2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited
– Handsome styling
– Tons of V8 torque
– Handles road and sand well
– Rear legroom not enough
– Could be quieter on highway
– Mushy brake pedal feel
We figured we’ll buy an affordable used 4WD vehicle that we can compare other test vehicles with. After all, it makes more sense for us to review off-road vehicles if we actually are fully familiar with one. So we started hunting for a truck that is reliable, offroad-ready, comfortable, powerful, and reasonable in size. We started shopping for vehicles that were within our small budget, and shortlisted trucks such as the the GMC Envoy, the Dodge Durango, the Nissan Pathfinder, the Land Rover Discovery and the Toyota Prado, all older than five years. After some intensive research that took as long as six months, the obvious choice was the second-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee V8.
The second-generation Grand Cherokee, sold between 1999 and 2005, was an award-winning truck when it first debuted, but became known as a very unreliable truck by the end of its life. Funnily enough, the American-built Jeeps really were unreliable, but the Middle East was blessed with Austrian-built Jeeps, assembled at the same factory that builds some Mercedes-Benz products, so these European-sourced models are much more reliable. We bought a GCC-spec fully-loaded 4.7 Limited model made in 2002, by which time the bugs in the early model years were worked out.
Compared to the basic Laredo model, the Limited has such niceties as colour-coded bumpers, leather seating, wood trim, fog lights, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone automatic a/c, 10-disc CD changer and power-adjustable front seats with electric lumbar controls and memory too. Dual front airbags are standard, and models from 2002 onwards also benefited from side-curtain airbags, a stronger a/c, nicer gauges and better engine cooling.
The sleek Grand Cherokee certainly looks excellent from the outside, being the only 4WD in its price range to look as sleek as a crossover while retaining its rock-bashing abilities. Big 17-inch alloys add to the upscale effect, as do the trademark chrome-lined grille and the surprising near-luxury interior. American products are known for cheap interiors, but this Jeep has high-quality soft-touch dashboard and door linings, complete with padded armrests and thick headrests. The moderately-bolstered leather seats are nicely stitched and still in one piece after five years, with wear-and-tear being no more than in any Lexus cabin. Quality of assembly is well above average, and everything feels reassuringly solid.
Interior space is a mixed affair, depending on where you sit. Headroom is good enough all over, but less than tall-roofed 4WDs such as the Prado or the Discovery. Legroom for the driver is excellent, but all the passengers have to deal with compact-car space for their feet. However, rear legroom is still more than that of a 2002 Pathfinder. The Jeep does not have a third row, but the spare wheel is accessible through the trunk floor. The luggage trunk itself is spacious enough by class standards, and the lightweight upward-opening rear hatch also has an opening glass window.
Additional standard features in the Limited include power windows, auto door locks, electric mirrors, keyless entry, alarm, trip computer, cruise control sunroof, auto-dimming rear-view mirrors, CD stereo with a trunk-mounted changer, four cup-holders and many storage cubbies. The upgraded stereo is decent, and includes dash tweeters, wheel buttons and a hidden antenna. The dual-zone a/c in our Jeep is average, being slightly better than the one in the new BMW X5, but no match for any Nissan unit. Slapping on some branded window tint lowered cabin temperature easily, although that doesn’t help the lack of rear vents.
But the real value of Grand Cherokee is in the engine. Forgetting that the lowly inline-6 exists in the base models, the V8 is an awesome unit, serving as a gateway to eight-cylinder addiction for anyone who tries it out. While the 235 hp peaking at 4800 rpm is conservative, it is the 400 Nm of torque at only 3200 rpm that puts many 4WDs to shame. Also, the smooth five-speed automatic actually has two second gears, namely one for quicker acceleration and one for better fuel economy, with a computer choosing the correct second gear depending on throttle position. Being that the 1851 kg Grand Cherokee is also lighter than most other midsize 4WDs, our engine is good for a 0-100 kph dash of 8.8 seconds, although back in the day, some say it could supposedly break the 8-second mark. It is quicker than any of our other choices, but that’s just half the story. This Jeep is quicker to 48 kph than most 4WDs and even many sports cars, reportedly able to do the deed in only 2.3 seconds. This makes it too easy to jump into junctions and to overtake quickly.
