When people hear “Jeep” most of them immediately think of the Wrangler. The Wrangler has deep historical roots, with an infamous design that’s recognized across generations. Out of all the Jeeps for sale in Miami it’s only natural that most people would think of the Wrangler. However, there is one more Jeep that is almost just as well recognize, and it has a history that’s just as important. The Grand Cherokee is a newer model introduced by Chrysler, in the grand scheme of things, that was and still is just as successful as the Wrangler.
Thanks to the Grand Cherokee, the Jeep name was able to be carried just as confidently on the road as it was/is off the road. Without the first generation Grand Cherokee, the Jeep brand could have easily fell behind on the market.
Why it Came About
The reason this model is called the “Grand” Cherokee, is because there was already a previous model on the road called the Cherokee. The sales were going well for the Cherokee, but Jeep recognized the need for a model that could compete in the SUV market, especially against Ford’s bigger and more luxurious SUV on the market; the Explorer.
This could create some obvious issues for the Jeep name, because if the Cherokee could not compete against the Explorer, Chrysler would fall behind in the daily driving market. Enter Grand Cherokee; which is a bigger and more luxurious model than the original Cherokee. This Grand Cherokee was the response to Ford’s Explorer, and it combined the legendary off-roading capability of Jeeps, with the appeal and comfort of a luxury SUV. It provided a more spacious interior than the Cherokee, and also a much smoother ride.
A Jeep that combined off-roading capability and comfort qualities of a daily driver seemed like a winning combination, and it was. On top of this combination, it was already riding on the reputation of the popular Cherokee, which had 10 years of sales and consumers behind it. Taking all this into consideration, the Grand Cherokee could very well be the vehicle that successfully launched Jeep into the daily driver market. Making the brand a potent contender for not only off-road vehicles, but on-road vehicles as well.
Where it All Began: The First Generation (1993-1998)
The first generation of Grand Cherokee appeared at the 1992 Detroit Autoshow. Literally crashing into the market, it came careening through a plate glass window at the Autoshow. This tactic was no doubt to shock and awe the audience, but also give a not-so-subtle hint that this Grand Cherokee is just as durable as the rest of the Jeep family.
Released as a 1993 model year, the Grand Cherokee was originally offered in base, Laredo, and Limited trims. This Grand Cherokee not only provided tough competition for the other SUVs on the market; but also pioneered two features that were never-before-seen in this class. The Grand Cherokee brought to the market a driver’s side airbag and four wheel antilock brakes, making this one of the safest SUVs of it’s time.
The base models in 1993 were left very… basic. With cloth interior, basic instrument clusters, and a stock sound system. The Laredo further upgraded the Grand Cherokee, and provided a bit more style compared to the base trim. It had some fancier looking cloth seats, body cladding, and introduced some power mirrors. The Limited finally introduced leather seats into the lineup, along with A/C, an upgraded sound system, and more powered features. Regardless of trim level, the Grand Cherokee was offered as a four-door model, unlike the Wrangler at the time. This was to compete with the Explorer in terms of space and comfort, because Jeep knew that four-door SUVs were more popular at this time.
In order to provide a truthful image, the Grand Cherokee received a 105.9-inch wheelbase. This wheelbase was 4.5-inches longer than the Cherokee’s, and was how they created more legroom for the passengers in the back of the four-door.
The base engine offered on the first generation was Jeep’s tried and true 4.0-liter inline six engine that put out 190 horsepower. Later in the model year, a 5.2-liter V8 sprung up, which put out 220 horsepower. This gave the Grand Cherokee a big advantage compared to the competition, providing more than six-cylinder engine capabilities as well as the ability to tow 6,500 pounds.
That was only in the first year!
In 1994, the Grand Cherokee received the four-wheel disc brakes that were mentioned earlier, sound systems across all trims were upgraded, along with the overall comfort inside the vehicle. Some luxury features were added as well, such as a power sunroof.
Other than that, not much changed for the Grand Cherokee in 1994.
In 1995 and 1996, the Grand Cherokee most notably saw some performance changes. At first, the Grand Cherokee saw an increase in torque for its V8 engine. The torque went from 285 pound-feet to 300, which increased the acceleration slightly. The standard and Laredo trims also received four-wheel disc brakes (no longer just the Limited), and a two wheel drive was offered for the Limited now. In 1996, it was the 4.0-liter engines turn to receive some upgrades. It was now a quieter running engine, and received more torque as well.
Along with performance changes, 1996 also saw the year that a passenger side airbag was introduced to the Grand Cherokee, as well as some other interior changes. Primarily, these interior changes were luxury oriented, and mostly on the Limited.
Now, the limited had luxury features like remote stereo controls on the steering wheel, auto-dimming side and rearview mirrors, along with new upholstery and improved stereo systems.
In 1997, there were only a few changes. Primarily, the V8 engine was now available in the two-wheel drive models. This meant the power from the V8 wouldn’t sacrifice fuel economy as much; for those who didn’t want a four wheel drive model at least.
Other than a few minor interior and exterior enhancements, not much else happened during this year.
1998 marks the close of the first generation Grand Cherokee, and it was at this time a new model was debuted. This new Limited trim had a 5.9-liter V8 engine, and this engine was the strongest one the Grand Cherokee had ever seen. The V8 put out 245 horsepower and 345 pound-feet torque. It allowed the Grand Cherokee to go from 0-60 mph in 7.3 seconds, and made it the quickest SUV of that year.
Some of the other differences between the new 5.9 Limited and Limited trim were the five-spoke alloy wheels, mesh grille insert, and a softer leather trim and even stronger stereo on the inside.
Naturally, there are many more years between the first generation and the 2016 Grand Cherokee model, but the first one is the most significant. It’s how the Grand Cherokee got it’s start, and how Jeep was able to survive on the daily driving market. Without the introduction of an SUV that could combat the Explorer at the time, Jeep could very well have fallen behind.
Thanks to the constant upgrades over the years, the Jeep Grand Cherokee is the most awarded SUV. With over 16 awards that range in best-in-class performance to top safety picks, the 2016 Grand Cherokee is still a force to be reckoned with on the market.