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Grand Cherokee

Redefining the SUV


1993 Jeep Grand Cherokee

Thanks to the Cherokee, throughout the eighties Jeep pretty much had a lock on any customer in the market for a smallish, 4-door SUV. The Cherokee was designed and developed in the pre-Chrysler days by the now defunct American Motors Corporation, and bowed in 1984.

Departing from traditional Jeep practice, it sported a rigid, fully unitized construction and was engineered to perform as well on the road as off. And unlike its super-luxury big brother, the 20-year old Grand Wagoneer, the Cherokee was thoroughly modern in all aspects.


  • Handling/Ride

  • Responsiveness

  • Design

  • Comfort

  • Size

  • Reliability (especially early models)

  • Build quality

  • Room

  • Engine refinement (six)


It was immensely popular in suburbia, and a large percentage of them went out the door loaded with comfort and convenience options. Many analysts believe that along with their minivans, the profitable Cherokee played a large part in keeping Chrysler afloat in the early nineties.

Unlike the inexplicable amount of time that went by before rival car companies figured out a successful minivan formula, the success of the Cherokee did not go unnoticed. Soon luxury laden 4-door compact SUVs were everywhere. In that sense, the Cherokee was a pioneer of today's huge, and hugely profitable, compact and mid-size SUV market segment.

What They Said When New

"....the ZJ (code name) is smoothly competent and untroubled. Like a car, actually, but with a taller viewpoint."......Motor Trend 5/92

"We spent only $213 to maintain this wagon's health for 35,000 miles.".....Car & Driver 8/93

"At 43,361 miles our Grand Cherokee went to the dealer for a farewell check. It was feeling old and loose.".......Automobile 12/93

"For an SUV, the Grand Cherokee hangs in reasonably well in turns, leaning only moderately.".......Consumer Reports 8/95

"The freshened interior isn't a radical change, but it's more contemporary than the square-cut previous design."......Motor Trend 1/96

"The Grand Cherokee rides more comfortably than most SUVs, even with a full load. The cabin is quiet except for pronounced gear whine during light acceleration."......Consumer Reports 6/97

More than any other vehicle, the introduction of the Ford Explorer ended Jeep's dominance in this market and forced Jeep to respond. The result was the all-new Grand Cherokee. Trim on the outside, it suffered when compared to the Explorer's room and cargo capacity. But it bested the Explorer, and everything else, when it came to ride, handling and overall performance -- both on the road and off.

What's Available

Initially, the Grand Cherokee was available in three trim levels, Base, Laredo, and Limited. There was only one engine, the tried and true 4.0 liter straight six mated to a 4-speed automatic w/overdrive or 5-speed manual transmission. The 5-speed is extremely rare (we've never seen one), but Jeep records indicate that some were built, and we did find two listed for sale at our web site (vmrintl.com). Jeep offered no less than three distinct four-wheel drive systems (see sidebar).

Well into the '93 model year (the Grand Cherokee debuted in the spring of '92), a powerful and torquey 5.2 liter V8 (available only with the automatic) hit the option sheet. Also phased in during the Grand Cherokee's rookie year as a new top-of-the-line Grand Wagoneer. This model came standard with the V8 and, evoking the dearly departed old Grand Wagoneer (retired in '91), had fake woodgrain on the sides.

Running Changes

1993 -- All new model

1994 -- Grand Wagoneer dropped; new Orvis package; Limited gets 4-wheel disc brakes; side door beams added

1995 -- 4-wheel disc brakes standard on all models; 5.2L V8 gets modest torque increase; rear tailgate gets optional flip up glass hatch; 5-speed manual dropped

1996 -- Revised interior w/dual airbags; front fascia and body cladding restyled; part-time only Command-Trac dropped; 6cyl loses 5hp but adds refinements that make it a bit smoother and quieter

1997 -- New, improved ABS system; new steering column design; upgraded sound systems; new TSi model

1998 -- Last model year for this design; new 5.9 Limited model; Orvis designer package dropped

As the Grand Cherokee matured, Chrysler continued to add new features and models. A 2-wheel drive version was added during the '93 model year, the Base model became known as the SE in '94, and an Orvis designer package arrived for 1995 (dropped in '98). The Laredo became the entry model in 1996, and the SE was dropped. For 1997 the lineup saw the addition of the TSi, slotted just below the Limited. A loaded performance version equipped with a 245hp 5.9 liter V8, called the 5.9 Limited, crashed the party for the final year, 1998.

Exterior Design

From any angle, the Grand Cherokee presents a tight, crisp and purposeful look and the prominent fender flares add a hint of aggressiveness to the design.

