Long before the term SUV was invented, Jeep was delivering to its customers a solid off-road capable four-door family friendly SUV. The first of these was the 1963 Jeep Wagoneer. It was rugged yet very comfortable – it was as well suited to a harsh off-road situation as it was to cruising on the highway. To say Jeep was ahead of its time back then is a very big understatement. It only took the other automakers around thirty years before they had their own four-door SUVs.
Fast forward to 2009, just about every automaker has at least one SUV in its lineup. Even Porsche has a SUV. Now who would have thought this possible as far back as ten years ago? Jeep continues to soldier on offering its customers what it does best – offering solid SUVs as capable off-road as on-road. The flagship of the Jeep lineup is the Grand Cherokee, and it is ironic that its dimensions and proportions are similar to the original 1963 Wagoneer. The Grand Cherokee has evolved with the times by having all the modern conveniences, latest high-tech wizardry, and continual four-wheel drive innovations. And though the SUV field is crowded, the Grand Cherokee still manages to lead the pack and set many the trends.
The 2009 Grand Cherokee comes in two basic flavors – the Laredo and the Limited. The later of which is an upscale version of the Grand Cherokee. It is worth noting that there is slightly more upscale version of the Grand Cherokee than the Limited, which is the low-volume special edition called the Overland. However Jeep’s bread and butter luxury version selling in high volumes is the Limited. The Laredo is entry level model which can also be generously loaded with many of the same options offered on the Limited. And depending on how crazy you get with the option list it can be real easy to build up a Laredo that has a sticker price almost on par with a loaded Limited. There is also another Grand Cherokee model called the SRT8 which is a low volume super high-performance 420 horsepower SUV that has only one purpose – to accelerate, stop, and handle like a very fast sports car. Needless to say the SRT8 was not made to ride trails or encounter any off-road conditions, this is why it is not trail rated like most of Jeep’s lineup.
The Grand Cherokee since its release in mid-1992 as a 1993 model, has not only beat its competitors in off-road prowess but also in the area of power under the hood. The Grand Cherokee has successfully provided in the last two decades more available horsepower and torque than its competitors. As an example when the 1993 Grand Cherokee was first released its main competitor was the popular Ford Explorer, which was equipped with only one engine – a 4.0 liter V6 rated at 160 horsepower. The 1993 Grand Cherokee’s base six-cylinder engine – the 4.0 I6 was rated at 190 horsepower. This would have been enough for most automakers to beat their main competition by 30 horsepower but not for Jeep. It also offered a 5.2 liter V8 rated at 220 horsepower as an optional engine on the 1993 Grand Cherokee. It was the first SUV in the four-door mid-sized class to have a V8 option, which soon thereafter created a horsepower war. Even Ford was forced a few years later to offer a V8 option in its Explorer. However Jeep managed to stay ahead of the pack in this horsepower war and this trend still continues today.
When the all-new third generation (WK) Grand Cherokee was released in 2005. The bar was raised yet again in horsepower. A new 330 horsepower 5.7 liter Hemi V8 option was available on the Limited giving the Grand Cherokee a best in class horsepower rating. And for 2006 a new SRT8 model of the Grand Cherokee with a (420 horsepower) 6.1 liter Hemi V8 was released to show such new muscle SUVs from overseas like the Porsche Cayenne Turbo and supercharged Range Rover Sport who was still boss.
The 2009 Grand Cherokee Limited continues the trend. Under the hood is a second-generation 5.7 liter Hemi rated at 357 horsepower. This new 5.7 Hemi uses Variable Valve Timing (VVT) and sophisticated cylinder deactivation called MDS (Multi-Displacement System). The MDS system allows the powerful Hemi to get an EPA rated mpg of 13 city and 18 highway (13 city and 19 highway for two-wheel drive version), which is not bad considering the Hemi’s power and the Limited’s substantial weight.
However the hidden value of this engine is the massive 389 lbs/ft. of torque it puts out. This helps the Limited to move effortlessly from stoplight to stoplight. Even with a curb weight of around 4,700 lbs. the 5.7 Hemi makes it accelerate like a muscle car from the golden era. And in case you forget, when you mash the accelerator to the floor the Hemi throws you back in the seat like the big-block V8 monsters of this golden era. Which is a big feat when you consider the 5.7 liter Hemi is a modern small block V8. How the times have changed for the better. Hidden in this little equation is the fact that the same exact 5.7 Hemi motor in the new Dodge Ram pickup is rated at 390 horsepower and 407 lbs/ft. of torque. Though the Dodge has a dual outlet exhaust system vs. the Grand Cherokee’s single outlet exhaust system that should give the Ram at the most a 5 to 10 horsepower advantage and could not possibly explain the 357 verses 390 horsepower ratings of the same exact motor. Somewhere 33 horsepower disappears, however driving the two vehicles back-to-back, makes one realize that the horsepower advantage may only really be on paper and that the 2009 Grand Cherokee is packing more punch than the advertised 357 horsepower.
With a 7,200 lbs (7,400 lbs for the two-wheel drive model) towing rating, the Hemi powered Limited can tow most of the toys the big boy heavy-duty pickup trucks can. And for such a high-performance motor which happens to have a 10.5:1 compression ratio, only 89 octane gas is recommended and 87 octane can also be safely used with no noticeable loss in power – making the Hemi a little easier on your wallet at the pumps since high-octane gas is not required.
