Car Review: 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo 4WD


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo 4WD

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Jeep

It's time to welcome third-generation Grand Cherokee. It builds on the strengths and success of its eminently-successful, class-benchmark forebears. Only the model designations - Laredo and Limited - remain the same. With growth of more than three inches in wheelbase, five in length, and one in width, there is a little more room inside, particularly in width. But the new styling makes it look smaller than the `99-`04 model.

As important as the new room and styling is what's underneath. The chassis structure is new, and more rigid for improved ride and handling characteristics - anywhere - and lower noise levels. The suspension is new, and there are three new four-wheel drive systems. (Rear-wheel drive is also available.) The venerable pushrod 4.0-liter inline six-cylinder base-model engine has given way to the Liberty's 3.7-liter overhead cam V6 with more power (210 hp to 195) and torque (235 lb-ft to 230). While the 235-hp 4.7-liter V8, optional in the Laredo and standard in the Limited, remains unchanged, those with a need for serious power can now get parent Chrysler's new 5.7-liter ``Hemi'' in the 4x4 Limited - complete with 330 horsepower and 375 lb-ft of stump-pulling torque. .

The Jeep Grand Cherokee created quite a stir when it made its debut in 1992 for the 1993 model year. Rather than the body-on-frame construction that had been a staple of serious off-road vehicles since before the days of the original World War II Willys, the Grand Cherokee had a unibody structure, just like a car. And it could be outfitted in positively posh fashion. Old-time off-road enthusiasts were initially miffed, and figured that Jeep had sold out. But many more people looked at the Grand Cherokee, larger and more comfortable than the Cherokee, liked what they saw, and voted with their wallets. The Grand Cherokee was a success, and quickly became the class benchmark. To no one's surprise, it proved to be as capable off-road as it was comfortable on pavement. And, Jeep should feel flattered. Unibody SUVs are no longer a rarity. .

I've spent time in all three generations of Grand Cherokee, most recently with a new Laredo 4x4 with the 4.7 V8. I had rain and mud to deal with, but no snow, and (sigh) no time or opportunity to head for the hills, so no off-road driving. But some of the paved roads in my area are ``paved'' only by stretching the definition, and provide an excellent test of suspension comfort. The 2005 Grand Cherokee passed with flying colors. And there was no shortage of power from the ``little'' 4.7-liter V8. If you don't need the extra power for towing or off-road use, the V6 ought to be just fine. The Hemi is there for the truly serious. In any form, the new Grand Cherokee is the best of its line, and one of the best mid-sized SUVs ever made. .

APPEARANCE: Even though no body panels are shared with any previous Grand Cherokee, there is no doubt as to the 2005 model's identity. The new Grand Cherokee is stylish enough for a night in the city, and rugged-looking enough for a week on the trail. Details may be different - the shape of the dual headlights is carried into the front fenders in the manner of the smaller Liberty's single lights (or the front styling of its distant relatives in Stuttgart) and the general body shape is lower, leaner, and more muscular than Generation 2 - but the familiar seven-slot grille and angular wheel arches and side styling remain. The Laredo's grille is body-colored, while the Limited's is chromed. All have car-like body-colored, integrated bumpers. The tailgate glass can be opened separately, for easy access for small packages. .

COMFORT: It may be rugged underneath, but the new Grand Cherokee, even in Laredo trim, is upscale and comfortable inside. And access is easy, just open the door and, unless you're under five foot-three, slide right in - the unibody construction allows a lower step-in height than a separate frame with the same clearance and suspension travel. The interior styling is all-new. With a sculpted look and materials of varying textures and colors, it would not be out of place in an entry-luxury sedan. The trim on the instrument panel and around the window lifts is real aluminum, not a cheap-looking plastic imitation. The center section, with the audio, climate, and, if so outfitted, navigation system controls, is positioned closer to the driver and front passenger for convenience. This also angles the two center vents toward the front occupants for better heating or cooling. The front seats are comfortable, with good support. The steering wheel is tilt-adjustable, and optional power-adjustable pedals make it easy for anyone to find the perfect driving position. There are numerous convenient storage spaces for the front passengers. The rear seat features a higher cushion for better passenger visibility. Call it ``theater seating'' if the optional DVD-based entertainment system is specified. The rear seat folds 60/40, and a reversible tray in the cargo area has carpet on one side and bare plastic on the other, presumably for carrying wet or messy items.