The base and Laredo models carried a charcoal gray colored exterior body cladding around their lower sides and into the front and rear bumpers. The Limited models had this same cladding, but it was painted the same color as the rest of the exterior. The Laredo eventually gained the option of the monotone paint treatment that was similar to the Limited. It was part of the popular "Z" equipment package.

The front sported the traditional (all the way back to the Willys Jeep of WWII) Jeep seven-vertical bar grille; chrome on the base and Laredo, body-colored on the upscale models. The tucked-up rear presents two taillights flanking the hatch door.

1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee
This '96 shows off the mild front fascia restyle

Uncommon among "suburban" SUVs, a requirement during development was that the Grand Cherokee must be able to venture off-road with confidence. And we're not talking the dirt road up to the cabin by the lake here, either. Like all Jeeps, the Grand Cherokee had to be able to handle off-road terrain that included no road at all. As such, you'll notice that the Grand Cherokee has short front and rear over hangs. Not only does this contribute to the crispness of the design, it allows for steeper approach and departure angles off-road than your typical luxury SUV.

For the 1996 model year, things were freshened up a bit. The front grille grew, fog lights were integrated into the front fascia and new alloy wheels adorned all versions. The cladding was a little less busy, too.

Interior Design

The Grand Cherokee's interior, with a couple minor exceptions, was a model of efficiency and smart design when new. The dash greets the driver with a large speedometer and tachometer directly ahead flanked by smaller gauges for fuel, temp, oil pressure and even a voltmeter. Controls are easy to find and use. A minor update of the interior, including the dash occurred in 1996. Still, it's a bit dated looking now, with angular surfaces and lots of gaps and seams, especially on the earlier models. Some of the materials could've been better selected as well as they have that cheapo, shiny plastic look. The Limited and TSi models benefited from trim and materials upgrades, and sported an standard overhead console that was optional on other models.

94 Jeep Grand Cherokee Interior
96 Jeep Grand Cherokee Interior
Top: '94 Limited. Bottom: '96 Laredo. The interior was  freshened a bit for '96. (click to enlarge)

The biggest issue we have with the interior design is the placement of the spare tire. Propped up against the driver's side wall of the cargo area, it looks like an afterthought and takes up valuable cargo space. According to Jeep, this was necessitated by the requirement of high ground clearance in the rear to facilitate operation in the rough. By not making room for the spare, the rear chassis pan could be tucked up and away from the ground. You can purchase an aftermarket outside swing away spare tire mount, but installing it involves some drilling and it makes getting in and out of the back awkward.

This was a big complaint with Grand Cherokee owners, and the new design '99 model has its spare tire mounted under an access panel in the floor.

Room and Comfort

An abundance of room is not something the Grand Cherokee offers. A family of four and their gear easily fill up the cabin. What space it does offer, however, is put to good use. As long as you limit total passengers to four, sitting in a Grand Cherokee is rather comfortable. There's plenty of room up front and even rear passengers have decent room, but we wish the seat cushion was a little higher. Three abreast in the back is a little tight, but not as bad as you might expect. All three will stay reasonably comfortable for even moderate trips. This is a laudable achievement, for as we have said the Grand Cherokee is quite trim on the outside.

The front seats are a little soft, with weak lower back support. The Limited's leather seats are somewhat better on both counts. Leather seating surfaces were optional on the other models.

Power windows and locks, although originally optional on the lower level Grand Cherokees, adorns virtually all examples. The power package, which include remote entry, became standard fare for '96. It was always standard on the Limited.

The Limited came standard with all kinds of standard comfort and convenience equipment, including upgraded interior with power leather seats, upmarket sound systems and dual lighted vanity mirrors.

Positioned between the Limited and Laredo was a TSi model in the '97 and '98 model years. It enjoyed the nicer interior of the Limited and had leather seats, but power was optional. It lacked some other minor accessories of the Limited as well.

Cargo space fell short compared to, say, a Ford Explorer, but at least the split-back rear seat folds and flips forward to make the most of the space available. Of course, that spare doesn't help.


For a SUV, the Grand Cherokee is remarkably nimble. In fact, it was the first SUV that drove like a pretty good sedan. Stepping out of a Grand Cherokee and into the previous "car-like" champ of SUVs, the Ford Explorer, was a revelation. The Explorer felt like a ponderous slug compared to the Jeep.

4-Wheel Drive Options

No less than three four-wheel drive systems were available on the Grand Cherokee.

