From the August 1998 issue of Car and Driver.
After more than six years on the market, Jeep has redesigned the Grand Cherokee to keep the popular sport-ute’s body looking up-to-date and stylish and in the process has fixed a long-running complaint about the location of the spare tire. For the new vehicle, two optional V-8s are replaced by one that is more fuel-efficient (but less torquey), and a better four-wheel-drive system is now a part of the package.
Many Grand Cherokee owners said the location of the spare—bolted to a panel on the left side in the cargo area—hogged valuable hauling space and blocked the view out the back. The full-size spare still resides inside the vehicle, but it’s now tucked tidily beneath a floor panel. This took some doing—the load floor had to be raised three inches and the rear of the body stretched another three inches. Engineers also had to shrink the fuel tank, located just in front of the new spare-tire location, by 2.5 gallons to 20.5.
New sheetmetal raises the roof two inches, giving an inch more front headroom and allowing the seats to be raised an inch heavenward for a better view. The track is an inch wider, the body is 1.5 inches wider. Newly configured seats are said to provide rear passengers with an extra three inches of hiproom. It’s easier to get into this Grand Cherokee, as the step-in height of the floors has been brought down an inch. The new body rides on the same 105.9-inch wheelbase, and the approach, departure, and breakover angles, as well as ground clearance, remain the same. Jeep says the Grand Cherokee’s off-road skills had to remain high, since the company claims that owners take this sport-ute off-road more often than do buyers of other luxury SUVs.
The standard 4.0-liter six-cylinder pushrod engine gets a stiffer block, and new intake and exhaust manifolds, along with other noise-reducing tweaks. (This engine descends from one that dates back to 1971 for Jeep, which inherited the six then from new owner American Motors.) Power output of the six is up 10 horses (but just 5 in states that have adopted California’s standards), and emissions have been reduced. The 1998 Grand Cherokee’s two big, brutish pushrod V-8s are replaced by a new 4.7-liter SOHC two-valve-per-cylinder V-8 that will be exclusive to the Grand Cherokee in its first year. Rated at 230 horsepower, it slots between the outgoing V-8s, which made 220 and 245 horsepower. Its 295 pound-feet of torque trails that of both its predecessors. The good news is that the new engine promises better fuel economy and is 54 pounds lighter than even the 5.2-liter V-8. And for the first time, both engines get a five-speed automatic transmission. This new gearbox splits the second gear from the previous four-speed into high-second and low-second ratios, allowing a higher-ratio first gear and five ratios total.
The standard four-wheel-drive system with the six-cylinder engine is the selectable rear- or four-wheel-drive Selec-Trac, with a lockable center differential. Quadra-Drive is a new full-time system that features limited-slip front, center, and rear differentials. It’s optional with the six and standard with the V-8. (A rear-wheel-drive-only version will be available later in the model year.) Since Toyota removed the front lock from its Land Cruiser, the Jeep is now the only widely available SUV with a high-traction front axle. The limited-slip units use rotary oil pumps that mechanically sense speed differential and apply pressure to small multiplate clutch packs. Says Dan Knott, development manager of the Grand Cherokee: “Intuitively, we believe we want to transfer engine torque to the wheel that needs it, not brake the wheels that don’t. The suburban driver will feel it. The hardcore off-roader will feel it.”
Our major complaint about the previous Grand Cherokee was numb steering. Body engineers promise that a stiffer front structure and engine cradle will improve that steering feel. Jeep hired Porsche’s engineering-services division to help make the body stiffer and to keep weight low by using thinner metal in unstressed areas. The engine-cradle area and the frame members behind the rear axle are stiffer. The gaps between the panels are smaller, too.
The suspension remains live axles front and rear, although the Panhard rod in the rear was ditched in favor of a center-mounted triangular trailing link. The turning circle is a foot smaller than the current car’s 36.8 feet. The optional Up Country suspension increases ground clearance an inch. The front rotors are two millimeters thicker. Larger, optional 245/65-series 16-inch tires are 20 millimeters wider than the largest ones available on the ’98 vehicle.
The body is little-changed. Exterior design manager John Sgalia says: “Current customers told us, ‘Please don’t change the body design.’ But we rounded the corners to improve aerodynamics.”
The new big Jeep goes on sale at the end of August. Its price is likely to rise slightly, to about $30,000 for the popular Laredo four-wheel-drive version, with the Limited model running about $36,000.
We’re happy Jeep didn’t make this nimble wagon larger or compromise its leading-edge off-road ability, and we like the new-found refinement of the structure.
1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee
Vehicle Type: front-engine, rear/4 or 4-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 5-door wagon
pushrod 12-valve 4.0-liter inline-6, 190–195 hp; SOHC 16-valve 4.7-liter V-8, 230 hp, 295 lb-ft
Wheelbase: 105.9 in
Length: 181.2 in
Width: 72.2 in
Height: 64.9–65.9 in
Curb Weight (C/D est): 3900–4100 lb
PERFORMANCE (C/D EST)
60 mph, inline-6/V-8: 9.7/8.1 sec
1/4-Mile, inline-6/V-8: 17.3/16.5 sec
100 mph, inline-6/V-8: 35.0/26.0 sec
EPA FUEL ECONOMY (C/D EST)
City/Highway, inline-6/V-8: 16/20 mpg; 15/18 mpg
Source: Reviews - aranddriver.com