Jeep’s Grand machine gets a Hemi-powered makeover
Jeep’s flagship Grand Cherokee, completely redesigned for the 2005 auto season, certainly delivers the rugged comfort it advertises. Well-built, sturdy and ridiculously powerful – the rocket-powered 5.7 liter Hemi V8 engine makes yet another appearance in a Chrysler family product, producing more wheel-squealing fun – the wider, longer and beefier looking Grand Cherokee incorporates a bit of the obtuse angularity found among its family’s contemporary stablemates.Despite a commanding presence, the big Jeep isn’t quite as oppressive as other SUVs such as the Durango or Armada; the Grand Cherokee’s size still seems manageable and urbane. Better yet, it’s a vehicle that seems much closer to Jeep’s off-road roots than many of the competitors, with massive wheel wells for articulated tire travel, ample ground clearance and the steady, full-time all-wheel drive technology of the Quadra-Trac II system. It’s loaded with creature comfort (leather, a nifty DVD-driven navigation system and a DVD entertainment system in the back) yet is equally capable of hitting the trail and surviving the worst you can throw at it. Built to seat five, not nine, the Grand Cherokee provides lots of interior room for your quintet but is still sizeable enough to carry loads of cargo.Huge front and rear disc brakes, attractive five-spoke alloy wheels and versatile but still highway-smooth Goodyear Wrangler SR-A tires mean solid handling and stopping both on and off the road. Niceties such as an adaptable roof rack and an interesting reversible tray in the back for storing muddy boots are keen touches.
It’s the Hemi powerplant (advertised by number, not by name on the exterior, unlike every other Dodge or Chrysler this year) that transforms the Grand Cherokee from an adaptable trail and boulevard cruiser to a bat out of hell. Massive acceleration and cruising power will take you up the passes or move you out to Moab at more than adequate speed; the trade-off is some rather thirsty gas consumption (we averaged about 17.2 mpg overall).I was impressed by the Grand Cherokee’s turning radius and smooth ride, even in low 4-wheel drive mode – a small, chrome-covered T-handle next to the shift knob easily gets you into the low range. Getting it into a dicey, snow-packed uphill parking lot in West Vail was a piece of cake and it felt genuinely grounded and stable on slick surfaces. The high center of gravity (despite what looks like a chop job to the cabin, with a lower roofline and shorter windows) still made it feel a bit tippy when pushed to the limit on curves on dry pavement, so keep that in mind when letting the Hemi get a bit revved up.The big Jeep’s overall proportions do work to give it a more masculine look than the previous model. A blocky, imposing front bumper sports a set of old-school-inspired double headlights and a chrome grille. Large, squared-off wheel wells show off the springs and shocks and add a lift-kit sensibility to the beast. The rear is a huge departure from previous Grand Cherokees and seems to share its design with old Range Rovers, featuring a huge, rectangular rear window and a vertical stack of rectangular brake and turn lights. The combined effect is an admirably solid-looking machine.Inside, the Grand Cherokee abounds with a pleasant finish, complete with hardwood highlights, a two-tone leather color scheme and a straight-forward design that’s attractive but not overly audacious.
Tall, electrically adjustable and heated front seats were very comfortable and supportive; unfortunately, a low roof angle and an apparently height-challenged driver before me contributed to me smacking my head on the door frame the first time I got in the vehicle (I later switched on the convenience seating mode, which automatically moved back the seats on entry, preventing further goose eggs). Front foot and leg room is also a bit cramped due to the large transmission hump.On the dash – capped with a hard cover and a small, tapered hood that extends over the navigation and stereo system – you’ll find an electronic menu providing mileage, range and instant tire pressure. The navigation system provided clear images and effortless instruction on reaching destinations. The Boston Acoustics stereo system was clear and powerful and we enjoyed exploring the sometimes overly chatty offerings on the pre-installed Sirius Satellite Radio. An automatic dual-zone heating and air conditioning system cleared ice-covered windows in a snap and was easy to use. The rear parking system seemed to only come to life at very close range to objects behind the Grand Cherokee, so I’d suggest employing the old-fashioned “actually turning your head” routine while parallel parking. Boiled down, the Grand Cherokee is one very comfortable and extremely fast off-road machine that seems prepared to tackle any motoring challenge. Just watch your head.
2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited Best featuresBold, wide new body designExtremely capable 4WD systemComfortable, well-equipped interior Worst features
Gigantic gas guzzlerSlightly cramped foot space for driverRear parking sensor lacks rangePrice as tested: $41,535Includes: 5.7 liter V8 Hemi engine, 5-speed automatic transmission, Quadra-Trac II full-time AWD system, 17-inch aluminum wheels, rain-sensitive wipers, electronic stability program, navigation system and 6-CD in-dash stereo system, Sirius Satellite Radio, heated/power front seats, rear seat DVD entertainment system, rear parking warning system. Stated mileage: 14 mpg city, 19 highway
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