The Jeep Grand Cherokee was one of the pioneering SUVs that ushered in the modern midsize SUV segment in the early 1990s. When it debuted, the Grand Cherokee represented a bigger and better version of Jeep's smaller but still popular Cherokee. The company's designers wanted it to be maneuverable enough for urban duty, roomy enough for family duty, stylish enough to take out on the town and capable enough to get to the more remote campsites.
It would certainly seem that they succeeded. The JGC, as it's commonly referred to, has become one of America's top sellers in the SUV segment. Unlike most other traditional SUVs from domestic automakers, the Jeep Grand Cherokee has always been built using a carlike unibody chassis rather than a body-on-frame design. In general, a unibody chassis provides advantages in terms of on-road handling, easier entry and exit, and safety. Jeep's strong reputation for off-road prowess is retained thanks in large part to the Grand Cherokee's advanced four-wheel-drive systems.
Current Jeep Grand Cherokee
The Jeep Grand Cherokee is one of the most appealing five-passenger midsize SUVs on the market. Unlike similarly sized crossovers, it stands out with its significant off-roading and towing capabilities.
The Laredo, Limited and Overland are the three main trim levels available. They come standard with a 3.6-liter V6 that sends 290 horsepower through a five-speed automatic. This is a competitive output for the class, but for those planning on towing, there's an optional 5.7-liter V8. It produces 360 hp and allows for a 7,400-pound towing capacity when properly equipped.
Rear-wheel drive is standard on all, but there are three available four-wheel-drive systems. The Quadra-Trac I system is essentially an all-wheel-drive system and only available on the Laredo. Available on all trims, Quadra-Trac II is a four-wheel-drive system with a two-speed transfer case, hill descent control and the Selec-Terrain system, which allows drivers to choose from five pre-programmed settings to best handle a given road or trail condition. Quadra-Drive II adds electronic limited-slip differentials for both axles. The Overland further gets a Quadra-Lift air suspension, which varies ride height based on driver input or automatically via Selec-Terrain. A special Trailhawk package is also available for the Laredo that bundles a standardized complement of the Grand Cherokee's off-roading hardware and further adds special wheels, tires and rock-slider rails.
For those with no intention of ever needing that off-roading ability, there's the Grand Cherokee SRT8, which adds an ample dose of high-octane insanity to transform this part-time mountain climber into a part-time mountain road carver. A 6.4-liter V8 sends 470 hp through an all-wheel-drive system. It also gets 20-inch forged alloy wheels, an adaptive sport suspension, performance-tuned steering, Brembo brakes and a limited-slip rear differential.
Regardless of the myriad trim, engine and 4X4 choices you can opt for, the current Grand Cherokee's civility is bound to impress. Cabin quality is excellent and overall refinement should surprise anyone who expects a Jeep to be a bit of a rough-edged brute. Ride quality is at once comfortable and composed, while handling is surprisingly confidence-inspiring. Given its size, however, some may wish for more interior room. If this is the case, and you don't mind giving up the Jeep's off-roading potential, Dodge's seven-passenger Durango is mechanically similar.
Used Jeep Grand Cherokee Models
The present, fourth-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee arrived as a complete redesign for 2011 (http://www.edmunds.com/jeep/grand-cherokee/2011/). Long-standing criticisms, such as the underpowered V6 engine, mediocre cabin materials and the lack of rear seat room, were thoroughly addressed. Ride and handling dynamics were also improved thanks to a more rigid chassis and a new, fully independent suspension. The "Selec-Terrain" feature for the uplevel all-wheel-drive systems was also introduced. In its first model year, the Overland and SRT8 trims were not available.
The previous, third-generation Grand Cherokee was produced from 2005-'10. Compared to previous models, its styling was more squared-off and the front suspension utilized an independent design for the first time. It was still a five-passenger midsize SUV offered in two main trim levels: Laredo and Limited. However, there was also the rare Grand Cherokee SRT8. With a 420-hp V8 and a lowered sport suspension, the SRT8 was designed for maximum on-street performance and was the quickest and most powerful Jeep ever produced.
Power plants for this version initially included a 3.7-liter, 210-hp V6, a 4.7-liter V8 (235 hp until 2007, when it jumped up to 305) and a 5.7-liter V8 with 330 hp. A turbodiesel model arrived for 2007, boasting a 3.0-liter V6 with 215 hp and 375 pound-feet of torque. Two years later, the 5.7-liter V8 was boosted to 357 hp. All but the SRT8 could be had with either two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive -- the SRT8 came with all-wheel drive.
There is some variation in terms of the 4WD models, as Jeep equipped the higher-level trims with the more advanced Quadra-Trac II or Quadra-Drive II systems. The last year of this generation saw the deletion of the turbodiesel, the addition of new entertainment and navigation systems and the debut of the Hill Start and Hill Descent systems.
In reviews, we praised the third-gen Grand Cherokee for its superb off-road ability and available broad-shouldered V8 power. We heartily recommend going with one of the V8s, as the base V6 is archaic, not that fuel-efficient and outclassed by rival V6s. The ride may not be as smooth as that of car-based crossover rivals, but it's pleasant enough. The most significant demerit goes to the relatively cramped interior, which is down on both maximum cargo space and rear seat room compared to the competition.
There were two previous generations of the Jeep Grand Cherokee. The second generation was built from 1999-2004. This Grand Cherokee is a little bit smaller and generally less sophisticated than the current one. It had a solid axle in front compared to the current independent setup, and recirculating-ball steering instead of rack-and-pinion.
However, this model was well regarded during most of its production period. In editorial reviews, it received high marks for its manageable size and, for 4WD models, off-road prowess. There were two trims originally (Laredo and Limited) and two engines -- a 195-hp 4.0-liter inline-6 or a 235-hp, 4.7-liter V8. The V8 engine was considered the better choice, as it provided more power without much sacrifice in fuel economy compared to the six-cylinder.
As Jeep made continual improvements to this model, used-vehicle shoppers should try to get the newest model they can afford. Beginning in 2001, the V8 was matched to a five-speed automatic. In 2002, Jeep introduced three additional trim levels (Special Edition, Sport and Overland), a high-output 265-hp V8 and more available features. Further refinements were made in 2003.
The first-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee, the one that started it all, was offered for the 1993-'98 model years. Like the second generation, this model rode on two live axles, had the familiar choice of either an inline-6 or V8 for power, and was noted for its superb off-road abilities with adequate on-road handling. This model's 220-hp 5.2-liter V8 was larger in displacement than later V8s but not as refined.
For most years of this generation, shoppers will encounter the familiar Laredo and Limited trims. There was also a base-trim SE (offered through 1995), the Limited-based Orvis (1995-'97), the TSi (1997 and '98) and the '98-only 5.9 Limited. The 5.9 Limited had an exclusive 245-hp 5.9-liter V8. The best models to consider are 1996 and newer, as these benefited from safety, power and feature improvements.
Read the most recent 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used Jeep Grand Cherokee page.
For more on past Jeep Grand Cherokee models, view our Jeep Grand Cherokee history page.