April 7, 2004
Last month, I had the opportunity to visit the DaimlerChrysler Technology Center in Auburn Hills, Michigan. The Tech Center is where it all happens. As the name suggests, this is where cars, trucks and SUVs are designed, new technologies are studied and implemented, and secrets are kept behind closed doors. Passing through the high security gates into the Tech Center you are immediately reminded that whatever you see and do here is to be kept in strict confidence unless otherwise instructed.
As a non-DCX-employed journalist, I have to say that this visit was quite an honor - especially since I was about to be shown the new 2005 Grand Cherokee long before the public and even many other members of the press.
Why the veil of secrecy? With so many SUVs in today's market, competition is at an all-time high. The Grand was in desperate need of not just a little freshening, but a complete redo. Competing SUVs from nearly every other automaker in the world have surpassed the current WJ in build quality, ride quality and features. The WJ needed fresh blood and this is the big year for its infusion.
The first Grand Cherokee was a ground-breaker. Debuting in '92 as a '93 model, the Grand replaced the long-in-the-tooth Grand Wagoneer as the flagship for the Jeep brand. Featuring coil springs at each corner, the ZJ took ride quality and off-road prowess to a new level for SUVs and really kick-started the luxo-SUV trend that would build rapidly throughout the '90's and into this century.
1999 marked the introduction of the ZJ's replacement - known internally as the WJ. The WJ had many improvements and though recognizable as a Grand Cherokee, raised the bar once again for the SUV market.
So here we are in 2004. Once again, the Grand Cherokee's time has come for a major update. So here's the scoop.
When Daimler took over ownership of the Chrysler brands they took a look at the Grand Cherokee and were a little puzzled. Coming from the Mercedes camp meant that the Daimler execs were well aware of what luxury meant and what brand recognition meant. They looked at the grille, for example, and asked why the WJ had splayed slots instead of straight slots like the Wrangler and even the then-new Liberty. Over the last couple years, things like this were worked on and the grille for 2004 did show a change to a straight-slot grille.
But it was more than just the grille they were nit-picking. They wanted the Jeep line to be more cohesive all-around. They wanted to not only identify a Jeep by the grille alone, but also by other lines, curves and design cues. But the WJ had seen its time and didn't need any more changes or development dollars thrown at it. The changes would all come in the new "WK."
That brings us back to the Tech Center, where we got our first look at the new 2005 Grand Cherokee. We got to learn all about the new design, the new technology, and we got to touch and sit in one and check it out for ourselves. Unfortunately, though, there would be no driving yet.
So what's new and so special about the new Grand? Let's start at the front. The new front end takes a whole new shape. The folks at DCX used the term "rectalinear." The grille is a blend of old and new, and of course, has seven vertical slats.
In studying their demographics, Jeep realized that often times, a Grand Cherokee sits in a garage next to a luxury car and they wanted the new Grand to not look out of place. The new headlamps are roundish and more up to date and even resemble a Mercedes a bit. They give the Grand a much more emotional look, and at the same time, still make the whole package look like a Jeep. An optional Smart Beam® headlamp package will be available, which caries the high beam intensity from 25-100% as conditions warrant.
Moving around to the sides, you'll notice that the new Grand has a taller grille and a slightly longer hood. In addition, like many other new models in the Chrysler and Dodge stables, the new Grand has a higher beltline, which gives it a beefier and more aggressive look, while also giving the impression of a higher level of safety for its passengers.
Other design cues on the Grand include reduced lines and a straighter, higher roofline. In addition, entry and exit to and from the rear seats is now made easier by extending the rear doors further over the rear wheels.
Another welcome styling decision was to give the plastic body cladding the axe. Cladding has seen its day in the sun but the sun has long set on this design idea. We're glad to see it go bye-bye, even though it did add a little bit of paint protection on the sides when used off-road or in perilous Wal-Mart parking lots.
Finally, coming around back, the Grand has a very square look compared to the outgoing model. A similar lift gate setup was retained, as well as a separate lift-glass. The rear washer is now integrated into the 3rd brake light.
Stepping inside the new Grand, you immediately notice the much-upgraded interior. You can really see the European influence here. The model we got a look at (the green one in the photos) was a Limited and featured 2-tone leather seats, as well as a two-tone dash. The darker top of the dash not only adds an appealing look, but is also functional, in that it reduces glare from the sun.
Another big change is the seats themselves. The driver can choose an 8-way adjustable seat and the front passenger can get a 4-way. Whereas seats in previous models were made to coddle customers on the first sit-in and test drive, they were found to be not as supportive as many people preferred over the long haul. The new seats are a completely new design and have a more supportive structure which includes "dual-durometer" foam. This foam allows for two levels of compression.We think the Limited's seats look fabulous.
Another point to note is that, unlike the WJ, the front seats can now be adjusted all the way back in their track and still not interfere with folding down the rear seats. The increased wheelbase (3.6" longer) allows for more legroom in both the front and the rear seats.
The interior materials have all been upgraded and fit and finish, have, as well. This is one area where the Euro-influence is really helping the Jeep brand.
Jeep has finally gotten their act together in the entertainment area this time around. Gone are the remote multi-disc changers and we can now expect an in-dash 6-disc CD/MP3 player option, as well as a new Boston Acoustics 6-speaker audio system with 276W amplifier. A large navigation system is available, as well as a new is a rear seat DVD system.
In the rear, a new stadium seating setup is now used for the rear 60/40 seats and rear passengers gain about an inch in legroom. They also gain a long overdue center rear air vent for the HVAC, however, they do not get their own controls for temperature or fan. A center armrest also does double-duty as a storage compartment. In order to keep the length of the Grand Cherokee reasonable, it was decided not to make it longer to accommodate third row seats.
Folding the rear seats has become easier, thankfully. You no longer have to tumble the bottom part of the seat. A single action now folds each seat nearly flat, providing 70.83 cu. ft. of cargo space to haul your goodies.
Because of new crash regulations, the gas tank has been relocated in front of the rear axle in order to withstand a rear collision at 50 mph. Consequently, the spare tire now has a home underneath the rear cargo area, behind the rear axle. This has freed up a gracious storage area inside where the spare used to be. An added bonus is the compartment's cover can be flipped over if you have a messy load in order to protect the carpet.
A Chrysler Group first this year is the available multi-stage air bags for the front occupants. The system detects the size of the occupants based on weight and determines whether the air bags should deploy or not and if so, how hard and fast. Of course, the kiddos will still be safer riding in the back. Side curtain airbags are also available for both the front and rear.
That brings us to the good stuff. The technical stuff. The what's-it-got-underneath stuff. We thought you'd never ask.
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