Once you get beyond the "whoa, that's big" reaction, the Grand Cherokee comes into focus again. The first Grand Cherokee debuted in 1993, a bigger brother to the Jeep Cherokee (1985 -- 2001). A remodeled Grand Cherokee hit the road in 1999, followed by a further retooling in 2005. Cosmetic and mechanical upgrades have brought us to the current edition, the biggest Grand Cherokee so far. 2008 will see a mid-cycle "refresh," according to Chrysler, which will bring Grand Cherokee's styling cues more into line with the rest of the lineup. In the meantime, the 2007 Grand Cherokee stands as an island in the Jeep lineup, with a little bit of old and a little bit of new.
The classic Jeep seven-bar grille is in place, reminding everyone that you're driving an SUV with real heritage. Grand Cherokee's body looks like it was carved with X-Acto knives, with sharp edges, flat planes and sculptural details. It's not a bad look, just a little dated, a little "SUV of the future" for my taste. There's something about Grand Cherokee's profile that looks out of proportion -- maybe the hood is too long, maybe the windshield is too steeply raked. I don't know, maybe I'm crazy. I just think there's a bit too much swagger to Grand Cherokee's outline.
At least the quality is up to snuff. Grand Cherokee's paint is deep and lustrous, its gaps even and tight, and its trim firmly affixed to the body. There's an overall solidity that's reassuring in a vehicle that wears a badge that claims it is "Trail Rated."
In the Driver's Seat
The angular theme continues inside the Grand Cherokee. Air conditioning vents angle off in opposing directions around the beefy steering wheel. A simple, yet, slightly inelegant center stack houses audio and climate controls. The fake wood trim is -- well, fake wood trim. I hate fake wood trim, and this fake wood trim does not escape my disdain. Jeep has a bit of a problem with materials choices and feel -- there's a lot of cheap, plasticky-feeling stuff all around the cabin, not at all in harmony with the rough and tumble outdoorsy Jeep thing. Well, at least it feels like it was made from recycled material. That's something.
Grand Cherokee's driver's seat is plenty wide, deep and comfortable, with enough adjustability to get into a comfortable driving position. The center console features a big box that doubles as a driver's armrest, and it's smartly at the same height as the driver's door armrest, making for extra relaxing comfort. Only my living room couch is more relaxing.
The second row features a flat bench seat with plenty of room for two full-sized adults, three in a pinch. Thirsty adults, if you judge by cupholders -- there are at least four back there, two of which pop out from beneath the center of the seat. You can toss 35 cubic feet of manure behind the rear seat. Fold down the second row, and you've got an acre of flat load floor, and room to pack in 69 cubic feet of fertilizer.
On the Road
Grand Cherokee's cornering performance is a bit of a trade-off. With 8.3" of ground clearance, off-road driving is a real possibility. That means that the center of gravity is a little high for aggressive cornering, so you have to be careful that your HEMI doesn't overwhelm your common sense. Luckily, there are big, powerful ABS equipped 4-wheel disc brakes, traction control, full-time 4-wheel drive and a host of airbags to help out if things get really hairy. Don't let them get that out of control. Enjoy the HEMI in a straight line, and be gentle with it around the curves.
If you're considering a Jeep Grand Cherokee, there are several other vehicles you have to put through their paces before you make a decision. My personal favorite is the Toyota 4Runner. Check out the Nissan Pathfinder, the Ford Explorer, the Chevrolet Trailblazer/GMC Envoy and HUMMER H3 as well. This is one of the most competitive segments in the SUV market, and you'll be pleasantly surprised at how broad your choices are in terms of equipment, features and styling.
For some people, only a Jeep will do. Grand Cherokee has strayed from Jeep's pure off-road roots, but it is still a very capable vehicle. I wouldn't enter a pose-off with Arnold, even at his current age and weight, nor would I doubt Grand Cherokee's ability to pick its way through rough terrain. I just wish it had a little more current style outside, and a little higher level of material choice on the interior. That HEMI under the hood -- I wouldn't change that a bit.