With their Cherokee model in its 10th year, and with consumers now enamored with Ford's Explorer, Jeep decided it was time to bring another player into the SUV game. Although the Cherokee was still selling well, it really couldn't compete directly against the bigger and more luxurious Explorer, which Ford brought out as a 1991 model. In 1993, Jeep responded with their handsome Grand Cherokee, which coupled legendary Jeep off-road capability with a smoother highway ride and more spacious interior than its smaller brother.
Three trim levels were initially offered; base, Laredo and Limited. All models boasted two features not seen on other vehicles in the Grand Cherokee's class: a driver's side airbag and four-wheel antilock brakes. Base models had a few notable features such as full instruments, cloth interior and a five-speed manual gearbox. The Laredo added body cladding, fancier seats, power mirrors and cruise control. And the top-of-the-line Limited came with leather seating, A/C, four-speed automatic transmission, upgraded sound system and power everything. Later in the 1993 model year, the Grand Wagoneer debuted -- essentially a G.C. Limited with simulated woodgrain tacked onto the body sides, just like dad's old Ford LTD Country Squire Wagon.
Built on a stiff unibody chassis, which was lighter than a truck-like body-on-frame arrangement, the Grand Cherokee's 105.9-inch wheelbase was 4.5-inches longer than the Cherokee's, resulting in more legroom for those riding in the back. Unlike the Explorer or Cherokee, the Grand Cherokee was not available as a two-door model, a smart move on Jeep's part as four-door SUVs were much more popular with consumers than the two-door variants.
Jeep's strong and trusty 4.0-liter, 190-horsepower inline six was chosen as the Grand Cherokee's motive source. And later in the 1993 model year, a 5.2-liter V8 sporting 220 horses debuted, giving the Grand Cherokee an advantage over its six-cylinder only competitors, such as the Explorer, Toyota 4Runner and Chevrolet S-10 Blazer. Other than giving Grand Cherokee owners bragging rights on the golf course, the V8 allowed the G.C. to tow up to 6,500 pounds ? ideal for the likes of 4H families or Airstream trailer owners.
Three four-wheel-drive systems were offered. Base and Laredo came with Command-Trac, a part-time system where the four-wheel mode could be used only on slippery pavement or off-road. Optional on the Laredo was Selec-Trac, which allowed the use of four-wheel drive on dry roads as well, meaning the vehicle could be left in 4WD all the time.
And optional on the Laredo and standard on the Limited and Grand Wagoneer was Quadra-Trac, a strictly full-time system. Later in the year, a two-wheel-drive Laredo became available, though only with the six-cylinder engine.
Jeep's Quadra-Coil suspension, which used live (solid) axles (preferred over independent suspensions because of their toughness) coupled with four links and coil springs, contri-buted to the Grand Cherokee's fine balance of four-wheeling prowess and long-distance touring comfort.
1994 brought refinements to the Grand Cherokee. Four-wheel disc brakes debuted on the Limited, sound systems were upgraded, the rear seat received headrests and, later in the year, a power sunroof became available. Other changes included the marketing ploy of naming the base model "SE," adding side-impact beams in the doors for added crash protection, and dropping the fake-wood bedecked Grand Wagoneer.
Not to be outdone by Ford's Eddie Bauer Explorer (a fancy edition named after an upscale outdoor gear and clothing company) Jeep introduced the Grand Cherokee "Orvis" edition for 1995. As with the rival Explorer Eddie Bauer, the Orvis was named after a purveyor of outdoor equipment. The Orvis edition was a Cherokee Limited that featured a questionable color scheme of green paint with red and gold accents and a two-tone green and champagne interior with red accents.
More worthwhile improvements for '95 included increased torque output (from 285 to 300 foot-pounds) for the V8 engine (which slightly improved acceleration and hill climbing performance), the standard fitment of four-wheel disc brakes to SE and Laredo models, and deeper tinting on side and rear windows. Two new options debuted: an integrated child safety seat and a flip-up liftgate window. And for those who liked the luxurious Limited but didn't need four-wheel drive, a two-wheel-drive Limited (six-cylinder engine only) was newly available.
