1993-98: the original Jeep Grand Cherokee
In Spring 1992, Jeep fans across the nation woke up to a new beast: the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Not much larger than the popular Jeep Cherokee, it added layers of luxury hitherto found only in the Wagoneer, with a base 4-liter engine pumping out 190 horsepower and 225 lb-ft of torque through a four-speed automatic. Part-time, full-time, and all-time 4x4 capabilities were available.
Just about everything about the Grand Cherokee was new, including the factory, Jefferson North. Export models were made in Graz, Austria, and South America.
In 1993, the venerable 318 V8 was added (220 hp / 285 lb-ft), with a heavier-duty four-speed automatic; Chrysler confusingly referred to the 1993 model year Grand Cherokee as the first, and then referred to the 1993 model year as adding the V8 (first V8 in the “compact sports utility segment”), increased towing (6,500 lb, vs 5,000 with the I-6), the addition of the Grand Cherokee Wagoneer, a rear drive and manual transmission version, and a power sunroof option.
This extended first year of the Jeep Grand Cherokee was the brand’s most successful year to date, with 480,000 sales. Jeep sold a stunning 190,395 Grand Cherokees, as well as 121,835 Cherokees; either, taken alone, would beat most years’ entire production of Jeep’s full line. The only other Jeep still available, YJ (Wrangler), had fewer than 60,000 sales. Considering that Cherokee started at $12,622 and Grand Cherokee started at $20,185 (Wagoneer was close to $30,000), one can say that Jeep did a good job of separating the two vehicles — and clearing a profit on the Grands.
Jeep Grand Cherokee development
The Jeep Grand Cherokee was originally meant to simply be the next-generation Jeep Cherokee; while the original was coded XJ, the Grand Cherokee was ZJ. Sales of the latter remained high, though, and Jeep dealers wanted a higher-end vehicle to compete with Land Rover.
Making life easier for the marketers, the new version had a 4.5 inch longer wheelbase than the Cherokee, with eight inches more length, five inches more rear-seat hip room, three inches more front-seat shoulder room, 7.4 cubic feet more cargo space, and 4-inch wider rear doors. That helped to make it “grander.”
Bob Sheaves wrote,
In 1989, during the final approval review, Lutz, Stallkamp, and Gale beat up on Castaing over the interior of ZJ and halted the program for, as I remember, 6 to 12 months for a newly styled interior to be designed and prototyped. During this time, Chrysler also decided the 318 was to be an option, in place of the just-started 4.7L Jeep engine [which was not to reach production for some time yet].
There was also a big fight over XJ (Cherokee) and ZJ (Grand Cherokee), as far as which would be killed off. At that point, the Explorer came to market and the XJ Limited was killed (converted to the Country model) and ZJ was to go head to head with Explorer. XJ was to replace JJ at that time [as a lower-priced Jeep] and also, through the efforts of Mike Smith and others, to fill the commercial and governmental needs, first with the XJ Special Service package, and other less known packages, such as RHD for USPS.
Norm Layton wrote, “By the time ZJ debuted, Chrysler was the owner, but the heavy lifting of the design work had been performed by AMC. It was Chrysler’s decision to build it at Jefferson and leave XJ in production. It was really an easy decision because the ZJ was built at Jefferson and did not require the XJ facility to be closed.”
Firsts, successes, features
With safety, comfort, and four wheel drive for dealing with snow, the Grand Cherokee was purchased by affluent buyers, competing with luxury cars for driveway space. According to engineering chief Francois J. Castaing, speaking in 1992, "the Grand Cherokee sets a new standard for on-road ride, handling, and comfort in a sport utility vehicle. It moves that standard closer to some of the best sports sedans on the market today. ... Grand Cherokee improves upon the traditional off-road Jeep virtues of toughness, durability, and go-anywhere utility.”
The Jeep Grand Cherokee had the industry’s first SUV airbag; standard four wheel antilock brakes; the only standard SUV rear wiper/washer; the most efficient air conditioner in its class, despite R134 regrigerant. Its unibody structure was stiffer and lighter than the body-on-frame construction used by most competitors, resulting in lower noise and better ride and handling, on- and off-road.
The Grand Cherokee had the most powerful six cylinder engine in its class (shared with Cherokee and Wrangler); unibody construction (along with Cherokee, first in the class); high torsional rigidity that allowed for a softer suspension; and the lowest weight of any vehicle in the class, despite having the most front and rear shoulder and hip room.
The QuadraCoil solid axle, coil spring, and multilink front and rear suspension system slashed costs while providing greater durability, ride, handling, and off-road capability than competitors with more buzzword-compliant systems. Engineers noted that the vehicle’s inherent vibration frequency seemed to leave drivers feeling more refreshed than many "more refined" competitors. The main downsides were a tendency for the steering to “pull” to the right, and some degredation of handling around hard turns and bumpy roads — nothing ordinary drivers would be concerned about.
The 1993-98 Grand Cherokee came in Base (which later became SE, and even later was dropped), Laredo, and Limited form; even the base model had full instrumentation and cloth seats, while the Laredo added power windows and locks, cruise, body cladding, and aluminum wheels. The Limited had colored lower body classing, leather seats, and more options, including a trip computer, still unusual at the time.
The Grand Wagoneer name was brought back for the highest trim level, with false wood body cladding and a standard 318. The car was all too obviously a Grand Cherokee, and found few buyers.
