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2003 JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE Review - Base Price $25,665

Grandly luxurious with Jeep's off-road capability.


2003 jeep grand cherokee Review

The 2003 Jeep Grand Cherokee, flagship of the Jeep brand, offers a better ride, improved brake pedal feel, and easier steering effort over last year's models. Also new are enhanced interior features and child seats that are easier to install. Power adjustable pedals are now available for all models.

Jeep built its reputation by building the genuine article, the real deal. Jeep vehicles offer serious off-road capability to match their tough looks. The luxuriously appointed Grand Cherokee along with the nimble Wrangler are the basis for Jeep's reputation for off-road prowess.

The Grand Cherokee can prowl canyons and crevasses, negotiate steep slopes, and slog through slippery mud. Yet it's civilized enough to satisfy buyers whose idea of high adventure is a visit to Builder's Square without a blueprint.

Introduced nearly a decade ago, the Grand Cherokee was extensively redesigned in 1999. In 2002, Jeep released the flagship Overland model, which combines plush suede leather seat inserts with a full complement of off-road equipment, including skid plates, a raised suspension and limited-slip axles.


Safety has improved for 2003 with optional ceiling-mounted side-curtain air bags, which provide head protection for front- and rear-seat occupants. LATCH child-seat anchors are standard. New rain-sensing wipers are standard on Overland, optional on Limited models.

We found the Grand Cherokee's front seats comfortable, with thickly padded longitudinal ribs. They seem a bit cushy for serious off-road driving, however. The bottom cushion has ridges to keep you in place, but the backrest lacks lateral support. This makes it easy to slide into the seat while wearing a bulky coat, nice for those cold winter commutes, but if you charge into a hard corner you may find yourself sliding into the door.

The Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland's adjustable pedal option moves the brake and throttle up to three inches closer to accommodate shorter drivers. But if you're a six-footer with proportionately long legs, you'll leave the pedals all the way forward. The pedals move with the memory seats and mirrors, a boon to folks who are significantly taller or shorter than their significant other. A button on the key fob activates the memory function, so you can pre-adjust everything to your settings before you even climb into the vehicle.

The gauges on Limited and Overland are electroluminescent, so the dials themselves appear to glow at night. It's a more pleasing look than the conventional setup, where the pointers and numerals are lighted against a darker background.

It's hard to tell at a glance, but the Overland's Redwood Burl trim is real wood. Similarly, its wood-and-leather steering wheel isn't as plush or thick as that of a Jaguar, but its does have remote stereo switches on the front of its horizontal spokes. That feature relieves the long reach to the dashboard for the radio controls, a reach made longer by the Grand Cherokee's high seating position.

Our initial impression from the driver's seat was that the hood was too high, blocking vision immediately in front of the vehicle. But the hood slopes down on its sides, so your vision isn't blocked while turning.

Rear legroom is tight for long-distance trips with large fishing buddies, but adequate for a night on the town with another couple. Climbing into the back seats is relatively easy (compared with the Land Rover Discovery, for example), thanks to generously wide doors.

The rear tire lies under the floor, which allows more space for cargo at the expense of a high liftover at the tailgate.


The Jeep Grand Cherokee brings a powerful sense of identity to a market crowded with on-road SUVs. From its jailhouse grille to its squared-off wheel openings, there's no mistaking the Grand Cherokee for anything but a Jeep.

Short overhangs contribute to its off-road capability, and to its pulled-taught styling as well. Slightly rounded edges and a subtle bulge in the roofline modernize, but do not detract from, a design heritage traceable to the 1941 original.


Jeep has refined the Grand Cherokee for 2003. New brake calipers and a high-output master cylinder reduce braking effort. The steering has been recalibrated for lower effort. Reduced-pressure shock absorbers enhance the Grand Cherokee's on-pavement ride.

Jeep's high-output 4.7-liter V8 is lively, and its 30-horsepower advantage over the standard 4.7-liter V8 is noticeable. This engine provides the Grand Cherokee with smooth acceleration performance, and it sounds refined. It produces 265 horsepower at 5100 rpm and 325 pound-feet of torque at 3600, compared with the standard 4.7-liter V8's 235 horsepower at 4800 rpm and 295 pounds-feet of torque at 3200 rpm. In other words, it produces more power, but revs higher to do it. Most of the power increase comes from a higher compression ratio (9.7:1 vs. 9.3), so the high-output engine requires premium fuel.