Standard on the Base, SE and Laredo was a simple, basic part-time system called Command-Trac. It was designed to be used only off-road. Optional on these models was an on- or off-road 2WD/4WD selectable system called Selec-Trac. The most sophisticated, and capable, system is Jeep's Quadra-Trac. It is always in 4-wheel drive mode and can direct power to where it's needed most.

All these systems have a low range, and a locking rear differential was also available if you intend to go hunting big horn sheep in the Rockies.

The Grand Cherokee is responsive in both everyday and emergency maneuvers. There is some body roll, but the front and rear ends can easily be kept in line by the accelerator. Many contemporary road test reports cited slightly numb and somewhat vague steering, but we think they're being a little picky. While it's no Miata, the steering feel and precision is well within acceptable bounds. We didn't like the steering wheel shook over harsh bumps, however. We didn't test a model outfitted with the Up Country suspension package, which includes different springs and an extra inch of ground clearance. We would expect handling to suffer just a bit.

As for the ride, again the Grand Cherokee was the benchmark. Smooth and compliant over bumps, it was difficult to upset. The Explorer had a good ride too, but what tipped the scale in favor of the Jeep is its rigid body. Where the Explorer shudders over bumps, the Grand Cherokee soaks them up.

96 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited
The Limited model sported body colored bumpers and cladding and lots of luxury.

What makes this all the more amazing is the Grand Cherokee's suspension setup. It's got a solid axle in the rear and one in the front, too. Now, any elitist automotive know-it-all will tell you what a crude and out of date setup that is. And they'd be right. But it works, and works well.

Of the three models we drove, two had the Quadra-Trac setup and one had the Selec-Trac. The comments about handling here apply to both. A Command-Trac equipped model in two-wheel drive may handle a little differently when pushed, as by necessity the vehicle will be directing power only to the rear-wheels. Ride quality should not be affected.

Acceleration with the V8 was very brisk. Even the six got things moving along pretty well. We didn't drive the 5.9 Limited, but for a while it was the quickest SUV in the world.

The V8 equipped Limited model we drove was noticeably quieter than a Laredo with the six. The quality of the sound coming from the engine compartment was more pleasant, and road noise was more subdued. Still, the Laredo was quiet enough for all but tomb lovers, and they'd buy a Lexus anyway.

Even though all three vehicles we drove still felt tight, two of them had more than one rattle or buzz -- not a good sign, as things will only get worse as time goes on.

All Grand Cherokees have ABS brakes. Initially, the setup consisted of front discs and rear drums, but this was remedied for '95 when 4-wheel discs adorned all Grand Cherokees. Stepping hard on the brakes revealed some squishiness, but stops were straight and true. We'd call the brakes acceptable, but not spectacular.

Serious off-roading is beyond the scope of our testing.  Reports from popular car and truck magazines all rated the Grand Cherokee as one of the best.  Its combination of a capable four-wheel drive system, compliant suspension and trim size made it a favorite in the woods.  Many called it one of the best luxury SUV in the rough -- able to hang in there with such illustrious and pricey models as Land Rover and Toyota Land Cruiser.


As mentioned above, from the start all Grand Cherokees had ABS brakes. The addition of 4-wheel discs to all models brought an extra measure of safety, as discs are less apt to fade after repeated braking during operation in wet weather.

When the Grand Cherokee was introduced, it was the first SUV to have an airbag as standard equipment. It was a driver only setup until the 1996 model year when a passenger airbag was added with the interior redesign.

US Government crash test on a 1993-95 models resulted in "very good" rating for the driver and a "good" rating for the front passenger. Oddly, later examples that had dual airbags reversed those results, scoring a "good" for the driver and a "very good" for the passenger.


Normal service and maintenance costs fall in the average category, with only the extra fluid changes for the 4-wheel drive stuff deviating from passenger car norms. Both the six and the eight are durable, long-lived engines. The six in particular has a track record of regularly reaching 200K miles without a rebuild. Assuming proper maintenance, of course.

Parts cost are fairly low, as the Grand Cherokee shares many individual components with other Jeep and Chrysler products.


Early Grand Cherokees seem to have more than their share of problems, and we recommend avoiding them. Among the trouble areas: transmission, axles, seals, body hardware and electrics. '93 and '94 was not a good time for many Chrysler products, and these are no exception.

Things got progressively better, and a '96-'98 model are a safer bet. Still, these are not the most trouble-free vehicles. Sure, they're durable, but that's different. The sheer volume and nature of technical service bulletins issued for the Grand Cherokee is disappointing -- the Grand Cherokee has so many charms that it's a shame that Chrysler dropped the quality ball.


