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2004 JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE Review - Base Price $27,260

Classic SUV offers off-road capability and panache.


2004 jeep grand cherokee Review

The Jeep Grand Cherokee is a classic. Introduced more than a decade ago and redesigned five years ago, it lacks the refinement found in the latest wave of SUVs. Yet our 2004 Grand Cherokee drew admiring glances and comments everywhere it went. People were fawning over it. Granted, it was an Inferno Red Overland model. Granted, the 2004 models feature a new front fascia that updates and freshens the looks. The point is, people still love the Grand Cherokee even though it's been a familiar site for some time now.

And they continue to buy them. Grand Cherokee ranks among the best-selling SUVs in America. Jeep sells about 220,000 Grand Cherokees a year. That's a whole big bunch. Grand Cherokee sales outrank such popular nameplates as Tahoe, Suburban, Yukon, Expedition, and Durango. And the imports don't even come close. In one month, September 2003, Jeep sold 16,410 Grand Cherokees, which would not be a bad half-year for the Mercedes M-Class or BMW X5. This drives other manufacturers crazy. The marketing people for every SUV sold in America list Grand Cherokee as a competitor simply because Jeep sells so many of them.

Why is Grand Cherokee so successful? For starters, everyone knows what it is. The Jeep Grand Cherokee combines luxury with impressive off-road capability. It served as a symbol of success throughout the 1990s. You could park a Limited with gold wheels and matching gold pinstripe in your driveway and everyone would know you'd achieved the American dream.

Grand Cherokee is a solid vehicle that can go anywhere. It can tackle steep slopes, slog through mud, and plow through snow. It's reasonably quick with the available high-output 4.7-liter V8. It was completely redesigned for 1999. It has been continuously revised since for improved ride quality, easier steering effort, improved brake pedal feel, and increased safety and convenience.

Grand Cherokee is luxuriously appointed yet competitively priced. Its interior is attractive and tastefully trimmed in handsome wood. Its list of features looks impressive. MSRPs range from $26,980 for a six-cylinder 2WD Laredo to $38,995 for a 4WD Overland with a V8. Rebates of $3,000 and zero-percent financing can sweeten the deal.

But there's no question that this is a dated product. Hordes of new SUVs offer a smoother ride, better handling and more refinement. Grand Cherokee has a relatively rough ride. Its new navigation screen is relatively small (though the system itself is modern and the screen works great for displaying radio stations). Its radio buttons are small, fussy and hard to operate. And in many other ways it does not feel like a contemporary product. Also, most SUV buyers confine their driving to paved trails so go-anywhere capability is not a priority.

An all-new Grand Cherokee is on the horizon for the 2005 model year. Until then, the current model strives to deliver the American dream.


The interior of the Grand Cherokee is attractive and comfortable. The Overland's Redwood Burl wood trim is attractive and tastefully applied (and it is wood, not plastic).

The front seats are comfortable, though they seem cushy for serious off-road driving. 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 toward the door. Our Overlander came with seat heaters.

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.

Power adjustable pedals ($185) are an option that improves comfort and safety for shorter drivers because it enables them to find a comfortable driving position without moving too close to the airbag-equipped steering wheel; pressing a button moves the brake and accelerator pedals up to 3 inches closer. Tall drivers with long legs will find themselves moving the pedals all the way forward (away from them). The pedals automatically reposition themselves with the seats and mirrors when the available memory function is activated, a boon to couples 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 wood-and-leather steering wheel that came on our Overland wasn'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.

The gauges on Limited and Overland models 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.

The new navigation system ($1,200) nicely integrates the global positioning satellite data with the radio controls. The 4.9-inch full-color display on the center console is relatively small by contemporary standards, but it's a crisp readout that displays a map of the surrounding area. On the other hand, this system costs less than most navigation systems. The screen does an outstanding job of displaying radio stations in big, crisp numerals.