Also worthy to note, Jeep does offer as the base Limited engine – a 4.7 liter SOHC V8 rated at a healthy 305 horsepower and 334 lbs/ft of torque. If the Hemi did not exist on the Grand Cherokee Limited’s option list the 4.7 V8 has enough guts and punch to fend off most of the Grand Cherokee Limited’s competition. An EPA mpg rating of 14 city and 19 highway (for both two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive models) is only marginally better than the 5.7 Hemi.
There is also a 3.0 liter turbo diesel V6 sourced from the Mercedes-Benz engine arsenal, that is rated at 215 horsepower and 375 lbs/ft of torque. The 3.0 liter gives the Grand Cherokee Limited its best gas mileage – EPA rated mpg is 17 city and 22 highway (18 city and 23 highway for two-wheel drive version). The 3.0 liter though it does not accelerate like the Hemi it does however have the same towing rating of 7,200 lbs (7,400 lbs for the two-wheel drive model).
Driving the 5.7 Hemi powered Grand Cherokee is a joy and it by far is the best engine option on the Limited. The Grand Cherokee Laredo cannot be ordered with the 5.7 liter Hemi which gives buyers a great reason to move up to the Limited. Buying a Limited without the 5.7 Hemi is like buying a delicious ice cream sundae without the hot fudge. The Hemi moves with authority, and the power is there no matter what gear the transmission has engaged. The 5.7 is backed by a five-speed automatic transmission – the 545RFE automatic which does a fantastic job of always making sure the right gear is engaged and that gear shifts are smooth and precise. The net result is that with the Hemi’s monster torque and the 545RFE’s ability to always be in the right gear, there is never a dead spot or a delay in acceleration no matter what the driving condition. The power is always there.
The 5.7 Hemi makes all the right sounds. The free-flow breathing of the Hemi makes a wonderful sound when the throttle is hit heavy with the driver’s right foot. However it’s as quiet as a church mouse during normal driving conditions. It would be nice if the Hemi powered Grand Cherokee Limited Hemi had an optional dual exhaust system with a deep muscle car like rumble. Fortunately Jeep has already thought of this, the recent release the upcoming all-new 2011 Grand Cherokee press photos show the 2011 5.7 Hemi powered model with an attractive dual exhaust system. However we will have to wait until its release to find out if the sound has a muscle car like tone.
2009 is the fifth year for the current WK Jeep Grand Cherokee. It received a very minor face-lift for 2008, however the bodylines are still just as attractive and appealing as its original release in 2005. The familiar Jeep exterior lines are all there including the famous Jeep front grill.
The interior is modern and with comfortable seating for four adults. The Limited’s standard leather seating is inviting and provides excellent luxury. The interior dash is well laid out. And there are a multitude of standard features and options. Everything from heated seats to a rear DVD entertainment system is available on the Limited.
It is easy to get side tracked on all the luxury amenities, and forget what the Jeep’s main purpose is – being a serious off-road vehicle. The Limited has all the capabilities of its Jeep predecessors. Rock climbing and navigating through a secluded trail are easily done in this Jeep. Even the front chin spoiler can be taken off in less than a minute and placed into the cargo area, to give even more ground clearance in serious off-road conditions. The Grand Cherokee still maintains a best in class in off-road capabilities. The Limited’s full-time four-wheel drive Quadra-Trac II system is bar none the best system in its class. Most Limiteds are equipped with this system, however Jeep does offer in the Limited, Laredo, and Overland a two-wheel drive model for those who aren’t interested in going off-road and have never heard of the word "snow".
When the WJ Grand Cherokee was released in 2005, a new fully independent front suspension replaced the revered solid front axle. Jeep purists were afraid that this would hinder the Grand Cherokee’s off-road capabilities but those fears were soon dissipated when the WK Grand Cherokee proved it was indeed up to the job.
On road the Grand Cherokee Limited has proven itself a winner. It handles and brakes so well, it’s easy to forget you are driving an SUV. And the coil suspension system offers a very comfortable ride on all roads even potholed ones. Steering is tight and precise and thanks to the independent front suspension handling is almost sports car like in the turns. Gone is the travelling steering (which at times felt it had a mind of its own) of the old front axle equipped Jeeps at highway speeds. The current Grand Cherokee’s front suspension and steering is just as tight and precise at highway speeds as it is at slow parking lot speeds.
The Grand Cherokee Limited also has impressive stopping power for a SUV, with large four-wheel disc brakes on all fours.
The Grand Cherokee Limited has standard attractive 17 in. alloy wheels with P245/65R17 Goodyear Fortera tires. And for those who want bigger wheels on the Limited, Jeep offers optional 18 in. wheels with P245/60R18 Goodyear Fortera tires.
When driving the 2009 Grand Cherokee Limited both on and off-road, it is quite clear Jeep provides the best of both worlds. With The Grand Cherokee still leading its class in sales, there are many buyers who agree. Simply put with the 2009 Grand Cherokee Limited the legend continues, and that is a very good thing.
Written contents in this article – © 2009 Pete Dunton – All Rights Reserved