The addition of a passenger's side airbag was just one of a number of significant changes that occurred for the 1996 Grand Cherokee. The workhorse 4.0-liter inline six received more torque and was refined for quieter operation. Both the SE model and Command-Trac were dropped, leaving an improved Selec-Trac as the standard four-wheel-drive system for the Laredo. Quadra-Trac continued as standard on the Limited. The power steering on Limited models featured variable assist, meaning more power assist at slow speeds, such as when parking, and less assist at higher speeds for improved road feel. And later in the year, service points underhood were highlighted with bright yellow, making it easier for one to find that dang dipstick.
Exterior changes were discreet and involved a larger grille, new bumpers and restyled body cladding. Nameplates were relocated onto the front doors, fog lights were integrated into the front bumper for a cleaner look, and new wheels graced Laredo and Limited models.
Inside the cabin, a new instrument panel and steering wheel housed the dual airbags. Adjustable shoulder belts improved comfort, as did newly optional heated front seats (on Limited models). Limited models also received a few more luxury items: remote stereo controls mounted on the steering wheel, a memory system for two drivers (that retained the settings for the driver's seat, outside mirrors and radio station presets), and auto-dimming side and rearview mirrors. New seat fabrics and improved stereo systems with CD decks further updated the interior.
After all that happened in 1996, 1997 saw but a handful of changes. Chief among them was the availability of the V8 engine for two-wheel-drive Grand Cherokees and the six-cylinder engine's qualification as a transitional low-emission vehicle (TLEV) in California. The antilock braking system was refined for smoother operation, the base stereo was upgraded, carpet quality was improved and some new colors, such as Deep Amethyst Pearl and Bright Platinum, debuted.
Later in the year, a sporty TSi model debuted, featuring 16-inch alloy wheels, 225/70R16 tires, leather seating and a premium stereo. The TSi brought the number of Grand Chero-kee models offered back to three: Laredo, TSi and Limited.
1998 would see the first generation Grand Cherokee go out with a bang. A big bang, as a new 5.9 Limited debuted. The number referred to the engine size in liters, meaning this model housed a powerful 5.9-liter V8 underhood. The big V8 thumped out 245 horse-power and 345 foot-pounds of torque, enough to catapult this SUV from zero to 60 mph in only 7.3 seconds, making it the quickest SUV available that year. Helping out in the performance department was a low restriction exhaust (with a chrome tip) and a 3.73 rear axle ratio. A few other features separated the 5.9 from the standard Limited model: hood louvers, a mesh grille insert and unique five-spoke alloy wheels. The occupants of a 5.9 Limited were treated to even more luxury than the already plush Limited, with softer leather trim and a more powerful (180-watt) stereo.
The funky Orvis model was discontinued and other Grand Cherokees received a few small refinements, such as improved steering feel, an underhood light, and a revised ignition key lock for increased security.
Careful evolution marked the revamped 1999 Grand Cherokee. The latest body style is a slightly softened but still handsome version of the previous model. Although the wheelbase remains the same, overall length is up by 4 inches and height increases a few inches, as well, resulting in more cargo and passenger room. And Jeep wisely relocated the spare from the cargo area to under the rear floor, freeing up luggage space.
A new overhead-cam 4.7-liter V8 with 230 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque (later models got up to 265 ponies and 325 lb-ft from a High Output version of this engine) replaces the old pushrod 5.2-liter V8, and the sturdy 4.0-liter inline six was refined for more power (10 additional horses) and smoother operation. Automatic transmissions are paired with both engines, but the V8's tranny has another gear "between" second and third that improves passing performance at higher speeds. Joining Selec-Trac and Quadra-Trac is Quadra-Drive, which has the ability to send all the power to a single wheel if the other three have no grip.
The nicely equipped Laredo and luxurious Limited trim levels are still offered, Sport and Special Edition models appeared briefly and currently the top o' the heap is the Overland. The Overland has the 4.7 H.O. V8 as well as a wealth of standard features such as front and side-curtain airbags, an Infinity sound system with 10-disc changer, heated/power front seats, Quadra-Drive, side step rails, power sunroof, wood/ leather steering wheel and 17-inch alloys wheels.
As before, trim levels consist of the nicely equipped Laredo and luxurious Limited.