The funky V8 growl is addictive, but fuel economy is no worse than that of modern V6-powered Japanese 4WDs. We get around 17.6 litres per 100 km out of the 77.6-litre fuel tank. We could probably get better numbers if we didn’t hammer the throttle so much.
Unlike basic 4WDs like the Prado, the Pathfinder or even the FJ Cruiser, our Jeep has the optional Quadradrive all-wheel-drive system, which mates an automatic four-wheel torque-distribution system with auto-locking diffs as well as low-range gearing. This means the Jeep runs on dry roads in rear-wheel-drive, but power is sent to the front wheels automatically as needed in sudden slippery situations. In contrast, some of those other 4WDs cannot use their manually-selected 4-high mode on the road. The 17-inch alloys come with standard 235/65 tyres, but we bought our Jeep with 245/65 Michelins installed. Considering this Jeep rides on non-independent solid-axle suspension to hold up both the front and the rear, the handling is uncannily good. All new 4WDs have at least independent front suspension, if not all four, but this old Jeep does wonders with its classic offroader setup.
Grip is easily better than any other midsize offroader in its class. Our Jeep has as much body roll as, say, the well-composed Xterra, but the Jeep doesn’t squeal its tyres as easily as the Nissan around corners, so it feels more like a crossover Murano. In fact, we’ve chased down various European hatchbacks when their drivers were acting smart around curves. The experience is scary, but ultimately safe enough if you know the Jeep’s limits. The firm power steering is a bit vague, while the brake pedal is very spongy, so both take time to get used to. However, the standard ABS-assisted four-wheel discs bring the Jeep to a halt rather quickly once the calipers bite. The Quadradrive system allows a bit of wheelspin before it kicks in, which is fine by us.
The non-independent suspension causes the Jeep to jiggle mildly on road bumps, but the ride is still no worse than that of the FJ Cruiser or the H3. The Jeep certainly does not have the disconcerting floatiness of the H3 and its American relatives, but our truck sure is as noisy as the H3 at 120 kph. Considering how aerodynamic the Jeep is compared to the boxy H3, we are guessing our door seals have dried out over five years, but the constant hum is still bearable.
The truth is, the Jeep’s live-axle suspension is as perfect as it gets for offroading. While the new Grand Cherokee has all-independent suspension, our old one stuck to its roots, and combined with its high-tech Quadradrive four-wheel-drive system, it can take on anything in its class. The Quadradrive system distributes power as needed, but it is better than most in that it can send 100% of the torque to just one wheel if only that wheel has traction, instead of wasting power on free-spinning wheels like we experienced with the new Pathfinder. And the system works remarkably well. On sand, as we started bogging down in soft patches, the system kicked in and we got moving at a higher speed again, helped along by tons of low-end torque. The system even has front, centre and rear diffs that lock automatically if the onboard computer deems it necessary when crawling. In contrast, an FJ Cruiser has a manual rear-diff lock only. With Quadradrive, low-range gearing, three underbody bash-plates, a monster engine, respectable ground clearance and no wimpy side-steps whatsoever, the only thing it might need are wider tyres like the 265-width offroad-biased rubber in most other midsizers. However, we don’t feel the need to ever switch tyres, especially since the Michelins are so great on the road, and Quadradrive taking care of the sand. But sharper slopes may be handled more easily with bigger tyres, if you want to push the limits further.
Thanks to general misconceptions about “American” cars being unreliable, petrol-hungry and useless on sand, these class-leading machines are going at throwaway prices. We picked up ours with 117,000 km on the clock for less than the price of a new Toyota Yaris, still running almost as good as new. Go for the GCC versions, as the American-import non-GCC versions have an ugly fixed antenna, no reflectors in the rear bumper, no side indicators, and only some of them have bash plates and Quadradrive. Common problems include broken power-window regulators, squeaky door locks, non-working inner a/c vents, leaking rear axles, warping brake rotors, and loose wiring in the tail-lights. We’ve already replaced a power-window regulator and we also developed a squeaky lock, but we don’t expect many of the other problems, which largely seem to be limited to American versions. Still, we buy our original parts from outside suppliers at nearly half the dealership price, so till now we find the maintenance costs acceptable for the amount of fun and exclusivity we enjoy.