SAFETY: The 2005 Grand Cherokee's chassis structure is designed to protect passengers in the event of an accident. Multi-stage airbags, managed by the Occupant Classification System, protect front-seat occupants; side-curtain bags are available. A tire-pressure monitoring system and four-wheel antilock disc brakes are standard. The ESP electronic stability program system is available.

ROADABILITY: The worse the road, the happier the Jeep. At least that was the impression I got after a week of driving on every sort of pavement from newly-repaved Interstates to never-maintained backroads that make a well-maintained gravel Forest Service road seem like an Interstate in comparison. Credit is due to the new, more rigid unibody structure and new front and rear suspensions. At the front is an independent short-and-long arm system with coil springs, for major improvements in ride and handling over the previous live axle. A coil-sprung live axle is still found in the rear, but new locating geometry keeps it civilized. If the suspension tuning feels a little soft at speed on the highway, it feels just right at lower speeds on bumpy surfaces. The Laredo comes standard with ``Quadra-Trac 1''(r), a single-range full-time four-wheel drive system designed for year-round pavement and light-duty offroad use. Specification of the 4.7-liter V8 in the Laredo brings the ``Quadra-Trac II''(r) system, standard in the Limited. It features a dual-range, electronically-controlled transfer case, for use in more serious conditions. Limited models with the Hemi get the sophisticated ``Quadra-Drive II''(r) system, which adds electronically-controlled front and rear limited-slip differentials for maximum traction in just about any condition.

PERFORMANCE: I doubt that you can go wrong with any of the engine choices for the new Grand Cherokee. My test vehicle was equipped with the 4.7-liter ``Power Tech'' V8, an iron-block, aluminum-head single overhead cam design with 235 horsepower at 4500 rpm and 305 lb-ft of torque at 3600 rpm on regular unleaded gasoline. Helped by the new five-speed automatic transmission, it had no problems in acceleration or passing. Manual-shift mode is standard, but unnecessary in normal driving, although it could come in handy off-road or towing. Choose your engine by your towing requirements: capacity is 3,500 lbs with the V6, 6,500 with the 4.7 V8, and 7,200 with the 5.7 Hemi. .

CONCLUSIONS: Want to do the Rubicon in a tuxedo? Here's your ride, the 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee.

SPECIFICATIONS
2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo 4WD

Base Price			$ 28,100
Price As Tested			$ 38,155
Engine Type			single overhead cam 16-valve V8
Engine Size			4.7 liters / 287 cu. in.
Horsepower			235 @ 4700 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			305 @ 3700 rpm
Transmission			5-speed electronically-controlled 
				  automatic
Wheelbase / Length		109.5 in. / 186.6 in.
Curb Weight			4,613 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		19.6
Fuel Capacity			20.8 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P245/65 SR17 Goodyear Wrangler SR-A
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent short and long arm with
				  coil springs /
				 live axle with multi-link location and
				  coil springs
Ground clearance		8.0 inches at the rear differential
Drivetrain			front engine, full-time
				 four-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		15 / 20 / 16
Towing capacity				6500 lbs.
0 to 60 mph				est. 9.0  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Customer Preferred Package 28X - includes:
  leather-trimmed bucket seats, auto-dimming
  rear-view mirror, power heated fold-away mirrors,
  power outlet, power front seats, Boston Acoustics
  premium audio system, 276-watt amplifier, 
  adjustable roof rail crossbars, cargo compartment
  cover, fog lamps, auto on/off headlamps, 
  steering wheel-mounted audio controls,
  security alarm, leather-wrapped steering wheel,
  sun visors w/lighted vanity mirrors, universal
  garage door opener, 
  power sunroof				$ 3,355
Electronic Infotainment System Group:
  overhead rear console, rear-seat 
  video system				$ 1,200
Off-Road Group - includes:
  P245/65 all-terrain tires, skid plate group,
  tow hooks				$   420
Towing Group				$   255
Electronic Stability Program		$   500
4.7-liter Power Tech V8 engine and  Quadra-Trac II
  Active Full-Time 4WD			$ 1,340
Heated Front Seats			$   250
Navigation System with MP3-compatible
  6CD changer				$ 1,500
SIRIUS digital satellite radio		$   195
UConnect hands-free communication
					$   275
Power-adjustable pedals			$   120
Destination charge			$   645


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