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2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited - Grand Score: part 3

Posted in Project Vehicles on November 21, 2014
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Whether pounding pavement or logging backcountry miles, trying to predict the places that work and play will take us is like trying to predict how your bi-polar, schizophrenic buddy is gonna react to the missing ketchup packets in his drive-through value meal. Put plainly, it’s anyone’s guess. Since affordable hovercrafts have yet to hit the mainstream market, a compromise needs to be struck between on-road comfort and off-road performance. If attempting to create a Swiss Army knife vehicle, the best you can do is to eliminate compromises on either end of the spectrum, and that was precisely our objective with Project Grand Score.

If you’ve followed the past two installments of Project Grand Score you’ve seen us transform our nearly new, but very soccer-mom-ish, ’04 Grand Cherokee into a capable multi-purpose rig that’s able to roll with the punches of our totally random requirements. From hunting, camping, hauling camera equipment around, and any other backcountry odd job we ask of it, our efforts have yet to disappoint us. All told, we retained the practicality we needed in an everyday driver, but now have the goods that’ll let us venture into territory that was previously inaccessible in factory trim.

As a quick recap, the effort that yielded the biggest departure from stock was the addition of an Iron Rock Offroad (IRO) Critical Path 4-inch long-arm suspension, which pairs affordability with great ride characteristics and off-road performance that far surpass a short-arm lift. Compared to the factory suspension, the IRO kit offers an equally plush and compliant ride on pavement, while delivering a pretty drastic difference in wheel travel, bump absorption, and overall comfort levels off pavement. This kit is somewhat unique in the fact that it s#!t-cans the front-right upper control arm altogether in the name of non-binding suspension travel. On road, we can’t tell it’s missing, but off-road, the uninhibited flex becomes readily apparent.

After dialing control arm lengths to perfection and sliding in a pair of ¾-inch coil spacers to counteract the weight of the bumper and winch, our 32-inch Generals now have room to play without rubbing up front. While the missing upper control arm of the IRO long-arm kit goes unnoticed on the road, the lack of creaking and snapping noises from the steering and suspension—along with gobs of wheel travel—lead us to believe its absence pays big dividends off-road.

The additional four inches of height from the IRO kit created enough wheelwell real estate to let our new 265/70R17 (32-inch) General Grabber AT2 tires and 17x8.5 AEV Savegre wheels move about their respective openings at will. We still have slight rubbing in the rear at full stuff, but a little trimming on the rear bumper cover should have us squared away in good shape.

Up front we bolted up a stout ARB Bull Bar winch bumper, filled it with a fully waterproof Smittybilt 10,000-pound X2O winch, and topped it with a pair of insanely bright 8,200-lumen ARB Intensity LED lights. Front-end, check. Down low, we fortified our rocker panels with a set of Iron Rock Offroad Premium Rock Sliders, which tuck neatly up into the body and have nothing to snag on. With the built-in tube step, accessing roof-mounted gear is now a snap. To finish off the build and let the ‘Merica flow freely out the back end, we mounted a great-sounding Gibson Performance stainless cat-back exhaust system.

So, any complaints? Nope, not really. But there were a couple nit-picky things that warrant mentioning. IRO specifies that the factory lower control arm mounts do not need to be removed from the frame when using its standard control arms. We found this mostly true, but the upper control arm on the front driver side did kiss the factory mount at full articulation. Instead of buzzing the mounts off altogether, we solved the problem with a small amount of strategic trimming. Not that we’d ever want to, but there’s a warm ’n fuzzy feeling associated with the ability to go back to stock if the need ever arose.

The short-arm rear suspension still flexes extremely well, despite still being, well, short-armed. Jeep did an outstanding job of engineering the WJ’s rear suspension, and even with four inches of lift, its three-link design will allow more wheeltravel than our 32-inch tires have real estate for. So long as mud wasn’t involved, the General Grabbers offered impressive traction nearly everywhere. How ’bout that new bumper cover dent?

The other small gripe is that the Grabber tires do more than grab traction—they also like to grab small rocks and eject them at your lower body panels. Not a big deal, especially now that we have the IRO sliders deflecting most of the incoming fire, but it’s worth mentioning if you live on a long gravel road like we do. Also—and this is more of an oversight than a complaint—with the added lift height and added weight all working towards added body roll around corners, a pair of larger-diameter front and rear swaybars are on our short list of components we still want to add to the Grand.

Attempting to build a rig that’ll suit all conditions and requirements is like trying to hunt everything from grey squirrel to African water buffalo with the same rifle—You’re going to fall short of your goals on one end or the other. However, with that said, to date, we’ve been really pleased with our component choices for the Grand Score Cherokee and feel like we’ve brought enough gun for most situations we’ll be throwing at it.

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General Tire
Charlotte, NC 28288
Compton, CA 90220
American Expedition Vehicles
Wixom, MI 48393
Renton, WA 98057
Gibson Exhaust
Corona, CA 92879
Iron Rock Offroad

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