Full 2009 Jeep Grand Cherokee Review
What's New for 2009
The 2009 Jeep Grand Cherokee's uplevel 5.7-liter V8 gets power and fuel economy boosts, while the high-performance SRT8 model gets additional leather interior surfaces and a performance trip computer. Grand Cherokees fitted with the navigation system gain an iPod interface this year as well.
Do your SUV requirements include significant off-road ability? If so, the 2009 Jeep Grand Cherokee might be your ride of choice. Three different four-wheel-drive systems (Quadra-Trac I, Quadra-Trac II and Quadra-Drive II) provide escalating off-road abilities, from low-grade trail busting to "Pack Mule Only." And if you need to tow large objects, the JGC's maximum towing capacity is a significant 7,400 pounds.
However, if trail-busting and towing aren't huge priorities for you, the Grand Cherokee might not be the best choice. Its interior and cargo space fall behind those of other midsize SUVs, while its fuel economy is only good news for ExxonMobil's bottom line. The high-performance SRT8 is an awesome choice for horsepower junkies who like driving SUVs, but that's an admittedly small audience.
To be fair, Jeep has made a significant effort to keep its Grand Cherokee up-to-date. Upgrades to the available V8s have boosted power, and a gradual increase in available equipment and overall quality improvement add up to a better Grand Cherokee. Among tough four-wheel-drive midsize SUVs like the Dodge Durango, Kia Borrego and Toyota 4Runner, the Grand Cherokee still stands tall. But for most people, crossovers like the Ford Edge, Nissan Murano and Toyota Highlander are better choices overall.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Jeep Grand Cherokee is a five-passenger midsize SUV available in four trim levels: Laredo, Limited, Overland and SRT8. All trims but one are available with either rear- or four-wheel drive. The high-performance SRT8 is all-wheel drive only.
The JGC Laredo comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, all-terrain tires, a roof rack, an eight-way power driver seat, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel with audio controls, a 60/40-split rear seatback, cruise control, a trip computer and a six-speaker stereo with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack. Options on the Laredo include a sunroof, a rear back-up camera with parking sensors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, power-adjustable pedals, a power passenger seat, heated front seats, remote ignition, leather upholstery, a universal garage door opener, Bluetooth, a navigation system, real-time traffic, an upgraded six-speaker stereo with satellite radio, an iPod interface and a hard drive for digital music storage.
The Limited adds all of those features as standard and tacks on driver seat memory functions and heated rear seats. The Overland adds the 5.7-liter V8, HID headlamps and 18-inch chrome-clad wheels (these items are optional on the Limited). The high-performance Grand Cherokee SRT8 is equipped much like the Laredo (with similar options) but comes with 20-inch wheels, a street-biased sport suspension, larger brakes, special exterior styling enhancements, a performance trip computer, front sport seats, leather and suede upholstery and extended leather trim. A rear DVD entertainment system and Sirius Backseat TV are optional on all but the Laredo.
Powertrains and Performance
The standard engine on the 2009 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo is a 3.7-liter V6 that makes 210 horsepower and 235 pound-feet of torque. Like every Grand Cherokee, the Laredo comes with a mandatory five-speed automatic transmission. Estimated fuel economy is 16 mpg city/21 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined with two-wheel drive (4x2) and 15/20/17 with four-wheel drive (4x4). Optional on the Laredo and standard on the Limited is a 4.7-liter V8 that produces 305 hp and 335 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy is 14/19/15 mpg for a 4WD model. Optional on the Limited 4WD and standard on the Overland is a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 good for 357 hp and 389 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy with this engine is 13/19/15 mpg (4WD).
Optional on all trims but the SRT8 is a 3.0-liter turbodiesel CRD V6 that's good for 215 hp and 375 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy for the CRD is an estimated 17/22/19 mpg, but it's not for sale in California or California-emissions states. The all-wheel-drive-only Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 gets a 6.1-liter V8 that pumps out 420 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque. It goes from zero to 60 mph in an incredible 5.0 seconds. Fuel economy is predictably lousy at 11/14/12 mpg.
Four-wheel-drive Laredos come with the single-speed Quadra-Trac I system, which essentially functions as all-wheel drive. Optional on the Laredo and standard on the Limited is the full-time Quadra-Trac II system, which adds a set of low-range gears. 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 II include hill descent control, hill start assist and skid plates. The SRT8 comes with an exclusive all-wheel-drive system that's optimized for performance driving. 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 antilock disc brakes, stability control and standard side curtain airbags with a roll-detection system. The stability control system includes trailer sway control on Overland models; it's optional on the Laredo and Limited. The JGC earned a perfect five stars in all government front and side crash tests. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the Grand Cherokee earned the best rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset test but the second worst rating of "Marginal" in the side test.
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. Cargo capacity is 35 cubic feet behind the rear seat and 69 with the seats folded, which is about the same as in the Ford Edge but much less than in the Toyota Highlander and Nissan Pathfinder. Materials quality has never been this Jeep's strong point, but last year's refresh yielded some improvement in that area. Each trim level comes with a long list of standard and optional features, including many in the entertainment realm. We're not fans of the available navigation and stereo touchscreen interface, as it features a smallish display with tiny buttons and often-confusing menus. Other controls are at least straightforward.
The base V6 is woefully underpowered and gets poor fuel economy to boot. We'd therefore steer most buyers toward the 4.7-liter V8 or the torquey diesel V6. If you can afford it, the 5.7-liter V8 is the best of the bunch -- it has plenty of power, and its fuel economy is virtually identical to that of the weaker 4.7-liter V8.
Considering the 2009 Jeep Grand Cherokee's all-terrain talents, its road manners are surprisingly good. Steering is precise and handling is mostly sure-footed, although the suspension loses composure over crumbling expressway pavement. In off-road situations, the Jeep's generous wheel travel and advanced 4WD hardware earn it true mountain-goat status.
The specialized SRT8 model provides more than just wicked acceleration and intoxicating sounds. A precisely tuned suspension and quick steering allow you to hustle it through turns as if it were a much smaller vehicle, and the oversized Brembo brakes skim off speed quickly and resist fade. Those expecting the Grand Cherokee's typical ride quality will be disappointed, however, as the SRT modifications firm up the suspension considerably.