1993-98 • 2005-2009 • 2011-13 • 2014+ Grand Cherokee
The first-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee was redesigned in 1999, to lower cost while raising performance and reliability; it was Chrysler’s first comprehensive use of an electronic bus to replace individual wires throughout the body (more on this later).
From its new V-8, Chrysler's first in three decades, to its five-speed automatic transmission, this was a Jeep with market-leading technology.
The 1999 Grand Cherokee was officially introduced June 16. At the time of the 1999 model’s introduction, the 1998 Grand Cherokee was the second best selling SUV — the best selling SUV you'd actually want to take off road.
Developed in 28 months for $2.6 billion, the 1999 Grand Cherokee was truly new, with only 127 carry-over parts (mostly fasteners). It looks similar to the 1998 model, but with sleeker, softer shapes; demand was strong, and Jeep was taking no chances. Chrysler did move the spare tire under the rear floorboard to create more storage space, and without forcing drivers with flat tires to get under the car.
A foresight of things to come, the J1850 electronic bus allowed Jeep to eject individual wires going from the front of the car to the back for brake lights, turn signals, tail-lights, cargo lights, and such. “VintageRust” wrote that Chrysler had used a two-wire bus for the early-1990s airbag systems (the “Chrysler Crash Detection,” or CCD, bus); the 1998 LH refresh was the first to actually get the J-1850 upgrade, though. He wrote, “The J1850 Bus system was revolutionary and eventually became the Chrysler standard, until the two-wire high-speed CAN bus industry standard that is still in use today.”
A new, Jeep-inspired 4.7-liter V-8 was lighter, more efficient, and cheaper to build than the aging 318 (5.2). Export Jeeps had a VM 3.1-liter, five-cylinder turbo-diesel, a step up from the old VM 2.5-liter diesel.
The 4.0-liter AMC six-cylinder was retuned for quieter operation, with power going up by 10 hp (to 195 bhp/145 kW) for Federal or European Stage II emission standards. California's LEV (Low Emission Vehicle) capable engines, which slashed emissions by 30%, still gained five horsepower (3.75 kW) to 190 bhp (142 kW).
The engine had a cast iron block and head with two valves per cylinder. A new slitter-vane water pump was 50% more efficient, good for two horsepower (1.5 kW) on its own.
A new elastomer-coated steel intake manifold gasket, a two-piece high silicon-molybdenum alloy cast-iron exhaust manifold and a new multi-layer steel exhaust gasket doubled the expected life over the previous components.
Separation of the exhaust manifold into two pieces reduced internal stress. An automated belt tensioner and coil-on-plug ignition improved durability and reduced service needs.
The new intake and exhaust manifolds enhanced the sound quality of the engine and produced a lower, "throaty" sound preferred by customers. Fine-tuning, including a new laminated oil pan, made the engine 5dB quieter — though it was still noisy especially compared with the new V8.
An electronically-controlled transmission with five forward ratios (including an alternate second gear ratio for passing), the 545RFE, was available with the V-8 only. The transmission had a tall, 3.00:1 first gear for better initial acceleration. Real-time adaptive shifting fine-tuned the shift pattern to the driver. Depending on speed and throttle position, both the 1.67 and alternate 1.50 second gear ratio were available for kick-down. The reverse gear ratio was equal to the first gear ratio, to allow for heavier loads.
The 545RFE’s three planetary gear sets combined the widest range of gear ratios available in any transmission in its class. The transmission was built at the Indiana Transmission Plant in Kokomo, Indiana, in a 1.2-million square-foot (110,000 m2) facility.
A new four-wheel drive system, Quadra-Trac II, used a progressive, speed-sensing torque transfer differential — the first industry use of Vari-Lok axles in both the front and rear axle. The Quadra-Drive system kept the vehicle moving even if only one wheel has minimal traction, and worked without straining, wearing or compromising the anti-lock braking system.
