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'99 Jeep Grand Cherokee

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San Francisco:  Jeep's Grand Cherokee, a major player in the midsize, upscale sport utility derby, gets a new suit of clothes this year, which, without sharing a single body panel with the past model still conveys the same rugged image.

Introduced in 1993, the Grand Cherokee is the luxurious outgrowth of the Jeep Cherokee. That model, which arrived in the mid-1980s as a late American Motors product, helped revolutionize the sport utility market. The new versatile Grand Cherokee can weather the challenging Rubicon Trail in the Sierras, get respect at the Silverado Country Club, and still pull carpool and soccer practice duty too.

Jeep sold an eye-popping 267,000 Grand Cherokees in the 1997 model year. So, why change a good thing? The answer, of course, is to sell even more Jeeps in a rapidly changing marketplace.

DaimlerChrysler created an all-new Grand Cherokee by thoughtfully refining the beloved form, with a more laid-back windshield and nose, and more sophisticated styling in the interior. It still wears the familiar seven-slot grille, squared off fender lines and lower body cladding. The wheels remain large, wide and rugged-looking.

In the remodeling, a little stretch in back allowed relocation of the spare tire to a flat position under the rear cargo floor, freeing up more cargo space. Mechanically, the four-wheel-drive technology got the once-over as well.

The Grand Cherokee's target buyer is 42-44 years old, with a household income of $80,000 - $115,000, who is willing to spend $35,000 for a sport utility vehicle. One can assume that many purchasers are also married with children.

My Limited model came loaded with such niceties as heated seats, automatic temperature control with separate driver and passenger adjustment, 11-position tilt steering column (with leather-wrapped wheel), an overhead console with 14 programmable features and readouts, and more.

The steering wheel audio controls are sensational. Mounted on the back of the steering wheel, they facilitate effortless changes of volume, function, seek, scan, and CD track selection. Your eyes never leave the road.

The '99 Grand Cherokee has won two prestigious awards so far, including the "Truck of the Year" award from the North American International Auto Show in Detroit and Four Wheeler magazine's "Four Wheeler of the Year." An all-new 4.7-liter V8 engine helped Four Wheeler make their choice, as did the new Quadra-Drive four-wheel-drive system.

Quadra-Drive allows virtually 100 percent transfer of torque to a single wheel while driving on-or off-road, giving maximum control in any situation. Speed-sensing differentials on both axles and in the transfer case make this possible.

My tester, in Deep Slate Pearl Coat, came with the base 4.0-liter straight six. Despite all the excitement about the new 230-horsepower V-8, this engine provided 195 horsepower and never felt better. Fuel mileage of 16 city, 21 highway isn't especially remarkable, but for pulling two tons of comfort down the road, it's not bad. Real mileage for the week, per the car's built-in trip computer, was 15.4 mpg, and it used regular gas!

In the upper echelon of medium-sized sport utilities, the Grand Cherokee is a real contender. And for serious off-roading, it's one of the best. By Steve Schaefer AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

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Byline:  By Steve Schaefer AutoWire.Net - San Francisco
Column Name:  Four Wheeler of the Year
Topic:  '99 Jeep Grand Cherokee
Word Count:  530
Photo Caption:  '99 Jeep Grand Cherokee
Photo Credits:  DaimlerChrysler PR
Series #:   1999 - 23




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