Jeep rocked the ’80s and the 4×4 market when the Cherokee XJ rolled into dealerships everywhere. This was something new, something different, and about to start a mini-revolution all by itself. It was the first compact SUV, first with UniFrame construction, and first to utilize a fully dedicated, 4×4 system the driver could employ while on the fly. By 1992, the concept of a more versatile and more stylish Cherokee was about to take on “Grand” status. Today, the Grand Cherokee is still going strong, with new and used Jeep buyers continuing to enjoy this capable vehicle.
He Did What?
In case you’re not up-to-speed on what can only be described as a “grand” entrance (pun intended), the new Jeep Grand Cherokee made an enormous statement with its debut at the prestigious 1992 Detroit North American International Auto Show. A brand-new, shiny red 1993 Jeep Grand Cherokee was parked outside Cobo Hall (now TCF Center), on the banks of the Detroit River in the heart of the Motor City. Then-president of Chrysler, Bob Lutz — along with Detroit mayor Coleman Young (who was riding shotgun) — proceeded to scale the Cobo Hall steps and drive through a large plate glass window, coming to a stop in the lobby before a throng of media and industry suits.
The stunt was a brilliant marketing accomplishment, bringing worldwide attention to the debut at a fraction of the normal advertising costs. Behind the scenes, there was a good deal of red tape that had to be scissored regarding safety issues. The glass Lutz smashed was actually a pre-installed pane, especially chosen for its innate ability to completely shatter into small shards, avoiding a possible impaling nightmare. Couple the dramatic entrance with a few remote-controlled pyrotechnics, and you have one of the best all-time unveiling moments in the history of the automotive world!
Showmanship aside, the Grand Cherokee hit the ground sprinting with over 80,000 sales in the abbreviated 1992 auto-calendar year. With features such as the first standard drivers-side airbag in the SUV class, it didn’t take long for sales to triple, as the Grand Cherokee was a welcome addition and a rousing success for an emerging segment.
Go Anywhere; Do Anything
That catchy slogan accurately describes the profound impact the stylish Grand Cherokee had on the industry. Not only did it provide rugged durability, but it carried itself with an air of swagger as well. This was a vehicle where you could visit the trails in the morning, hit a car wash, and then toss the keys to a valet at a swanky restaurant in the evening. Jeep combined an element of luxury into their new line of edgy SUVs, making it a good choice to consider regardless of the surface or occasion.
The first-generation model was (by today’s standard) light on horsepower. The debut model didn’t even crack the 200 hp plateau, a sign of the times back in that era. Ensuing model years turned up the volume a bit, eventually teetering around the 250 hp mark. The factory offered full and part-time, 4×4 options (Command and Select-Trac) and soon made 4-wheel disc brakes standard. The remainder of the ’90s saw small but methodical changes for the better, and public interest remained strong.
In 1998, Chrysler merged with powerhouse Daimler/Benz to become Daimler/Chrysler. The following year, the second-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee was introduced to a loyal and enthusiastic crowd ready to sign the bottom line. The latest-gen Grand Cherokee had a lot of “ers” attached; longer, taller, wider, bigger, and just plain better! The old pushrod, straight-six cylinder was history, and a new single overhead cam 4.7L V8 power plant became available. When the smoke subsided, the 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee sold over 300,000 units.
By 2005, Jeep was ready to roll out the third-generation Grand Cherokee, and what better way to do it than with a HEMI V8? Advanced 4×4 systems along with new independent front suspension and rack-and-pinion steering were added to the mix as well, giving the vehicle a more sophisticated ride. Unfortunately, the projected sales forecast didn’t meet expectations, and Daimler saw two years of declining sales as a result. Chrysler and its Jeep brand was officially sold off by Daimler in 2007
Moving Forward and Beyond
The Jeep brand struggled for a period, but upon the arrival of the fourth-generation Grand Cherokee in 2011, for the first time in a few years, unit sales once again breached the 100,000 mark. Overall, it was a banner year for Jeep, and they were officially back. A new commitment from Chrysler was promised, and better quality was the bullseye. A focus on luxurious interiors, exterior upgrades, and better fuel economy had arrived.
In 2014, Chrysler and Fiat joined forces to become Fiat-Chrysler. Just two years later, the Grand Cherokee was back in familiar territory, with over 200,000 vehicles sold. As a new decade approached, it became clear Jeep was all-in on trading blows with competitors in a hotly-contested market. An emphasis on performance, continued interior and exterior refinements, and keeping pace on the technology front was well underway. Jeep was out to make a statement, and in 2018, they pretty much did just that.
The folks at Fiat-Chrysler — in a sort of cool, mad-scientist kind of way, decided they wanted to have the fastest SUV on the planet. They boldly offered the supercharged 6.2-liter HEMI SRT V8 engine (previously only available with the Hellcat SRT Challenger and Charger models) as an option for the 2018 Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. A power plant that produces over 700 hp, has enough lb-ft torque to burn off a small fortune in rubber, and goes zero-to-sixty in just over 3 seconds may be a bit much for most, but it fits the bill for an automaker who introduced this line of SUV’s in dramatic fashion when it debuted back in 1993.
As a new decade began, the 2020 Grand Cherokee had a lot to offer and embrace for buyers. While you can’t please all critics, there was no denying the diverse array of trim levels, power choices, and interior accessories. Four engine options were offered, with V8 horsepower ranging from 360 for the 5.7L HEMI to 707 for the supercharged Hellcat beast, plus a sensible 3.7L V6 that still lays out nearly 300hp — a figure that’s more than 100 horses above the initial 1993 engine offering. The Grand Cherokee had firmly established itself as a viable option for a host of potential buyers: those new to the SUV segment, off-road junkies, drivers who wanted a smoother ride on normal surfaces, the luxury-minded interior seekers, and those looking for smoking-hot performance all had something to satisfy their whims and desires.
Moving closer to the quarter-century mark in this new millennium, one can expect the Jeep Grand Cherokee to keep pace with its new third-row version, a redesigned cabin and dash, and a big step-up in technology with a state-of-the-art infotainment system. It’s a virtual certainty a plug-in hybrid engine will hit the landing pad very soon, and a fully electric vehicle is also likely to materialize down the road. Perhaps the engineers at Jeep will find a way to infuse more cargo and passenger space as well.
Still At the Top
If you’re a longtime Jeep enthusiast — or merely here for an informative read, there’s a lot to like about the Grand Cherokee — now and going forward. The masters in four-wheel drive embraced a performance edge that covered all the bases and made a commitment along aesthetic and overall quality lines to keep the Grand Cherokee a player in the segment. It’s impossible to please all critics and still offer an affordable price to a customer base, but Jeep has done its level best to try. All nitpicking aside, the Jeep Grand Cherokee should be on a shortlist of possibilities for anyone considering an adventurous SUV purchase.