The Jeep Grand Cherokee is a mid-size unibody sport utility vehicle produced by the Jeep division of Chrysler. European Grand Cherokees are manufactured in Austria by Magna Steyr.
The Grand Cherokee's origins date back to 1983 when American Motors (AMC) engineers were designing a successor to the smaller Jeep Cherokee (XJ). Three outside (non-AMC) designers — Larry Shinoda, Adam Clenet, and Giorgetto Giugiaro — were under contract with AMC to create and build a clay model of the replacement model, then known as the "XJC" project. However, the basic design for the Cherokee's replacement was well under way by AMC's in-house designers and the 1989 Jeep Concept 1 show car foretold the basic design.
The Grand Cherokee was the first Chrysler-badged Jeep product. Development work for the new model continued and Chrysler employees (after the 1987 buyout of AMC) were eager for a late-1980s release date; however, then-CEO Lee Iacocca was pushing for redesigned Chrysler minivans, thus delaying the Grand Cherokee's release until late 1992 as an Explorer competitor.
The Grand Cherokee debuted in grand fashion at the 1992 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan. Then-Chrysler president Robert Lutz drove Detroit mayor, Coleman Young up the steps of Cobo Hall and through a plate glass window to show off the new vehicle. Production of the Grand Cherokee started shortly afterward in the purpose-built Jefferson North Assembly in Detroit, Michigan and has remained there since.
The ZJ models, manufactured from 1993 to 1998, originally came in three general trims, the Base, Laredo, and the Limited. The Base model offered basic features such as full instruments, cloth interior, a standard five-speed manual transmission, while soon gaining the moniker SE name in 1994. Creature comforts like power windows and locks were not standard equipment on the SE, although conveniences like these were finally included in 1995; a somewhat contrasting pricetag with minimal production numbers resulted with low consumer demand and dropping the now-uncommon bare-bone model forever. The Laredo was the mid-scale model (essentially becoming base model after 1996), standard features included added body cladding power windows, power door locks, and cruise control; exterior features displayed a medium grey plastic lower body paneling and five-spoke aluminum wheels. The Limited was the premium model, with the lower body paneling being the same color as the vehicle color. The Limited also boasted standard features such as leather seating, optional power sunroof, mirrors, seats, and remote keyless entry system; heated mirrors, and heated seats, a basic onboard computer; and waffle-like cast aluminum wheels.
In 1995 the performance of the V8 engine was upgraded to 300lb·ft (410N·m) from 285 previously. 1996 brought cosmetic changes ranging from improved body modeling (grille, bumpers), and integrated foglights; interior features added dual airbags and increased fabric quality for seating. At the same time, the "Grand Cherokee" fender emblems in the American Motors-typeface were replaced with the typeface used on other Chrysler vehicles. The AMC 4.0L straight-6 engine, able to tow 5,000lb (2,300kg), was also refined, through minimal loss in power but gained more torque and presented quieter operation. Limited models that year and onward had more luxury items such as driver placement memory, remote radio control from the steering wheel, and variable assist while driving and parking.
Between 1996-98, the export Grand Cherokee Laredo (marketed for Japan) had the optional Aspen package (source: The Story of Jeep).
Special edition ZJs
Throughout its lifetime, there were several different "one-off" and special edition models of the ZJ, including but not limited to the gold series. The following highlights several of these.
The 5.9L Limited ZJ (1998)
The 5.9 Limited was a Jeep Grand Cherokee produced only for the 1998 model year, having more luxury and performance than that of the regular Limited. Chrysler churned out nearly a quarter million Grand Cherokees in 1998. Of those, less than fifteen thousand were 5.9s. It housed a Magnum 5.9L V8 engine with an output of 245hp (183kW) and 345lb·ft (468N·m) of torque, going from zero to 60mph (100km/h) in only 7.3 seconds (Motor Trend measured this at a slightly faster 6.8 seconds see Motor Trend, January 1998, page 51), making it the quickest SUV available that year. The power of the 1998 5.9L V8 has been surpassed by Jeep only with the 2006 introduction of the 420hp, 6.1L SRT8 HEMI. The 5.9 Jeep Grand Cherokee was named the 1998 four-wheel drive vehicle of the year by Peterson's 4-wheel & Off-Road . Other features separated the 5.9 from the standard Limited model including:
- Functioning heat-extracting hood louvers
- Mesh grille insert
- Five-spoke alloy Ultrastar wheels
- Black-wall tires
- An improved premium 180 watt, 10 speaker Infinity stereo system
- A rear speaker bar for additional infinity speakers
- Calf-grain, soft leather seats and trim
- Leather door inserts
- Leather shift handle, e-brake and transfer case handle
- Enhanced faux wood trim throughout, additionally around the transmission shift handle base
- A full-leather spare tire cover with multiple pockets
- A center leather armrest in the rear seat
- A lower-profile roof rack that eliminated squeeking problems found on the base 5.2l limited
- Molded rocker panels
- Stock foglights
- Stock power sunroof/moonroof
The Grand Cherokee 5.9 further included additional performance-enhancing features including:
- A stronger 46RE transmission than the 5.2L with a heavier output shaft
- Quadradrive heavy duty NV249 transfer case
- Standard trac-lock rear differential
- An electric fan
- A high-output 150A alternator
- Lower restriction exhaust and chrome plated exhaust tip
Further Statistics from Motor Trend January, 1998