You're probably thinking we're gonna bash the fresh independent-suspension '05 Grand Cherokee like we would a parking lot full of H2 Hummers from behind the control sticks of a Caterpillar excavator. Even with more on-road-friendly suspension and more techno-electric-wizardry (did we mention independent front suspension) the new WK Grand Cherokee is more capable than all of the previous generations of Grand Cherokees that came with straight front axles. How could we possibly be angry?
In our minds, the success lies in the drivetrain combination of the Quadra-Drive II package found on the Hemi-powered Limited model. The new ELSDs (Electronic Limited Slip Differentials) inside new-to-Jeep AAM front and rear axles might as well be considered smart lockers. Little to no wheelspin is needed for them to engage for full front and rear locker-like traction over rough tire-lifting terrain. Yet there is no need to flip switches or buttons for an open diff in tight turning or on-road situations. The electronically controlled clutch packs automatically and instantly vary from slip to lock. Operation is practically seamless.
The full-time NV245 transfer case features a high and low range along with a true Neutral for flat towing. It's engaged with a small flip lever in the center console. We'd prefer a real shifter with linkages, but unlike other electronic shifters we've used, this one works quickly when the Jeep's tranny is put into Neutral.
We like the all-new 545RFE five-speed automatic tranny. The gated-shifter-with-toggle feature allows you to choose what gear you want to be in. Unbelievably, it actually shifts when you want it to. The 545RFE comes packed with a 3:1 First gear. When backed with the NV245's 2.72:1 low range and 3.73 axle gears, you get a crawl ratio slightly better than 30:1. However, the compression braking provided by the 5.7L Hemi and tranny combo is less than we had hoped for. It can and will get going down hills quicker than you may want when shifted in low range and First gear. The 4.7L version had much more compression braking, however, the 4.7L is only available with the Quadra-Trac II system, which has open differentials and BTCS (Brake Traction Control System). The BTCS in the 4.7L Grand works well, but it's less elegant and not as capable as the ELSDs in the Hemi-powered Quadra-Drive II.
Speaking of the 5.7L Hemi, who can deny 330 hp, 375 lb-ft of torque and up to and over 20 mpg thanks to the standard MDS (Multi Displacement System)? A 3.7L V-6 is available with a single-speed NV140 transfer case (Quadra-Trac I, no low range or testicles here) and BTCS. The 4.7L is slightly pumped up from last year, now making 235 hp and 305 lb-ft of torque, as well as boasting other refinements such as improved fuel economy and quieter, smoother operation. We're plenty happy with the power output of the Hemi. It pulls hills no problem and accelerates quickly, and with a maximum trailer weight capacity of 7,200 pounds, the Quadra-Drive II Grand Limited would make a pretty sweet tow rig. We're really not sure why two different V-8s are available. We were told it was simply to give the buyer more options. If so, how about an SRT Hemi Grand instead of the 4.7? On the outside, you'll notice some significant changes. The WK is slightly longer and slightly wider. To us it seems like kind of a cross between the old squarish ZJ body and the pill-like WJ. We haven't quite decided if we like it; however, the large wheelwells make us happy, even though this Grand's independent front suspension and true four-link rear probably won't see any aftermarket lift kits over 2 inches, if any lift at all.Inside, we were disappointed to not find the WJ's cushy La-Z-Boy-like seats. They've been traded in for more sporty Liberty-esque seats. To us, they're not as comfortable, but others disagree. We say head to the dealer and decide for yourself.
A big improvement inside is the fit and finish. Fewer components mean fewer seams and gaps. All the latest gizmos are available, from a rear seat DVD system and Navigation radio with integrated six-disk CD/MP3 player to SIRIUS satellite radio and rear park assist. The grab handles on the A-pillar seem useless to us. We prefer the handles right above the shoulder area for more personal side-to-side control. Apparently, new safety standards took away our favorite handle spot, it's been filled with optional side-curtain air bags in the Grand. The Jeep people said they replaced the straight front axle found in previous Grands for three reasons: better on-road handling, more precise steering and less head toss.
The addition of a non-intrusive Electronic Stability Program (ESP) and a Dynamic Handling System (DHS, available later in 2005) make the new Grand Cherokee safer in skilled and unskilled hands. On-road, we can't deny that the WK handles better than the ZJ or WJ. The WK features a firmer, sportier feel. Overall, the WK is a huge improvement in the Grand Cherokee lineage both on- and off-road. Unfortunately, thanks to the advanced-handling independent suspension, the Quadra-Drive II Grand Cherokee Limited may have performed its way out of the modifying enthusiast market.