Starting in 1995, the Grand Cherokee was produced for some markets outside North America at the Magna Steyr manufacturing facility in Graz, Austria; three available four-wheel-drive systems and the world’s first standard driver-side air bag made the Grand Cherokee unique, and it offered a new level of comfort and handling. A 2.5-liter turbo diesel engine in 1995 and right-hand drive in 1996 helped European sales.
Jeep Grand Cherokee over time: changes by year
From late 1993 on, those who just wanted the looks or the shape got a rear wheel drive version (six cylinder only), and a five-speed manual became available for a couple of years (again, six cylinder only).
For 1994, four wheel disc brakes were added, along with front and rear door beams for better side impact protection, and a power sunroof. The base model was given a name, SE; the upper models remained Laredo and Limited. Jeep sold 116,653 Cherokees, validating their continued production, and 225,281 Grand Cherokees.
For 1995, Chrysler added a higher torque camshaft to the 318, started using returnless fuel injection, made four wheel disc brakes standard, created an Orvis edition (color and trim) and optional integrated child seats and flip-up liftgate windows, darkened the deep-tint windows, and added a mini-overhead console with the sunroof. An automatic was standard and, indeed, the only available transmission, at least in North America. The Orvis package ended in 1997. This was another successful year, with 263,335 sold.
1996 was a year of hefty upgrades, in keeping with Chrysler’s general renovation and reinvention. The six cylinder engine was retuned for better low-end torque (at the cost of some horsepower, dropping to 185) and lower noise (with a new intake), and got a high-stall torque converter; the V8 got a wider-ratio automatic. Nearly 260,000 Grand Cherokees left the factory, with a base price of over $25,000.
Jeep upgraded the SelecTrac® full time four wheel drive system, added an on-demand four wheel drive system called Quadra-Trac®, added OBDII on-board diagnostics (by federal law), switched to the JTEC powertrain control module, and upgraded the front suspension.
For luxury buyers, the Limited got stereo controls on the steering wheel, speed-sensitive variable-assist power steering, automatic rearview mirror, and the big new feature of the day, standard two-driver memory settings for the seats, mirrors, and radio. Base model buyers lost the SE, with Laredo now the starting point — one of two trimlines. Some export buyers could buy a new Aspen edition.
Cruise control was added to the steering wheel, and the horn was put back into the center. Other changes for 1996 were standard driver and passenger airbags, optional integrated child seat, active restraint, revised front clip and nameplates, optional heated, six-way power driver and passenger seats, revised climate control outlets and ducts, better temperature control performance, a universal garage door opener, panic button on the remote, and new fabrics. The center console was also upgraded, with a rear cupholder; the stereo selections were updated; service points were clearly marked under the hood (late launch); and the wiring was upgraded.
For 1996, the Laredo came with Selec-Trac full time four wheel drive; rear drive was optional, as was the advanced QuadraTrac all-time 4WD system. Limited came with Quadra-Trac, but buyers could step down to rear wheel drive or Selec-Trac. Both models had a standard six, with an optional V8. Gas mileage was 15/21 RWD, 15/20 AWD, and 14/18 V8. (The V8 was now rated at 220 hp and 300 lb-ft — the latter coming at a mere 3,200 rpm). There was no manual transmission, and the two engines shared a single transmission with a 3.55 ratio axle (3.73 with optional limited-slip differential). The transmission had a 2.74 first gear and 0.69 overdrive.
In 1997 and 1998, a TSi (taken from Eagle’s naming scheme) edition showed up with minor cosmetic changes, 225/70R16 tires on alloy wheels, leather upholstery, and more powerful stereo. Also in 1997, a new Teves Mark 20 four-wheel antilock brake system was added to Grand Cherokees; it had better diagnostic capabilities, quieter operation, and less pedal feedback than the earlier system.
The Grand Cherokee also got a new sound-barrier carpet, an insulator pad under the dashboard, a full body antichip coating made of epoxy polyester, and redesigned rear seat heating ducts; dealers gained the ability to debug the automatic temperature control.
The big guns were reserved for 1998, to sell Grand Cherokees when people knew a new version was imminent; the Chrysler 360 V8 engine was installed under the hood, and numerous options were added; the result was called the 5.9 Limited in the US, and Limited LX elsewhere. The 360 pumped out 245 horsepower and 345 pound-feet of torque for a 0-60 time of about 7 seconds, making it the world’s fastest SUV for 1998. Separate sales figures for the 360 are unavailable, but nearly a quarter million Grand Cherokees of all kinds were produced in this final year.
Grand Cherokee was so successful that, the second generation Jeep Grand Cherokee looked practically identical to the first. Jeep must not have wanted to risk making changes to a clearly winning formula; there was reportedly an $8,000 profit margin for the company on every 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee. The 1999s were well received, with production jumping up to 283,079.
|Grand Cherokee 4x4s||2011 (w/air)||1993-95||1996-98
|Ground Clearance||8.1 - 10.7||8.0 - 8.3||7.7 (running)|
|MPG (4WD Six)||16/22||15/20||15/20|
|Weight||3,569 - 3,958||3,790 - 3,931|
|Cargo volume, seats up||36.3 cf||40.1 cf||40.8 c.f.|
|Cargo, rear seat folded||n/a||81 cf||79.3 c.f.|
In 1993, SE got standard P215/75R15 tires, Laredo got P225/75R15 tires, and Limited got P225/70R15 tires. Each had optional choices up to P245/70R15.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee used three different transfer cases, all from New Venture Gear: the NV231, NV242, and NV249. By 1996, the NV231 had been dropped.