Review: 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee

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Redesigned for 2005, the third-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee remained true to its heritage, retaining a trail-friendly size, formidable off-road prowess, and refined on-road manners. Evolutionary styling looks both forward and back, with a chunky, geometric take on the SUV two-box form. Jeep resisted the urge to cram in a third row of seats, leaving large-scale people-hauling to the new, Grand Cherokee-based 2006 Commander.

The new GC arrived with a new independent front suspension designed to improve on-road comfort and agility, and an available 330-horsepower Hemi V-8 giving it class-leading power. For 2006, the Grand Cherokee receives Chrysler's SRT treatment, with the SRT-8 model packing a 6.1-liter/415-horse Hemi V-8, along with upgraded brakes and suspension and big, 20-inch wheels. The SRT-8 should get to 60 mph in around five seconds, putting it in Porsche Cayenne Turbo territory for about half the price.

Consistent with Chrysler's design philosophy--better that a design incurs a love/hate reaction than boredom--the new Grand Cherokee's styling is more polarizing than the last generation's. It harkens back to Jeep's military past, with sharp lines and flat sides, and its silhouette isn't dissimilar from the last two generations'. Jeep's trademark upright grille looks as basic as grilles get, but it's flanked by sculpted, round composite headlamps that provide one of the exterior's few bits of visual jewelry and a nice contrast on the front end. The wheels, no matter which style, appear strong. The overall look isn't what you'd call pretty, but it's cohesive and it consciously avoids any design elements that might be construed as "cute" (e.g., the smaller Liberty's bug-eyed front end). It's a look that suits the Grand Cherokee and speaks to the vehicle's undeniable toughness.

The Grand Cherokee's interior is handsomely designed, looking better than it feels, with a two-tone color scheme on the hard-plastic dash and console. The steering wheel has cruise-control buttons on the front and audio controls tucked on the back--a good thing, since the dash radio controls are a bit of a reach for the driver. The optional Boston Acoustics sound system is loud and clear enough to please most non-audiophiles, and Sirius satellite radio is an option. Front-seat room is generous, but the rear seats lack legroom if the front seats are moved back very far. A roof-mounted rear-seat DVD system is a $1,200 option that could be worth every cent if you regularly shepherd kids around. Shorter drivers will appreciate available power-adjustable pedals. Messy cargo can be accommodated in the rear by a clever reversible floor panel, which can be mounted carpet-side up for a flat load floor, or plastic side up to provide a shallow waterproof recess for muddy boots and the like.

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