There's really nothing that would prompt us recommend one particular model over another. If you like the luxury treatment, the Limited or TSi model is for you, otherwise the Base, SE, and Laredo have most of the convenience equipment that really matters and do just fine.

The Grand Cherokee is for those who are looking for something a little different than your standard SUV.  It was the first that actually combined sport with utility.  It had to give up some of the latter for the former, but your reward is a go-anywhere vehicle that is fairly nimble and responsive to drive.

We think it was a good compromise. As long as you don't need a lot of room or have something very heavy to tow, and can accept the fact that its no 4Runner in the reliability department, we can't think of another SUV we'd rather live with day in and day out. Despite being an 8-year-old design, it is still competitive with the latest SUVs, and in terms of off-road prowess still bests most of them.

General Specifications


Trim Levels: Base, SE, Laredo, Tsi, Limited, 5.9 Limited

Body Styles: 4dr utility wagon

Dimensions & Capacities

Weight: 3600-3800lbs; 4200lbs (5.9 Limited)

Length: 177.2"

Wheelbase: 105.9"

Width: 69.3-70.7"

Height: 64-65"

EPA Class: Sport Utility

Interior Vol: n/a

Cargo Vol : 40.9

Fuel: 23 gallons



Layout: Front-engine, Rear/Four-wheel drive

Engines: 4.0L (6cyl-185/190hp) 5.2L (8cyl-220hp) 5.9L (8cyl-245hp)

Transmission: 4-speed automatic w/overdrive; 5spd manual

Brakes: Front disc/rear drum (93-94 except 94 Limited); Front/rear disc (rest) All w/ABS

Performance (4.0L/5.2L w/4WD)

0-60mph: 10.5/8.8 seconds 1/4 mile: 17.8/16.8 seconds Top Speed: 112/115mph (electronically limited)

EPA Mileage: (city/hwy) (4WD) 15/20 (4.0L); 14/18 (5.2L)



ABS Brakes: Standard

Air Bags: Driver only ('93-'95) Dual ('96-up)

NHTSA Safety Rating: ('97 model)

Driver *** Passenger ****


Best: ***** No or minor injuries probable

Worst: * Serious injury probable

IIHS 40 mph Crash Rating: Marginal

Original Warranty:

3yr/36,000 mi limited bumper-to-bumper with roadside assistance; 7yr/100,000 (93-96), 5yr/100,000 (97-98) mi corrosion/perforation



Government Safety Recalls

NHTSA CAMPAIGN ID Number: 92V181000

Potential Number of Units Affected: 600

Year: 1993

Summary: The retainer cup which secures the master cylinder input rod to the brake pedal was not installed properly, and could work loose. Disengagement of the retainer cup will allow free play in the attachement and can allow the input rod to separate from the brake pedal causing complete loss of brakes which could result in an accident. Improperly installed retainer clips will beremoved and new retainer clips will be properly installed.


NHTSA CAMPAIGN ID Number: 93V051000

Potential Number of Units Affected: 25000

Year: 1993

Summary: The eccentric cam adjuster bolts in both front lower suspension arm-to-front axle bracket attachments may fail due to assembly misalignment. Cam bolt failures cause the vehicle to pull to one side when the brakes are applied, resulting in a possible loss of vehicle control and an accident. Replace the front suspension cam bolts, cam woshers, and nuts with components of a different design.


NHTSA CAMPAIGN ID Number: 93V055000

Potential Number of Units Affected: 80000

Year: 1993

Summary: Grease applied to the liftgate latch rubber bumpers to ease component assembly caused the bumper to swell, interfering with the movement of the liftgate latch pawl. This interferes with liftgate latching operation. An unlatched liftgate can open while the vehicle is in motion and could result in an occupant falling out. Replace the liftgate assembly on affected vehicles.


NHTSA CAMPAIGN ID Number: 93V210000

Potential Number of Units Affected: 115000

Year: 1993

Summary: The molded plastic pin which connects the upper steering column shaft and the lower column shaft may have been sheared prior to installation of the steering column assembly into the vehicle. If this occurred, the upper steering shaft will separate from the lower steering shaft. If the upper and lower steering shafts separate, complete loss of steering control will occur, which could result in an accident. A restraining sleeve will be added to the intermediate shaft to limit the amount of steering shaft movement available.


NHTSA CAMPAIGN ID Number: 95V172000

Potential Number of Units Affected: 135000

Year: 1995

Summary: The parking brake handle release button can separate from the parking brake handle assembly, causing the parking brake to be innoperative. The parking brake may not hold causing the vehicle to roll inadvertently Dealers will replace the parking brake handle assembly.


