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Grand Cherokee gets a power boost

October 08, 2004|by MALCOLM GUNN/Wheelbase Communications

Since its humble beginnings back in 1992, the Jeep Grand Cherokee has been all about providing true off-road capability in a comfortable, spacious package. That still holds true for 2005, but the third-generation model brings considerably more refinement along with added power and driveline choices.

With its multi-slot grille and traditional shape, the Grand Cherokee doesn't appear too radically different. Clearly, DaimlerChrysler, Jeep's German-controlled parent, chose only to tinker with and generally freshen up its popular design. Other than a slight overall increase in length, width and interior room, major changes are limited to rounded headlight pods, a longer hood, a stouter-looking front bumper and a more angular rear hatch. In addition, the extensive use of body-side cladding has been somewhat simplified.

The refined cabin accommodations have also been thoroughly reworked, including new seats, instrument cluster and a two-tone dashboard that does wonders for breaking the monotony of what was a monotone environment.

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Newly available interior features on the Grand Cherokee include a satellite navigation system, premium audio package, rear-seat DVD player and hands-free telephone.

However, it's what you can't see that's really changed - and significantly improved - for 2005.

The Grand Cherokee uses a new independent front suspension combined with rack and pinion steering. Both of these "firsts" are designed to make the big Jeep lighter and more nimble. Pluses include a reduced turning radius and less truck-like handling. The non-independent rear suspension has also been beefed up and stability control has joined the options list.

The improvements to the Grand Cherokee's underpinnings complement the changes under the hood. For '05, the ancient 195-horse 4.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine has been replaced by the 210-horsepower 3.7-liter V-6 that also sees service in the Jeep Liberty. Carried over from last year is the 230-horsepower 4.7-liter V-8 that has been refined for quieter and smoother operation.

But for maximum strength, Grand Cherokee buyers can now order the Hemi, a robust 5.7-liter unit that anchors DaimlerChrysler's latest full-size Chrysler 300C sedan and Dodge Magnum wagon along with the Durango sport-utility vehicle and Ram pickups. Stuffed inside the Grand Cherokee, the Hemi makes 325 horsepower and 370 lb.-ft. of torque.

Interestingly, the Hemi is able to shut down four of its eight cylinders when operating under light loads in an effort to decrease fuel consumption.

All three motors are connected to five-speed automatic transmissions with manual-shift modes.

More choices are in store for Grand Cherokee shoppers when selecting a four-wheel-drive setup. The starting point is Quadra-Trac I, which is ideal for street drivers who just want their Jeep for mud and snow. This full-time setup has a single-speed transfer case (no low range) that splits the torque nearly equally between front and rear wheels.

The Quadra-Trac II also works full-time, but incorporates a two-speed transfer case plus a neutral mode for use when the vehicle is being towed.

Finally, Quadra-Drive II engages the low-range transfer case using a lever-controlled shifter and includes electronically controlled limited-slip differentials to infinitely transfer power to either front or rear wheels.

Of course, you can simply forego all of the above and stick with a rear-wheel-drive only model, selected by 25 percent of current Grand Cherokee customers.

Overall, the Grand Cherokee retains its rough and rugged Rubicon-Trail-conquering persona that's a hallmark of all Jeeps. This time around, though, there's a serious effort made to expand its appeal with fresh sheet metal, a trio of mild-to-wild engines and drivelines for all seasons.

© 2004, Wheelbase Communications

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