What Is A Jeep? Jeff Bell, vice president, Chrysler/Jeep, suggests that at some point, perhaps, Bob Lutz (who was with Chrysler Corp. from 1986-98, where he was vice chairman, president and COO), was sitting at a campfire along the Rubicon Trail * after a long day of driving the exceedingly demanding route and held forth that henceforth, "All Jeeps will be Rubicon-capable." Among Jeep aficionados, such an ex cathedra announcement was undoubtedly received with unmitigated glee.
But Bell says that when he became part of the Jeep team in June, 2002 (he was named vp of the group then; he added the Chrysler responsibilities in November, 2003), he had a concern: "'Every Jeep will go down the Rubicon Trail'—what does that mean?" What, he wondered, were engineers supposed to do with such a statement? How could they develop future Jeep products with just that as a guide? The short answer: They couldn't.
So Bell and his colleagues set about to define just what it is for something to be qualified as a "Jeep." They went beyond, he says, the automotive analog to identifying ducks (looks like, acts like, quacks like) to establish measurable attributes that would be first of all understandable to and useful for the engineers and second, valued by the customer. Although Bell says that Jeeps are sold with far fewer incentives than other brands, he also says that there are business cases to be made for products, so there has to be a consideration of cost limits when developing Jeeps (just like anything else).
Those 37 attributes, incidentally, are then segmented into five groupings, groupings that are said to be customer-oriented. These are: traction, ground clearance, maneuverability, articulation, and water fording. A vehicle that meets the specifications in those areas can be designated "Trail Rated." Fundamental to being Trail Rated is being a 4 x 4. Bell admits that the 4 x 2 version of the Grand Cherokee is not a Trail Rated Jeep.
One of the issues of what a Jeep is—or isn't—tends to be considered by some people to be a factor of physical aspects of the vehicle: the what, not the how. What is perhaps the most controversial aspect of the '05 Grand Cherokee from that point of view is the deployment of an independent front suspension. (At this point we'll pause to let some of the true Jeep zealots pick themselves up off of the floor.) This is a short- and long-arm (SLA) suspension that features nodular iron, single-piece lower control arms; forged steel upper control arms; aluminum steering knuckles. While it is often thought that solid axles are better for off-roading, it was determined that this independent arrangement—which, incidentally, provides about 10% more travel than the system it replaces—not only reduces unsprung weight by 100 lb., but also reduces head-toss during off-road driving. In other words, the Jeep engineers found a better solution, yet one that still fulfills the requirements for a bona fide Jeep. Tom Cowing, manager, Jeep Grand Cherokee Vehicle Development, describes it as a "Jeep-engineered independent front suspension." Bell observes: "That's what Jeep engineers do. They take an idea and make it better."
One of the concerns that exists for those for whom the "Jeep" brand stands for all that is robust and capable is that there is the possibility that some clever financial analyst might take a look at Jeep's performance—as in market performance, not off-road (e.g., through July '04, the brand had a 9% year-to-date sales increase)—and determine that the brand has some significant strength in the market such that putting the logo on other, less-robust vehicles would be beneficial. But Bell is adamant that such a thing will not happen. He is a strident supporter of brands, of what a brand means, or stands for. He suggests that one of the problems that other vehicle manufacturers are facing with regard to their SUVs is that their vehicles lack the "genuineness" or "authenticity" of what they purport to be. Or they lack the capability that they seem to have. Bell maintains that as new Jeep models are developed—and he says that the line up will go beyond the current Grand Cherokee, Liberty and Wrangler—they will be developed as 4 x 4 Trail Rated Jeeps. It could be that the developed Jeep is then un-Trail Rated to become a less-proficient off-roading product. In other words, it is unlikely that they would start with a car platform and make it robust enough to be designated a Jeep; they'd go in the other direction.
While the 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee is essentially what is now known simply as a "sport utility vehicle," the vehicle, which first appeared in 1992, is not like many more recently appearing SUVs, which tend to be SUVs by nature of their architecture, not their capability. While the '05 (the third generation of the model) has a fresh, stylish look and the kind of amenities that people now expect—GPS Navigation radio, rear seat DVD, Boston Acoustics audio, UConnect Bluetooth-based hands-free communication system, HomeLink, leather seating, rear park assist, and a comfortably designed interior including significantly wider front seats—it is also capable of performing like the serious 4x4 that the Jeep name is synonymous with.
