So, what else is new with the Grand Cherokee? Uh, not a whole lot for the 2008 model year, aside from a little nip here, a tuck there, and a new 4.7L V-8 gasoline engine (for a grand total of five powerplants available to buyers).
The Jeep and other Chrysler products offer a first: the Sirius backseat TV with its three channels of kid's television programming. We didn't experience that feature, but we did get to play with the touchscreen MyGIG multimedia head unit that we had already written about for in our last issue, "Truck Tronics," Truckin' Volume 33, Issue 1. Our tester was equipped with a Sirius Satellite Radio, navigation, and the capability to cram around 10GB of music or videos onto the unit's 20GB hard drive, which we didn't take advantage of this time around. The MyGIG with navigation is definitely a step up from the navigation head that we have used in Chrysler vehicles before. A rearview camera is a nice and increasingly indispensable touch. Bright HID headlights offer auto-leveling, which keeps the headlights shining at the right height; even when the vehicle is pitched forward, backward, or hunkered down from carrying a heavy load. Three safety features-hill descent control, hill start assist and trailer sway control-are new for 2008, as well. Cosmetically, the front was tweaked a little and the interior was spiced up a bit with new accents and materials and improved styling. The white, glowing instrument gauges look nice.
What's it like to drive this thing? Two words: Turbo lag! Certainly when you stomp on it and particularly when you let off the throttle. It's almost like driving a Dodge Ram 2500 diesel in that regard; except the engine feels like its winding out higher, but you don't get the bouncy suspension. The Grand's small size makes it quite nimble, but also requires you to be somewhat nimble to get in and out of it. But, hey, that's just how Jeeps are. And because it is a Jeep, it has the nifty Quadra-Drive II that is as easy to activate as pulling a switch. It's a very capable 4WD system that is more than adequate for the latte-swilling crowd who are likely to buy it. Maybe we're getting spoiled by the increasingly out-there design we're seeing from the automakers, but the Grand Cherokee's exterior design looks a little too refined to us. Too restrained. Some people didn't like the Commander's aggressive looks, which could be why there are still so many unsold models parked on the lots; but we did. We say make it look a little more Commander and a little less Compass. The grand Cherokee presents a lot of refinement and features, proven off-road ability, comfortable street manners, decent towing, small interior cargo and passenger capacity, and a fascinating new engine. And you pay quite a bit for that package, too. Our tester came almost fully loaded at $43,605. This was the second-strongest contender for SUV of the Year.