What's New for 2004
For 2004, the Grand Cherokee gets a factory-installed DVD navigation system integrated into the radio. Columbia, Freedom and Special Edition trims are also new for 2004. All of these models incorporate subtle cosmetic touches and equipment upgrades. Additionally, each Columbia Edition Jeep comes with a complimentary Columbia parka.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee has been around the block and beyond. The 'ute first kicked up dust in 1993 when it was introduced as Jeep's flagship entry into the mainstream SUV market, providing the off-road charms of the more utilitarian Cherokee but spruced up and smoothed out for slightly more upscale tastes. Families looking for a stylish minivan alternative flocked to the Grand Cherokee; it became the second-best-selling SUV in America, and managed to hold on to that coveted title for years.
For the 1999 model year, the Grand Cherokee received a top-to-bottom redesign. New steering, suspension and brake systems were introduced, along with two new engines.
In recent years, there has been a steady influx of capable new entrants in the SUV race; this has taken a toll on the Grand Cherokee's popularity. In an effort to restore the 'ute to its former glory, Jeep gave the Grand Cherokee additional nips and tucks in 2002, the biggest of these, a new high-output 4.7-liter V8 that offered 30 more horsepower and 35 more lb-ft of torque.
But the Acura MDX, Honda Pilot, Lexus RX 300/330 and Toyota Highlander have spoiled SUV buyers who rarely venture off the pavement. These vehicles supply a smooth ride and competent handling at the expense of the off-road prowess. This means the Grand Cherokee, engineered to tackle the toughest trails and survive unscathed, suffers when it comes time for Mom-and-Pop Suburbia to choose their next set of pseudo-rugged wheels. Today, most folks have come to realize that they really don't want to buy trucks; rather, they want to buy cars that look like trucks. To this end, the purpose-built off-roader known as the Jeep Grand Cherokee misses the mark.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The Grand Cherokee now comes in six trim levels: Laredo, Limited, Freedom Edition, Special Edition, Overland and Columbia Edition. Standard features on the Laredo include a six-way power driver seat and 60/40-split folding rear seats with folding head restraints. Step up to the Limited and you also get amenities such as electroluminescent instrument lighting and the Jeep Memory System keyed into the driver seat, radio and driver-side mirror. Freedom versions include a unique chrome trim on the grille, graphite-painted 17-inch wheels, tubular side rails and Freedom Edition badging. The Special Edition offers monochromatic paint similar to the Limited and four-wheel-drive versions get foglights, Quadra Trac II, a 10-disc CD changer with Infinity speakers and special badging. Luxurious Overland offers special leather seats, a 4.7-liter V8 as standard, dual-zone climate control and a 10-disc CD changer. Options available on all trim levels include adjustable brake and accelerator pedals, a tire-pressure monitor system and an engine block heater. The Columbia Edition offers unique wheels, a sunroof, foglights, two-tone seats, aluminum dash trim, the Infinity stereo and a complimentary Columbia parka.
Powertrains and Performance
The Grand Cherokee is available with Jeep's old standby 4.0-liter inline six or a 4.7-liter V8. The six is good for 195 horsepower and 230 pound-feet of torque and the V8 is available in high-output form making 265 hp and a 235-hp version. The more powerful high-output V8 is standard on the Overland and optional on the Limited and Freedom. The Overland offers only a V8, Laredo offers only a six-cylinder and all other trim levels have a choice of six or eight cylinders. All Grand Cherokees are available in two- or four-wheel drive. The Laredo 4x4 features Select-Trac full-time transfer case or Quadra-Trac for users who don't tow heavy loads. The more advanced Quadra-Trac II on-demand system is standard on the Special Edition and Limited models.
Multistage driver and front-passenger airbags are standard across all trims; ceiling-mounted side curtain airbags are standard for the Freedom trim and optional for Laredo and Limited models. In NHTSA frontal-impact crash testing, the Grand Cherokee earned three stars for the driver and front passenger. In side-impact testing, the Grand Cherokee rated four stars out of five for front-seat occupants and a full five stars for rear-seat occupants. In rollover resistance, it merits just two stars. The IIHS gave the 'ute an overall "Marginal" rating in offset crash testing.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Grand Cherokee seats up to five passengers, and offers ample head- and shoulder room. However, maximum cargo space is a mere 71 cubic feet. Overland and Freedom models offer comfy seating, but rear-seat legroom is lacking.
The Jeep isn't a pleasant companion for the daily slog. It feels heavy, steers slowly and exhibits ample body roll. Taken off-road, its story changes; the Grand Cherokee is the best midsize SUV on the market when it comes to boulder-bashing.