The stereo system buttons themselves are too small and too hard to operate while driving. Annoyingly, there's a separate Set button for station presets, more awkward than the more common method of holding down a preset button for a few seconds. This same awkward button is used for navigation functions. The available CD changer is mounted in the right rear of the cargo compartment in a form-fitting compartment, not as handy as an in-dash changer.

Big knobs make adjusting cabin temperature quick and easy.

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 thanks to wide doors.

The rear seats fold flat (after removing the headrests) to reveal a decent-sized cargo compartment with a flat floor. Tie downs are provided on the sides and floor, handy for securing cargo. The rear tire lies under the floor, which allows more space for cargo at the expense of a higher lift-over height at the tailgate.

Safety features include available ceiling-mounted side-curtain air bags, which provide head protection for front- and rear-seat occupants. These are in addition to the dual frontal airbags. Seat belt reminders have been enhanced for 2004, reminding drivers and passengers that seatbelts are your most important line of defense in a crash. LATCH child-seat anchors are standard. Rain-sensing wipers are standard on Overland, optional on Limited models.


The 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee gets a fresh look with a new front fascia, new grille and new fog lamp appearance for all models.

Grand Cherokee is readily identifiable in 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 front and rear overhangs contribute to its off-road capability, and to its pulled-taught styling. Slightly rounded edges and a subtle bulge in the roofline modernize, but do not detract from, a design heritage traceable to the 1941 original.


The Jeep Grand Cherokee is not the most refined SUV sold today. Reduced-pressure shock absorbers were added for 2003, but the Grand Cherokee does not have a Lexus ride quality. It feels more like a truck.

Jeep's available high-output 4.7-liter V8 is lively. 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. Sometimes, usually when lifting off the throttle while coasting under momentum up a steep hill, the transmission will upshift with a hard thump, as if to remind us that we're in a vehicle built for serious off-road duty.

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.

The quick acceleration is due in part to the relative light weight of the Grand Cherokee, whose figure is kept trim by its unit-body construction. This design 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 Chevy Tahoe and Ford Expedition.

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

Steering is quick but isolated. The steering was recalibrated for lower effort for 2003. 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 a truck, sitting tall, and leaning side-to-side in corners and high winds.

All Grand Cherokees stop with four-wheel-disc brakes and ABS. Jeep refined the brakes for 2003 with new brake calipers and a high-output master cylinder to reduce pedal effort. 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.

The Grand Cherokee 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. This is a superb off-road vehicle.

Four-wheel-drive systems vary by model. Four-wheel-drive Laredos come standard with Jeep's Selec-Trac system, whose planetary center differential sends a fixed proportion of torque to the front and rear axles. Manually selecting the low range locks the center differential for maximum traction. Limited-slip differentials are available for both front and rear axles.

Quadra-Trac II, standard on four-wheel-drive Limited and Special Edition models, optional on Laredo and Freedom Edition models, is an on-demand transfer case that incorporates a progressive, speed-sensing torque-transfer coupling that varies torque automatically between the front and rear axles depending upon which has more traction. Quadra-Trac II comes with a low range. Laredo offers a similar system without the low-range set of gears called Quadra-Trac I. Limited-slip axles are available.

Quadra-Drive comes on Overland models, optional on Limited ($550). Quadra-Drive combines the Quadra-Trac II transfer case with Vari-Lock axles, which use hydromechanical torque-transfer couplings between the wheels. Jeep claims the Quadra-Drive system can send nearly 100 percent of engine torque to a single wheel when necessary.

Also standard on Overland is the Up-Country Suspension Group ($435 on Laredo, $290 on Limited), which includes heavy-duty springs and gas-pressurized shock absorbers, skid plates and P235/65R17 all-terrain tires.


The Grand Cherokee is a popular choice for families who revel in its rugged image. It's a dated product and lacks the refinement of the latest car-based SUVs, but still earns respect and admiration on the street. Its retail price creeps up in its Overland guise, but rebates and other incentives soften the blow.

Jeep Grand Cherokee tracks like Daniel Boone through the backcountry. 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.

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