How It's Made. The Grand Cherokee, which is built in the Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit (where all generations of the model have been built) underwent what's described as an "extreme makeover" to get it ready for the '05. For example, the more than 200 robots in the body shop were refurbished; some 75% of the conveyor system was modified or replaced. New robots were added to the paint booths. One of the drivers for the modifications to the plant is the announced plan to add another product to the production, the Jeep Commander, which is to start production in mid-'05 as an '06 model. A key difference between the Commander and the Grand Cherokee—in addition to exterior styling that will be more "rugged" (think Wrangler more than Grand Cherokee)—is that the Commander will have three rows of seats. The Grand Cherokee continues with two because, Bell explains, the vehicle's customers asked that it maintain a sufficiently small turning radius so that it would be as maneuverable in the city as it is capable off road (wheelbase: 109.5 in.; overall length: 186.6 in.; turning diameter: 37.1 ft.).
Looks Like a Jeep. "When people talk about Jeep design, they typically say, 'Jeeps are boxy.' I guess if I was in a Viper studio or something, I'd be offended. But in the Jeep Studio, we take that as a word of endearment. Boxy is good." That's Mark Allen talking. He's senior manager, Jeep Design. He designed the exterior of the '05 Grand Cherokee. Allen says that one of the key things that they did at the studio when the vehicle was being developed was to talk a lot of what the appearance of a Jeep ought to be, especially the "look" of the top-of-the-line vehicle. "We hear from a fanatical fan base about this vehicle. The number-one thing I'm told is: 'Don't screw it up.'" And he didn't,
The new design is more essential. The edges and creases are sharper than those before. There are short overhangs and aggressive approach and departure angles. The seven slots in the grille are more upright and square than before. The headlamps are more round (actually circles within circles); round headlamps will be a design cue going forward. The windshield has a fast rake. The wheel openings are trapezoidal, "Straight out of 1941," Allen says, referring back to the original World War II Willys. The body cladding is gone, and the belt line is higher than on the previous model. "Aero targets used to be soft," Allen admits. "Now, aero targets are key." While it may be comparatively boxy, the aero measure (the Cd x cross sectional area) is a respectable 12.1 (realize that the overall height is 67.7 in. and the overall width at mirrors is 84.3 in.).
Powertrain: You Don't Have To Ask. Yes, among the three engines available—a new, standard 3.7-liter SOHC V6 (210 hp @ 5,200 rpm; 235 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm); a 4.7-liter SOHC V8 (235 hp @ 4,500 rpm; 305 lb-ft of torque @ 3,600 rpm)—there is a 5.7-liter V8 HEMI (330 hp @ 5,000 rpm; 375 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm). There are also two five-speed automatic transmissions, one for the V6 and one for the V8s.
There are two transfer cases, including a single-speed version, for those who want automatic 4 x 4 performance via the Quadra-Trac I system. There is also the Quadra-Trac II 4 x 4 system, which has an active transfer case; an electronic shift mechanism facilitates use. But the one that's of most interest, no doubt, is the Quadra-Drive II, which has a full-time transfer case with Electronic Limited Slip Differentials (ELSDs). ELSD measures slip then quickly kicks in via electronically controlled clutch packs. As much as 2,400 ft-lb can be sent to an individual wheel as needed.
The Real Bottom Line. So the '05 Grand Cherokee is a Jeep through and through. But at what cost? The base MSRP for the SUV is $26,775, including $645 destination—but that's for the non-Trail Rated 4 x 2 Laredo. The 4 x 4 has a $28,745 (including destination) sticker. Jumping to the head of the caravan, there's the Limited with the 5.7-liter HEMI: a base of $37,860. For those who do the math and compare those prices to what the previous-generation product would set them back, Laredo models are down by $1,780 and there is $300 of additional content to boot. The Limited prices are down by $1,000 and there is $700 more content per vehicle. How? Bell says it gets back to Jeep engineering. Clever people who like to take the roads less traveled.
*The Rubicon Trail is in California, west of Lake Tahoe, in the Sierras. It is not the Rubicon of Julius Caesar fame, although the commitment to the trail pretty much signifies a point of no return, which it was for Caesar, when he waded with his army into the Italian river of that name in 49 B.C.
**The Grand Cherokee now has a rack-and-pinion steering system, too. There is a five-link rear suspension: four tubular control arms and a tubular track bar. There is a Dynamic Handling System (DHS) available with the 5.7-liter engine-equipped model; it employs a hydraulically controlled active stabilizer bar. Briefly, based on input from the steering angle sensor and two accelerometers (center of gravity lateral and upper lateral), a determination is made when the stabilizer bar is required, and when it is, actuators pressurize the bar links.
***For 10 years, the "Camp Jeep" event has been held in various parts of the country. During this event, Jeep owners get together and drive off-road (among other events). The most recent was held in the Santa Ynez Mountains in California. After the camp was officially closed, we had the opportunity to drive the Grand Cherokee on an off-road course that had been setup for the participants. A course marked by extreme grades—which we went up and down. By the kind of ruts and ditches and other impediments that would make owners of other SUVs break down—before their vehicles did. The '05 Grand Cherokee is a Jeep. No question.