Quadra-Drive II was standard with the V-8 and optional on the six (Jeeps made in Austria had Quadra-Drive standard).
The Quadra-Trac II transfer case normally sent most of the power and torque to the rear wheels. The moment a wheel lost traction, a gerotor pump applied hydraulic pressure to a multi-disc clutch pack, sending power to the front axle.
The gerotor pump used a rotor driven by the front drive shaft and the case by the rear drive shaft, creating a pressurized oil flow to the clutch pack in proportion to their speed variation. Clutch discs were alternately splined to the front and rear drive shafts. Because Quadra-Trac II could immediately pressurize the clutch pack, it had a faster response than a viscous coupling. (Quadra-Trac II’s low range had a 2.72:1 torque ratio and fully locked the center differential).
A similar pump was in the Vari-Lok differential; power transfer was proportional to wheel speed difference, rather than torque difference. By avoiding the need to pre-load the differential to assure torque transfer, the Vari-Lok could be virtually wear-free. Vari-Lok differentials responded more quickly and smoothly than viscous-coupling systems, and the pump response could be precisely tuned to driving conditions, enabling the use of this advanced system in the front axle as well as the rear.
The 1999 Grand Cherokee had a new three-link rear suspension with lower unsprung weight and a higher roll center, with a revised front suspension. New tubular front and rear control arms were hydro-formed, making them five times stiffer. Modified coil springs were used for all (now 16”) wheels. Solid axles provided constant camber.
The new rear suspension let the Jeep corner flatter, while wider spacing of the tie-rod points helped smooth low-speed turns, with crisper turn-in response, better on-center steering feel, and reduced tire wear. Changing the track bar geometry resulted in less lateral motion, for much lower head movement on bad roads. Repositioning the steering linkage helped “feel” and response.
The new, integrated anti-lock braking system with electronic brake distribution (EBD) was lighter and less complex, with less pedal pulsation and fade, and better front/rear balance; the Jeep had the largest brake rotors in its segment.
The suspension had 8.3 inches (210 mm) of travel in motion. Even over bumps, the axles maintained their class-leading ground clearance of 9.3 inches (237 mm) and 8.3 inches (210 mm), respectively. An optional Up-Country suspension package (for both Laredo and Limited) increased ground clearance by one inch (25 mm).
As with every Jeep, the 1999 Grand Cherokee was designed to cross standing water up to 19 inches (480 mm) deep. The Jeep met all passenger-car safety requirements — not just those for light trucks.
For 2000, the Jeep Grand Cherokee continued its successful journey forward, wowing critics and buyers with its satisfying ride and feel, “despite,” critics would say, “that antiquated, non-buzzword-compliant suspension.” There were minor cosmetic changes to the interior, including redesigned air outlets and better gauge pointer lights; two wheel drive and Selec-Trac became available with the 4.7 liter V8.
In 2001, the long-running Jeep Cherokee, which was supposed to have been replaced by the Grand Cherokee in 1993 and then by the Jeep Liberty in 2000, was finally dropped in June 2001, after a last burst of sales. It had lasted nearly a year longer than intended, running down the assembly line at the same time as its two replacements.
Meanwhile, the Grand Cherokee got a hefty facelift to deal with increased competition:
When the Canadan Auto Association asked members “What is the vehicle of your dreams?”,
the most common choices of Canadian respondents was the Jeep
Grand Cherokee (others in the top ten were the Dodge
Durango, Chrysler PT Cruiser, Dodge Caravan, and Dodge Ram).
The main changes for the 2003 model year included:
Jeep moved an incredible 207,479 Grand Cherokees in 2003, versus 30,000 Mercedes M-class.
In its final year, Jeep sold 182,313 Grand Cherokees. Its replacement would arrive in 2005, a joint engineering project with Mercedes; reportedly Jeep retained control of the four wheel drive systems, while Mercedes demanded suspension changes and influenced (but did not create) the body structure. Mercedes would sell a version as the ML. The WK2 brought tighter integration of the two.
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