The Grand Cherokees
First, there was the ZJ. It offered luxury, power, and off-road ability in one tightly wrapped package. It held onto its clout from its introduction in 1993 until it started getting a little long in the tooth in 1998. For 1999, the all-new and improved WJ hit the tarmac running and opened up a world of truly top-notch luxury and performance to scores of Jeeping die-hards. Here are some of the highlights to look out for when searching the want ads for your luxo-wagon.
The '93-'98 ZJ and '99-'04 WJ both retain Jeep's tried-and-true 4.0L engine as the base-model powerplant. With 190 hp, it serves up enough juice for soccer moms, but why go six when the 5.2L was offered in even the base-model Laredos-with 220 hp and 300 lb-ft, they offer more than enough gumption for spinning larger tires and are smoking performers with stock rubber. The high-water mark of ZJ enginedom are the '98 Limited models with the 5.9L Magnum engine. Rated at a healthy 245 hp and 335 lb-ft, the grunt was something you need to feel to believe.
If you're looking for a manual tranny, neither the ZJ or WJ is your bunny. Transmission options are limited to the AW-4 or 42RE auto in the 4.0L Jeeps, and either the Chrysler-built 46RH, 44RE, or 46RE transmissions as the years progressed behind the V-8s.
As for transfer cases, most 4.0L models can be found with either the NP231 Command-Trac part-time case or the NP242 Selec-Trac part-/full-time case. Most V-8s came with the NV249 Quadra-Trac case, which didn't offer up a 2WD option. Earlier '93-'95 249s didn't have the ability to lock the center diff, so there's no true 50/50 torque split available until 1996 with these cases. The full-time 4WD case helped split the engine torque between the front and rear axles and kept the miniscule Dana 35 alive.
Speaking of axles, the Dana 30 can be found in the front of all models, with either the Dana 35 or aluminum-centersection Dana 44 brining up the rear. In reality, you don't want to keep the Dana 35, and parts are scarce for the aluminum Dana 44, so plan on a rear axle swap if you're going to be running tires larger than 33s. The rear axles got disc brakes in 1995, and 3.55 or 3.73 gear ratios were standard throughout the ZJ run.
For the suspension, the ZJ rode on coil springs at each corner. Lifts can be easily accomplished via coil spacers or by any one of several replacement spring kits on the market. The ZJs have relatively small wheel openings, so you've got to take them up about 4.5 inches to run a 33. That's a lot of lift, especially with the full-time T-case.
Interior-wise, we'd actually steer clear of the Limited models. The Laredos came with more-realistic, cloth-covered bucket seats that can stand the test of time, and many were appointed with all of the niceties as the Limited such as power windows, locks, intermittent wipers, and so on. These days, the leather interior of the Limited is sure to be tattered, and the goofy pillow-top seats are just hideous.
This author is gonna go out on a limb and name the WJ as one of the best-handling, most-comfortable, and well-rounded Jeeps ever built. While the 4.0L engine that served as standard fare in the Laredo models was a torquey workhorse, Chrysler's excellently powerful and durable 4.7L DOHC V-8 that easily whirred 235 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque could be had in either; the engine was optional in the Laredos and standard in the Limiteds. Later on, a high-output version that cracked the 265hp mark was offered in the '02 Limited models and was standard in the top-of-the-line '02-and-later Overland models.
When it comes to transmissions, the 4.0L engines got the Chrysler 42RE four-speed auto, but the V-8s got the 45RFE five-speed auto, which really helped keep the 4.7L in its powerband.
The 4.0L could be equipped with the tried-and-true NV242 part-/full-time T-case, but the V-8s received the NV247 Quadradrive II T-case. The Quadradrive II was actually more than a T-case, however. It was a system that utilized viscous couplers in the T-case and gerotor-actuated locking devices in the axles to really help the WJ crawl and grab off- and on-road. The NV247 also offered a genuine center diff lock for real off-road performance.
Axle-wise, expect to find the venerable Dana 30 up front and the aluminum centersection Dana 44 out back holding 3.73 cogs and hanging big 12-inch disc brakes at each corner.
Like its predecessor, the WJ sports coil suspension front and rear. There is a pretty good amount of aftermarket support for these rigs, but we think they're really best left stock. The company nailed the suspension geometry and handling to the degree where we think it would be a shame to mess it up with a lift. That said, like the older Grands, the WJ has relatively small wheelwells and needs a lot of lift to accommodate even slightly larger tires.
As for amenities and comfort, go Limited or Overland or go home. The standard Laredo could be had with some nice options, but there's nothing like sinking into the leather buckets of a Limited model, fingering the dual climate controls for just the right cabin temperature, engaging the seat heaters for a little loosening of the shoulders, and firing up that 265hp H.O. V-8. They squirt through traffic like a bullet, can pass most vehicles up an onramp, and can haul the camping gear and dog to the lake for a long weekend.