Used 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee Review

Edmunds expert review

What's new for 1997

Last year's integrated child safety seat has mysteriously disappeared from press kit and dealer order sheet radar. Other big news is the availability of the optional 5.2-liter V8 engine in 2WD models, and a six-cylinder that qualifies the JGC as a transitional low emission vehicle (TLEV) in California. Refinements have been made to the ABS system, entry-level cassette stereo and floor carpet fit. In January, a sporty TSi model debuted with monotone paint, special aluminum wheels and other goodies.

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 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 (2WD, part-time 4WD, full-time 4WD), four different trim levels (Laredo, TSi, Limited, Orvis), 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 improved the Grand Cherokee for 1997. Mechanical changes are limited to the availability of the optional 5.2-liter V8 on 2WD models, and a revised 4.0-liter inline six that allows the JGC to qualify as a Transitional Low Emissions Vehicle in California. According to Jeep, the anti-lock brake system has been refined this year.

Inside, Jeep modified the tilt steering column, extended the rear seat heating ducts, and improved the fit and appearance of the floor carpeting. The entry-level cassette stereo has been upgraded as well. Outside, Jeep adds three new exterior colors, and all Grand Cherokees have a full-body anti-chip coat of primer under the paint. As you can see, Jeep isn't resting on its laurels waiting for the competition to leave the Grand Cherokee in the dust.

In January, the TSi model debuted, sporting specific alloy wheels, monotone paint in a choice of three shades, dark blue pinstriping, leather seats, high powered audio system, and more luxurious interior trimmings.

Unfortunately, just as Jeep caught up to and surpassed the Explorer in comfort and safety features last year, Ford went and squeezed a V8 under the Explorer's hood. This year, Ford is offering a new overhead cam V6 engine in the Explorer which puts out 20 more horsepower than the Jeep inline six. 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.