The Grand Cherokee always has been a star performer off-road, but the new, third-generation version attempts to elevate its game on pavement. To improve ride and handling, Jeep finally switches to an independent front suspension (of unequal-length control arms) and rack-and-pinion steering. Uplevel models feature antiroll bars that are disabled when steering straight ahead. All Grand Cherokees get a wider track and a tighter turning circle, and stability control is newly available. There are two new engines under the squared-off hood. The Liberty‘s 210-hp, 3.7-liter V-6 replaces the ancient 4.0-liter in-line six as the base engine. And the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 reigns as the top powerplant, making 325 hp and 370 lb-ft of torque. In be-tween, the 4.7-liter, SOHC V-8 returns, minus a few ponies (it’s now rated at 230). All engines use five-speed automatics; buyers can choose rear-wheel drive or one of three four-wheel-drive systems. The top-of-the-line Quadra-Drive II features electronic limited-slip differentials on both axles. The new Grand Cherokee wears all-new body panels stretched over a 3.6-inch-longer wheelbase. Inside, there’s no third row of seating, but interior design and materials are much improved.
ON SALE: Fall 2004
PRICE: $29,000-$40,000 (est.)
ENGINES: 210-hp, 3.7-liter V-6; 230-hp, 4.7-liter V-8; 325-hp, 5.7-liter V-8
BOTTOM LINE: Grander Cherokee.