Three Faces of Jeep
By Fleetwood Brougham
Jeep’s Grand Cherokee is one of the more sensible SUVs on the market. Beyond its ability to do what the SUV was invented for in the first place, i.e. trek over boulder strewn paths and forge through deep snow, the Grand Cherokee posses a litany of impressive attributes few SUV’s in this price range can match.
Fresh from a complete overhaul last year, the 2006 Grand Cherokee carries on with little change. Thought the styling is relatively new, the look is still familiar, a sort of Cubist rendition of the previous generation Grand Cherokee. The interior design is clean and handsome, but the material used to form the dash and doors has an all-too familiar plastic feel that says, “this is where we had to make concessions.” I love the Grand Cherokee’s front seats. They are firm and supportive and include adjustable lumbar support for both the driver and passenger. My rear seat passengers loved the ample legroom but bitched up a storm about the short seat bottoms. Who really listens to backseat passengers anyway? Though the current model’s interior is the most spacious ever afforded a Grand Cherokee, cargo space is still tight for this class and there is no third-row seat option.
I drove the Laredo and Limited models and found both quite appealing. The driving position is nearly perfect. There is ample room between the door and driver’s seat as not to cause claustrophobia for the ample sized individual, or “Big Girls” as they are sometimes referred. The Grand Cherokee’s responsive steering delivers excellent feedback via the thick, leather-wrapped wheel and demonstrates an ability to track straight without the need for constant course corrections. Visibility is excellent in all directions and the adjustable pedals allow drivers of all sizes to find a comfortable perch.
The Grand Cherokee’s coil-spring suspension delivers a firm yet comfortable ride under most conditions. I did find the ride to be somewhat jarring when connecting with road distortions such as broken pavement, pot holes and those ever annoying speed bumps! Despite the high center of gravity and tall profile tires, the Grand Cherokee displayed minimal body roll and lean uncommon for an SUV.
Just like Eve and Sybil, the Grand Cherokee has more than one face. The multi-purpose vehicle slots neatly into one of three niches. First up are the two-wheel drive models. Available in Laredo, Limited and Overland trim, these rear-wheel drive models are the 21st century equivalent of your mother’s station wagon, only more hip. The two-wheel drive Grand Cherokee is perfect for those who never intend to leave the comfort of the road most traveled, yet desire the high seating position and overall utility provided by an SUV.
As sensible as a comfortable set of flats, the Grand Cherokee Laredo carries a starting price of $27,860 and features a 210 horsepower, 3.7-liter V6 engine, automatic transmission, power windows, power locks, power mirrors, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, AM/FM stereo with CD, tilt wheel and a power driver’s seat.
The upscale Limited stickers at $34,110 and adds a 235-horsepower 4.7-liter V8, leather trim, 17-inch aluminum wheels, rain sensing wipers, power adjustable pedals, Boston Acoustics audio with CD/MP3 capability and a power passenger seat. $39,935 nets you the Overland, with a powerful 5.7-liter Hemi-V8 good for 330 horsepower, leather and wood steering wheel, satellite navigation and two-tone seats with ultra-suede inserts. Optional equipment includes front and rear side-airbag curtains, upgraded audio, power sunroof, a tow package and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system.
Next up are the four-wheel drive models featuring much of the same content as their two-wheel drive equivalents but carrying a slightly higher price tag. Jeep offers three different four-wheel drive systems, each more competent than the next. The Laredo trim feature Quadra-Trak I, (no Mary, quadra-trak is not a leg muscle) a permanently engaged four-wheel drive system that evenly splits the engine’s torque between the front and rear wheels. The Limited model features a more hands-on system dubbed Quadra-Trak II. This system feature a two-speed transfer case, important for those who enjoy serious off-roading, rock climbing and towing heavy trailers. The most advanced system is the Quadra-Drive II (standard on the Overland and optional on the Limited) which combines a full-time active transfer case with a set of front, rear and center electronically controlled limited slip differentials. Yes dearies, I know that’s a mouthful, but what it boils down to is a four-wheel drive system that can sense slip at any wheel and redirect power to the remaining wheels (or wheel) that still have traction. It’s really quite remarkable.
The last of the Grand Cherokee’s personality is one better suited to a race track rather than dirt road. The SRT-8 is blessed with new 415-horsepower Hemi V8, lowered performance suspension, big tires and wheels and the Quadra-Drive II system. I like to think of it as the poor man’s BMW X5. I spent some time with the SRT-8 on a closed track and I must admit I was floored at the vehicles ability to accelerate, corner and brake. If performance driving is in your blood but necessity dictates and SUV, you should test drive the SRT-8. At $39,995, it undercuts the less powerful BMW X5 4.8is, Porsche Cayenne S and Cadillac SRX V8 by a wide margin.
Jeep is a gay-friendly company.
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