The Grand Cherokee has carved out a well-defined niche for itself. It's aimed at people who want abundant, torquey power (from V-8 versions), don't need a third-row seat, and might actually take their vehicles off-road now and then. They also want luxury accoutrement, but don't want to pay European prices and don't expect the attendant quality of craftsmanship and materials. The Grand Cherokee straddles a fine line--priced to compete with the Ford Explorers of the world on the low end, but having enough brand cachet and luxury options to tempt the BMW X5/Mercedes ML/Lexus RX set on the high side. For instance, for your low-$40,000 outlay, you could either get a loaded Hemi Grand Cherokee, or an extremely basic six-cylinder X5.
The Grand Cherokee has elevated its on-pavement game to the point where that's an option worth pondering--the carlike imports with independent rear suspension still go around corners better, but you've gotta spend some money to get an ML, X5, or Volkswagen Touareg that'll just touch a Hemi Grand Cherokee in acceleration. The Ford Explorer gets the Mustang's V-8 for '06, but that 4.6-liter unit is still well shy of the Hemi's output. The Toyota 4Runner is a lot like the Grand Cherokee in spirit, offering real off-road ability--and perhaps as important, an off-road image--with a big V-6 or a V-8, but it can't match the Hemi for sheer grunt. The Chevrolet TrailBlazer is getting old, but this year sees the addition of a model that mirrors the Grand Cherokee SRT-8's performance mission: the TrailBlazer SS, which gets a slightly detuned version of the Corvette's 6.0-liter V-8.
An SUV for the power-hungry who don't want to spend import money to get on-road luxury and extraordinary off-road ability.
An all-new design debuted last year, so the basic 2006 Grand Cherokee is largely unchanged, with the exception of an all-new performance model this year, the SRT-8. That top-dog Grand Cherokee gets a 415-horsepower V-8, along with upgraded brakes and suspension to go with it.
The biggest temptation on the options list is the Hemi V-8, although the 4.7-liter V-8 still offers plenty of oomph. Off-roaders and those who tow will want the 4x4 Popular Equipment Group, which includes a wiring harness and hitch receiver, as well as skidplates, tow hooks, and all-terrain tires. The ParkSense rear backup assist is $255 well spent.