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General Articles - Extras

2005 Grand Cherokee (WK) Test Drive

Article written by Cheaper Jeeper

Date Added: 06/05/2006

Is Jeep becoming just another brand name?

Having recently heard so much about the "New Jeeps", when I made a trip to visit my family in Missouri for a week, I decided to rent a 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee and check it out for myself. I must say right up front, as much as I hate to admit it, Moab Man is right. Jeep has truly taken a large step towards becoming just another brand name.
The first thing I noticed was that there was no transfer case shift lever. ?Great?, I?m thinking, ?just my luck ? the rental car company stuck me with a 2WD Jeep.? Oh well, I figured I could at least evaluate the road-manners of this grocery-getting mall-crawler. So down the road I went.
The front seats were comfortable and roomy though they didn't have much in the way of side bolsters. The back seat easily accommodated two car seats with plenty of room for a third or even a full grown adult. There is more legroom for both front and rear seat passengers, but it comes at the expense of a reduced cargo area. Though smaller than that of my wife?s 01 WJ, the cargo space behind the rear seat still easily swallowed all the luggage we brought with us.
The 3.7 liter V6 has plenty of pep, and the 4 speed auto shifts so smoothly that you hardly even notice it working.  Between the thicker C and D pillars, the smaller cargo area windows, and the rear seat headrests, I quickly discovered that the outward visibility towards the rear is quite poor. Again, nothing like my wife?s WJ.

The next morning I decided to take a closer look at the Jeep. Popping the hood, I immediately noticed two things. First, a very sports car looking strut brace running right over the top of the air cleaner, spanning from one suspension tower to the other (which goes well with the 17" diameter wheels and 235/65/17 tires). The second thing was a huge space between the front of the V6 and the radiator. This engine bay was obviously designed to house a V8.
Next, imagine my surprise when I looked under the front end and saw CV jointed DRIVE AXLES! I knew that the new WK was IFS, but what I didn?t know is that the standard transfer case is a full-time AWD system ? rather than a true 4WD! There was no such thing as 4L on this "Jeep", so not only did it lack the off-road ability that comes with a SFA, but with no low range, crawling would be out of the question! A quick browse through the owner's manual revealed that a 2-speed transfer case is an option rather than a standard feature. The front differential appears to be a standard HP D30 center section, with CV joint axles on both sides and a finned aluminum front cover.
The rear axle is a 29-spline Chrysler 8.25 so it should be plenty stout. However, the brackets for the springs, anti-sway bars, trackbar, and especially the control arms hang a full 5" below the axle tubes! The rear of this vehicle looks like it is purpose-built to hang up on every rock, root, and stump you might even think about driving over.
On the plus side, the transfer case cross member, engine skid, muffler, and the rest of the under carriage appear to have been specifically designed to give it an almost completely flat bottom front to back. No one item hangs down significantly lower than any of the others. On the other hand, none of the undercarriage has more than 10" ground clearance, and in many places it is closer to 9". This has got to be a new "low" for Jeep vehicles.
After a couple of days driving around the city of Saint Louis, we packed up and headed for the old family farm. This presented me with an opportunity to try this rig on some washed out logging roads, and I found a couple of places to test out the suspension travel on some rocks and ruts.
I have to admit to being pleasantly surprised with how well the IFS handled the washouts and pot holes. After driving around for a while, I found a couple of rocks on the sides of the road to pose a wheel on. The first one was only about 12"-14" high and the driver's side tire had no problem getting up on top of it while keeping all the other tires planted on the ground. At approximately 22" high I never could quite get the tire all the way on top of the second rock. I was pleased to see how well the electronic traction control kept the front tire climbing until it was approximately 18" off the ground. The passenger rear tire was 2" in the air before the traction control failed to keep it from spinning.
In the week I had it, I drove the WK a total of 327 miles on the highway, city streets, and dirt logging roads. I used only 18.8 gallons of unleaded gasoline in the process, so the vehicle's fuel economy was pretty good overall averaging 17.4 mpg. Not bad for such mixed driving by a semi-leadfoot like yours truly.

Final Thoughts

So, when it is all said and done, our worst fears seem to be coming true. Daimler/Chrysler has chosen to reduce the Jeep name to just that - a name. In pursuit of a broader market, little by little they have discarded the characteristics that have made Jeep synonymous with true off-road ability. If what you're looking for is a nice AWD sport wagon that will do a good job hauling kids and groceries and occasionally handle moderately rough dirt roads, the WKJ would be a great choice. But, if you're looking for a platform to build an off-road vehicle, this one isn't it.

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