What's New for 2008
Jeep has heavily revised the Grand Cherokee's 4.7-liter V8 for 2008, and this popular engine is now rated at 305 horsepower -- nearly as much as the larger Hemi V8. The company has also given the cabin a much-needed refresh, adding more soft-touch surfaces, upgraded lighting and a telescoping steering wheel. Newly available features include xenon HID headlights, the MyGIG hard-drive-based audio/navigation system, a back-up camera, a rear entertainment system and Sirius Backseat TV. For buyers planning to tap into the JGC's utility, technology like hill descent control, hill start assist and trailer sway control is now offered as well. Finally, availability of the diesel V6 has been expanded to the base Laredo model.
If you've followed the 15-year lifespan of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, you know it was one of the first sport-utility vehicles able to do traditional SUV tasks -- rock crawling on remote trails and the like -- while also being comfortable enough for weekend errands in the suburbs. Although the original Grand Cherokee was just as capable as most forebears in off-highway situations, it offered more in the way of style, interior room and amenities. The "JGC" was a popular choice for a family vehicle through the 1990s and the early years of the 21st century. Since then, though, more on-road-friendly crossover SUVs have debuted, leaving this midsize Jeep as part of the old guard. Alongside these newer crossovers with superior road manners and more passenger and cargo room, the 2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee offers no clear advantage.
Jeep is well aware of the challenges the Grand Cherokee faces, and this year the company has given its five-passenger midsize SUV its first major refresh since the 2005 ground-up redesign. The always-popular 4.7-liter V8 is significantly revised. Thanks to a freer-flowing cylinder head design, higher compression and improved combustion, it now makes 305 horsepower -- 70 more than last year. Perhaps more important are the upgrades Jeep has made to the Grand Cherokee's interior, which has always been a weak spot for the third-generation JGC. Designers installed softer materials to surfaces that owners are likely to touch frequently (like the armrests), as well as a new set of gauges with LED illumination. In addition, the features list has grown considerably, and up-to-date electronics such as a hard-drive-based navigation system and a back-up camera are standard or optional on most models.
No fewer than five engines are offered on the 2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee, with choices as disparate as a turbodiesel V6 capable of returning mileage in the 20s and a 6.1-liter V8 capable of delivering you to 60 mph in fewer than 5 seconds. Despite the JGC's range of features and performance, however, it comes up short in day-to-day functionality. Its continued mission as an off-road vehicle mandates relatively compact dimensions, and this Jeep has a very cramped backseat by midsize SUV standards. Consumers will likely find traditional SUV competitors like the Ford Explorer and Toyota 4Runner, and any number of car-based crossover SUVs to be more practical and comfortable. Even some less expensive SUVs, including the Nissan Xterra and Jeep's own Liberty (which has grown larger for '08), are more accommodating than the JGC, while offering similar off-road capability. All of this isn't to say that the Grand Cherokee is undesirable. But if you're in the market for a midsize SUV, you'll want to consider your options carefully.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
A five-passenger midsize SUV, the 2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee comes in four trim levels: Laredo, Limited, Overland and SRT8. All trims are available with either two- or four-wheel drive except the SRT8, which is all-wheel drive only.
The Laredo comes with 17-inch wheels, a power driver seat, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, air-conditioning, full power accessories, a trip computer and a CD stereo with an auxiliary audio jack and satellite radio. The Limited adds a sunroof, remote vehicle start, leather upholstery, wood-grain trim, heated seats in both rows, adjustable pedals, dual-zone automatic climate control, a back-up camera and an upgraded stereo with Boston Acoustics speakers and an in-dash CD/DVD changer. The ritzy Overland offers 18-inch chrome wheels, HID headlights, upgraded leather, real wood trim, Bluetooth and the MyGIG hard-drive-based audio/navigation system. The high-performance Grand Cherokee SRT8 is equipped much like the Laredo, but comes with 20-inch wheels, a street-biased sport suspension, larger brakes, special exterior styling enhancements and leather/suede upholstery with sport front seats.
Many of the features on the Limited and Overland are available as options on the Laredo and SRT8. Additional options, depending on the trim level, include a rear entertainment system, Sirius Backseat TV and towing preparation.
Powertrains and Performance
The Grand Cherokee Laredo comes standard with a 3.7-liter V6 good for 210 hp and 235 pound-feet of torque, and delivers a meager 15 mpg city and 19 mpg highway. Optional on the Laredo and standard on the Limited is a 4.7-liter V8 rated at 305 hp and 335 lb-ft of torque, with 14 city and 19 highway. The 5.7-liter "Hemi" V8 is optional on 4WD Limited models and standard on the Overland. It produces 330 hp and 375 lb-ft of torque, and features cylinder-deactivation technology that "improves" fuel economy to 13/18 mpg. Optional on all of these trims is a 3.0-liter common-rail diesel V6 (available in non-California-emissions states) rated at 215 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque, with a fuel economy rating of 17/22 mpg. A five-speed automatic transmission is standard across the board.
Four-wheel-drive Laredos come with a single-speed system that essentially functions as all-wheel drive. The full-time Quadra-Trac II 4WD system adds a low-range set of gears; it's optional on the Laredo and standard on the Limited. Standard on Overland 4x4s and optional on the Limited is the Quadra-Drive II system, which combines a two-speed transfer case with front, rear and center electronic limited-slip differentials. Grand Cherokees equipped with Quadra-Drive include hill descent control, hill start assist and skid plates.
The high-performance Grand Cherokee SRT8 uses a bored-out, higher-compression version of the regular Hemi V8. This 6.1-liter engine pumps out 420 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed automatic drives all four wheels through a special AWD system. Acceleration of this model is very impressive, with a 0-60-mph time of 4.7 seconds. That's quicker than the last Porsche Cayenne Turbo S we tested. Fuel economy is painful, however, at 11/14 mpg.
If you're interested in towing, your best options are the diesel V6 or the 5.7-liter V8, either of which gives a properly equipped Grand Cherokee a tow capacity of 7,400 pounds. With the 4.7-liter V8, the maximum is 6,500 pounds.
Safety features include standard side curtain airbags with a roll-detection system, antilock disc brakes and stability control. The stability control system includes trailer sway control on Overland models; it's optional on the Laredo and Limited. The 2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee has a perfect five-star rating in all government front- and side-impact crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Grand Cherokee's cabin is noticeably compact for a midsize SUV. The front seats are roomy enough, but the rear seat barely qualifies for family use. Materials quality has never been the Jeep's strong point, but this year's refresh yields some improvement in that area. The control layout is as user-friendly as ever, and given the large selection of electronics, it's unlikely anyone riding in the JGC will succumb to road-trip boredom. Cargo capacity is low for this class, with just 35 cubic feet behind the rear seat and 69 with the seats folded.
Acceleration is barely adequate with the gasoline V6, so we'd steer most buyers toward the 4.7-liter V8, or the diesel V6 in the states where it is sold. Either of the Hemis provides more exciting performance, but fuel economy suffers. Considering the 2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee's all-terrain talents, its road manners are surprisingly good. Steering is precise and handling is mostly sure-footed, though the suspension loses composure over crumbling expressway pavement. In off-road situations, the Jeep's generous wheel travel and advanced 4WD hardware give it a high level of capability.
The specialized SRT8 model provides more than just wicked acceleration. A precisely tuned suspension and quick steering allow you to hustle it through turns as if it were a much smaller vehicle, while the oversized Brembo brakes skim off speed quickly while resisting fade. Those expecting the Grand Cherokee's typical ride quality will be disappointed, however, as the SRT modifications firm up the suspension considerably.