NHTSA CAMPAIGN ID Number: 95V193000

Potential Number of Units Affected: 32000

Year: 1996

Summary: The fasteners which secure the alternatior circuit fuse to the power distribution center may have an improper clamp load. Imporoper clamping can result in arcing at the connection potentially causing a fire in the engine compartment. Dealers will replace the alternator fuse with a fuse link and any damage to the power distribution center iwll be repaired.


NHTSA CAMPAIGN ID Number: 96I004000


Year: 1993

Summary: This is not a safety problem in accordance with Federal Regulation 573. However, it is deemed a safety improvement campaign by the agency. The center rear seat belt buckle may not be accessible when the right (passenger) side of the rear seat back is folded down in the cargo stowage position. In the event of a collision, the occupant of the center rear seat may not be properly restrained and personal injury could occur. Dealers will replace the seat belt buckle assembly.


NHTSA CAMPAIGN ID Number: 97I002000

Potential Number of Units Affected: 1010400

Year: 1993-95

Summary: Vehicle Description: Multipurpose passenger vehicles equipped with automatic transmissions. This is not a safety recall in accordance with Federal Regulation 573. However, it is deemed a safety


improvement campaign by the agency. Drivers can mistakenly step on the accelerator pedal when they intend to step on the brake pedal. Pedal misapplication by a driver can cause unintended acceleration. Dealers will install a shift interlock on the automatic transmission of these vehicles.

NOTE: Chrysler has decided to conduct a safety improvement campaign to install a shift interlock on these vehicles. Owners can contact Chrysler at 1-800-853-1403.


NHTSA CAMPAIGN ID Number: 97V039000

Potential Number of Units Affected: 70000

Year: 1996

Summary: Vehicle Description: Vehicles equipped with memory seat option. The memory seat module wiring harness can come in contact with the seat spring, A low resistance short circuit can develop resulting in localized heating. The localized heating can result in ignition of the seat cushion material and a vehicle fire. Dealers will relocate the memory seat control module and wiring harness and a protective shield will be installed on the seat frame.


NHTSA CAMPAIGN ID Number: 97V080000

Potential Number of Units Affected: 125000

Year: 1997

Summary: The electrical circuit design allows the potential for an inadvertent air bag deployment upon vehicle ignition shut down. Unexpected air bag deployment can result in occupant injury. Dealers will replace the air bag electronic control module with a newly designed module.


NHTSA CAMPAIGN ID Number: 97V194000

Potential Number of Units Affected: 360000

Year: 1997

Manufactured From: SEP 1996 To: NOV 1996

Summary: Vehicle Description: Multi-purpose passenger vehicles. The fuel tank mounted fuel level sending unit accuracy can degrade over time, indicating significantly more fuel in reserve than is actually present. Owners may not be aware that their vehicle is low on fuel increasing the risk of a vehicle crash if the vehicle stops due to no fuel. Dealers will replace the fuel level sending unit.


NHTSA CAMPAIGN ID Number: 98V005000

Potential Number of Units Affected: 293369

Year: 1993

Summary: Vehicle Description: Passenger and multi-purpose vehicles originally sold in (or are currently registered in) the States of Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, or Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia. The front disc brake rotors can experience severe corrosion if operated for an extensive period in the "salt belt." If the rotors are not replaced, the corrosion can eventually compromise the structural integrity of the stamped steel center hub section of the rotor. The reduced strength can allow the cast iron wear surface to separate from the hub, reducing the brake effectiveness of the vehicle. Dealers will replace these rotors with rotors that are coated with a corrosion protection.


NHTSA CAMPAIGN ID Number: 98V006000

Potential Number of Units Affected: 65000

Year: 1996

Manufactured From: JUL 1995 To: JUL 1996

Summary: Vehicle Description: Multi-purpose vehicles equipped with "Quadra-Trac" transfer case, temporary spare tire, and any of 225/70R16, 225/75R16 or 245/70R15 road tires. When the temporary spare tire is in use, the front axle can overheat. An overheated axle can force axle fluid out of the seals, increasing the risk of a vehicle fire. Dealers will replace the the temporary spare tire with a full sized tire and wheel.


NHTSA CAMPAIGN ID Number: 98V023000

Potential Number of Units Affected: 8900

Year: 1998

Manufactured From: OCT 1997 To: NOV 1997

Summary: Vehicle Description: Multi-purpose passenger vehicles. The power brake booster vacuum reservoir diaphragm can split or tear. This can cause an increase in engine idle speed and a loss of power assist during brake application without prior warning. Dealers will inspect the brake booster date code and any boosters with the suspect manufacturing date range will be replaced.


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