The Jeep Grand Cherokee was one of the pioneers 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 tow your toys or shuttle your passengers to a remote campsite without issue.
It was a resounding success, and the JGC, as it's commonly called, 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 truck-based, body-on-frame design. In general, a unibody chassis provides advantages in terms of on-road handling, easier entry and exit, and safety. Yet Jeep's strong reputation for off-road prowess is retained, thanks in large part to the Grand Cherokee's advanced four-wheel-drive systems. Today's well-rounded JGC continues to be among the most capable and luxurious vehicles in its class.
Current Jeep Grand Cherokee
The current Grand Cherokee is offered in five main trim levels: Laredo, Limited, Trailhawk, Overland and Summit. The Laredo comes nicely equipped with alloy wheels, dual-zone air-conditioning, Bluetooth and a touchscreen audio system, while the Limited steps up to bigger wheels, a power liftgate, power front seats and satellite radio. The rugged Trailhawk trim comes standard with low-range gearing, underbody skid plates and 18-inch wheels equipped with off-road tires. The fancy Overland drops the Trailhawk's off-road-focused tuning and features and adds 20-inch wheels, bi-xenon headlights, a panoramic sunroof, navigation and leather upholstery. The top-of-the-line Summit throws in adaptive cruise control, upgraded leather upholstery, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and a self-parking system that facilitates both parallel and perpendicular parking.
All five trims come standard with a 3.6-liter V6 that routes 295 horsepower through an eight-speed automatic transmission. This is a competitive engine, but there's also an optional 5.7-liter V8 that cranks out 360 hp and allows for a 7,400-pound towing capacity (versus 6,200 pounds for the V6) when properly equipped. If you want to trade some horsepower for better fuel economy, the available turbocharged 3.0-liter diesel-powered V6 engine has 240 hp, but it's easily the most fuel-efficient of the three, and its formidable 420 pound-feet of torque enables it to tow just as much as the V8.
There are three available four-wheel-drive systems in addition to the base rear-wheel-drive layout. The Quadra-Trac I system is essentially an full-time all-wheel-drive system and only available on the Laredo. Quadra-Trac II (optional on the Laredo, standard on the Limited, Overland and Summit) is a four-wheel-drive system with a two-speed transfer case and hill ascent and descent control. The Trailhawk comes standard with a special version of Quadra-Trac II that includes a rear electronic limited-slip differential. The system is optional on Limited, Overland and Summit models. Additionally, an adaptive air suspension and the Selec-Terrain system (which allows drivers to choose from five preprogrammed settings to best handle a given road or trail condition) are optional on the Limited trim and standard on Trailhawk, Overland and Summit models.
For those with no intention of ever using that off-roading ability, there's the Grand Cherokee SRT8, which injects 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 475 hp through a full-time all-wheel-drive system. The SRT8 also gets 20-inch forged alloy wheels, an adaptive sport suspension, performance-tuned steering, Brembo brakes and a limited-slip rear differential.
With any of these trim, engine and 4WD choices, the current Grand Cherokee's civility is bound to impress. Cabin quality is very good, 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 the JCG's substantial dimensions, however, some might wish for more interior space. If this is the case, and you don't mind giving up most of 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. Long-standing criticisms, such as the underpowered base 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 four-wheel-drive systems was also introduced.
This fourth-generation JGC originally debuted with a five-speed automatic transmission. For that first year, the SRT8 trim was not available. A Trailhawk edition was offered for 2013 only before reappearing for 2017. The diesel-powered V6 was unveiled for 2014, along with the eight-speed automatic transmission, the 8.4-inch touchscreen and minor exterior styling updates. For 2015, the SRT benefited from an increase in engine output. In 2016, the Jeep Grand Cherokee got a new shift lever, and all models except the SRT got standard electric-assist power steering.
The previous, third-generation Grand Cherokee was produced from 2005 to 2010. 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 V6 (210 hp), a 4.7-liter V8 (235 hp until 2007, when it jumped up to 305) and a 5.7-liter V8 (330 hp). A turbodiesel model arrived for 2007, boasting a 3.0-liter V6 with 215 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque. Two years later, the 5.7-liter V8 was boosted to 357 hp. All could be had with either two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive except for the SRT8, which was all-wheel-drive only.
There is some variation in terms of the 4WD models because 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 since the base V6 is archaic, not very 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 backseat room compared to the competition.
There were two previous generations of the Jeep Grand Cherokee. The second generation was built from 1999 to 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.
Still, this model was well regarded during most of its production period. In editorial reviews, it received high marks for its smooth styling, manageable size and, for 4WD models, off-road prowess. There were two trims originally (Laredo and Limited) and two engines — a 4.0-liter inline-six with 195 hp or a 4.7-liter V8 with 235 hp. The V8 engine was considered the better choice because 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-six 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 since these benefited from safety, power and feature improvements.