The five-speed automatic transmission that comes standard with the V8 engines shifts unobtrusively. It makes hurrying up a mountain or passing slow-moving trucks a breeze. It has two overdrive gears, so in fifth gear the engine is only turning 2000 revs while cruising at 70 mph. You could say this transmission is actually a six-speed automatic: There are two second-gear ratios, a low second gear ratio for up-shifting from first and a higher second gear ratio for downshifting from third. No more than five gears, however, are used in sequence.

The Grand Cherokee seems sluggish off the line at first, but this is partly due to the throttle's long pedal travel. Experienced off-road drivers prefer a longer pedal travel for precise manipulation of the throttle in tricky situations. Deliberate mashing of the throttle brings a quick launch, quicker than in most other SUVs in this class. That's due in part to the relative lightweight of the Jeep, whose figure is kept trim by its unit-body construction. This unusual design strategy, also used by the Nissan Pathfinder and Mitsubishi Montero, results in a platform that is lighter and more rigid than traditional truck-based designs that are built on a frame. The Jeep feels faster and more responsive than most V8 SUVs, especially the huge Tahoe and Expedition.

A surprisingly tight turning circle adds to the Jeep's spirited, nimble feel. Off-road, or driving down a bumpy, rutted rural lane, it feels controlled and steady. There's no need to slow down for rough railroad crossings in the Grand Cherokee. But under many on-pavement conditions, the Grand Cherokee drives like a big, heavy truck, leaning noticeably in turns.

Steering is quick but isolated. When you turn the wheel you can't feel how much the front tires are slipping on pavement. You don't really steer the Grand Cherokee so much as guide it. But that's the same for all of the top-selling sport-utilities. Like them, the Jeep is still a truck, sitting tall, and leaning side-to-side in corners and high winds.

Our Overland stopped confidently, but with the telltale diving motion of a high-riding off-road vehicle. The Up-Country suspension package that comes on the Overland lifts the body an inch higher than the standard Grand Cherokee suspension.

The trend among competing sport-utilities is to use independent suspensions for better highway handling. The Jeep Liberty uses an independent front suspension, and the new Ford Explorer's suspension is independent at all four wheels. The Grand Cherokee, however, rides on live axles, front and rear. This is a drawback on washboard-rutted roads, where the Grand Cherokee will bounce itself sideways at speed.

For the most part, however, the Grand Cherokee stays pointed straight ahead on bumpy roads. A triangle link locates the rear axle, keeping it square with the body. Careful tuning of suspension and drivetrain mounts allows a lot of compliant movement, so that the Jeep's axles lift and pivot over large bumps and dirt holes where the independent suspensions of other SUVs reach their limits of travel. As a result, the Grand Cherokee rides tolerably where other SUV's toss and thump you.

The Grand Cherokee also requires fewer try-and-fail attempts to conquer off-road challenges. It will instill trail-driving confidence you never had, particularly if you know a few off-road skills, such as lifting both feet off the pedals while the Jeep is engine-braking down a mud-slicked embankment, or keeping both feet on both pedals while creeping over a pile of wet logs. You'll learn to make use of the long throttle-pedal travel to finesse the accelerator over slick obstacles in your way.


Jeep Grand Cherokee tracks like Daniel Boone through the backcountry. Jeep claims a higher than average percentage of its customers use their vehicles for serious off-road travel. Only Land Rovers, Toyotas, and Hummers can compete with Jeep when it comes to trail running. When the going gets rough, the Jeep Grand Cherokee is a thoughtful design that delivers.

The Grand Cherokee is also a popular choice for families who revel in its rugged image. We think it's creeping too close to $40,000 in its Overland guise, however. Improvements for 2003 make the Grand Cherokee line more attractive.

Find more reviews at New Car Test Drive. The wolrd's leading provider of Automotive Reviews.

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