Used 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee Review

Edmunds expert review

What's new for 1996

Jeep turns its flagship into an Explorer killer with dual airbags, revised styling, a better V6 engine, improved front suspension and an upgraded Selec-Trac four-wheel-drive system. Interiors have been restyled, featuring new luxury doodads and an optional integrated child safety seat. Trim levels are two: Laredo and Limited.

Vehicle overview

For years, the Ford Explorer has been the best-selling sport-utility vehicle in this country, but in 1993 a new challenger called Grand Cherokee arrived to try to wrest the sales crown away from the champ. It was not successful. However, it did outsell every other sport utility on the market, and became the Explorer's biggest threat.

Indeed, this Jeep has the most car-like feel of sport utilities, and is among the most stable on pavement. In fact, with the optional 5.2-liter V8 pumping away under the hood, the Grand Cherokee becomes the Porsche of sport-utes. Equipped with a new-for-1996 dual airbag system and four-wheel antilock disc brakes, Grand Cherokee buyers have long list of equipment to wade through, including three different drive systems, three diffenrent trim levels, and a host of luxury and convenience items.

The exterior is all hard edges and angles, but is instantly recognizable as a Jeep product and looks rugged. A retro touch we could do without is the location of the spare tire. The Grand Cherokee doesn't have tiny tires, and the cargo area is among the smallest in the class to begin with, so why is the tire in the cargo area? It should be under the cargo floor, mounted under the truck or placed on a rack on the liftgate. Otherwise, we have few quibbles with this sport-ute.

Jeep spent some time improving the Grand Cherokee for 1996. Cosmetically, the grille, fascias and cladding have altered for a more cohesive appearance. On top-level models, the fog lights have been moved from their precarious perch on top of the front bumper to nicely integrated recesses in the front air dam New deep-dish wheels are too deeply dished, making the JGC look taller and less stable than the 1995 model. The base 4.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine has been improved, resulting in more usable torque and quieter operation. Selec-Trac full-time four-wheel drive and the front suspension have been upgraded as well.

Inside, Jeep restyled the bulky dash. It now has nicely rounded and contoured edges, and houses the aforementioned dual airbags. Memory seat, radio and mirror settings are standard on the Limited, as are six-way power heated front seats and variable-assist power steering. All models get new seat fabrics and an upgraded center console. Trim levels number two this year; Laredo and Limited, with the top-of-the-line Orvis Package available on the Limited. Five new colors round out the changes. As you can see, Jeep isn't resting on its laurels waiting for the competition to leave the Grand Cherokee in the dust.

Unfortunately, just as Jeep caught up to and surpassed the Explorer in comfort and safety features, Ford went and squeezed a V8 under the Explorer's hood. Now, the Ford has a V8, dual airbags and a trick Control Trac 4WD system, like the Jeep. The Ford also has more room, a more comfy rear seat, and a lower price tag. Plus, you don't have to load cargo around a big ol' tire in the back. The verdict? For around town family hauling, we prefer the value-packed Explorer XLT. But for speedy fun and off-road prowess, the JGC Laredo V8 gets our vote.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.