feature. It 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 are on Acura and Lexus vehicles, however. There's a separate Enter button, annoying because intuition suggests pressing the toggle switch down. Also, it kept defaulting to the daytime brightness setting. Auto did not seem to automatically switch it to the nighttime setting at night, so we had to manually program this. And we had to reprogram it each time we restarted the car, as this could not be done while underway, meaning we had to stop to fix it, inconvenient when traveling on a busy L.A. freeway. 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.
Jeep Grand Cherokee combines mountain-goat agility in rugged terrain with stable and responsive handling on the paved roads where most buyers will spend most of their time.
The Laredo comes standard with Chrysler's 210-hp 3.7-liter V6, borrowed from its sister trucks, the Jeep Liberty and Dodge Ram, with its own five-speed overdrive automatic transmission. The 3.7-liter uses single overhead cams and has been upgraded for '07 with electronic throttle control. The V6 gets an EPA-rated 17/22 mpg City/Highway, significantly better than any of the V8s.
The 4.7-liter V8, on the other hand, works really well in the Grand Cherokee. This modern, overhead-cam engine is a paragon of power and smoothness 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 235 horsepower at 4500 rpm and 305 pound-feet of torque at 3600 rpm. It's EPA-rated at 15/20 mpg. And for 2007, in 45 states, it's flex-fuel capable, meaning it can run on gasoline or up to 85 percent ethanol (i.e. E-85).
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 15/20 mpg. 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. Its highway fuel economy is at least partly thanks to the automatic cylinder deactivation feature, which shuts down four of the engine's eight cylinders whenever it detects a steady-state cruise condition and then reactivates them on demand. DaimlerChrysler claims this can improve fuel economy by up to 20 percent.
Both V8 engines get 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 the Chrysler/Mercedes-Benz manual override function.
In the first quarter of calendar-year 2007, Jeep buyers will be able to choose a 3.0-liter common-rail turbo-diesel (CRD) V6, engineered by Mercedes-Benz, that 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 will also match the Hemi, at 7400 pounds (with 2WD); while EPA fuel economy of 19/23 mpg will yield a driving range of over 400 miles on one tank of fuel. New clean-diesel technology reduces carbon-dioxide emissions by 20 percent. The CRD will not be available 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 can encourage 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, glued-down attitude with this Jeep. The steering is reasonably quick and 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. It feels more like a truck than do other SUVs, however.
Tow ratings are 3,500 pounds for the 3.7-liter V6, 6,500 pounds for the 4.7-liter V8, and 7,400 pounds (7,200 with 4WD) for the 5.7-liter Hemi or 3.0-liter turbo-diesel. A tow package is available for the 4.7-liter that boosts its rating to 7,200 pounds. The high-performance SRT8 is rated to tow just 3,500 pounds, however, so think twice about ordering the fast
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.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw filed this report from Santa Barbara, California, with Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles.
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We have information you must know before you buy the Grand Cherokee.
We want to send it to you, along with other pricing insights.
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