Review: 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee

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There's a full complement of safety equipment available for the Grand Cherokee, but you have to pay extra for most of it. Front airbags, a tire-pressure monitoring system, and traction control are standard. On the options list are a ParkSense rear backup system (very useful with the Grand Cherokee's high rear window and fat pillars), front and rear side curtain airbags, and an electronic stability-control system. Check all these options boxes and the Grand Cherokee is competitive with most other luxury SUVs.

Jeep gives you the choice of tepid (the 3.7-liter/210-horse V-6), adequate (the 4.7-liter/235-horse V-8), rowdy (5.7-liter/330-horse V-8), or extreme (the 6.1-liter/415-horse Hemi V-8). In addition to standard RWD, there's a choice of three 4WD systems from single-range, all-wheel-drive with open differentials (Quadra-Trac) to the dual-range Quadra-Trac II, to Quadra-Drive II, which offers low range and electronic limited-slip front and rear differentials that can transfer engine power to the wheel with the most traction almost instantly. All engines are backed by a five-speed automatic transmission.

The theme here is choice, but the 5.7-liter Hemi is a nice way to go. In addition to providing gobs of torque, the Hemi employs a "multi-displacement system" that can shut down half the cylinders under light loads to improve fuel economy. Fuel economy in a V-8-powered SUV is a relative thing, but the Hemi's 19 mpg highway rating isn't bad in this class, and it matches that of the much less powerful 4.7-liter V-8.

Jeep made on-road dynamics a much higher priority here than in Grand Cherokees past. While it doesn't have an independent rear suspension, a la the Ford Explorer and Honda Pilot, the new GC does have a revised five-link arrangement, which, together with an independent front suspension, noticeably improves both ride and handling. The ride tends to be on the firm side, though without harshness. The biggest ride weakness is the head toss one experiences in a tall SUV with tight roll control--stutter bumps on one side of the vehicle render a shudder effect on passengers.

The 5.7-liter engine provides more thrust than you probably need, with enough low-rpm grunt to move the vehicle off the line in a hurry without seeming like it's really trying--it's effortless, American-style power. The Hemi also emits a satisfyingly throaty gurgle, and the five-speed automatic transmission offers a manual control mode, another nod to on-road performance. While the Hemi Grand Cherokee's performance slays that of other SUVs in this price class, the SRT-8 version delivers acceleration on par with Chevrolet Corvettes and Porsche 911 Turbos of just a few years ago. Off-road, the Grand Cherokee is downright amazing given its on-road character. Fitted with Quadra-Drive II, the GC can heroically tackle the most extreme terrain, putting it in rare company with the likes of the Land Rover LR3.

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