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Power Trip, With Trimmings

2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited

By Warren Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 5, 2004; Page G01

I must return the wireless headphones. They belong to the 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited sport-utility vehicle we drove to New York over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

I removed the headphones from the SUV because they are considered "personal items." No one who values property leaves personal items in a vehicle parked in a big-city garage.

2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited

Nuts & Bolts

Downside: I have no complaints, per se, with the new Grand Cherokee. But I'm increasingly concerned about the way car companies handle options and standard equipment. Car manufacturers frequently offer as "standard" stereos and other things that have little to do with vehicle performance or safety, while peddling as "options" items such as vehicle stability control or side-curtain air bags. Shouldn't it be the other way around?

Ride, acceleration and handling: Excellent in all three categories. The new Grand Cherokee with the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 is a heavy vehicle, weighing nearly 6,200 pounds. But it is so well suspended that it manages that weight easily, without ever hinting at tip-over or loss of control in corners. It was a very enjoyable 510-mile round-trip run.

Head-turning quotient: Rich, tempting, a virtual cornucopia of theft-ready devices. Park safely and lock tight.

Body style/layout: Four-door sport-utility vehicle with rear hatch; unitized steel construction; front longitudinal engine; available with three four-wheel-drive systems -- Quadra-Trac I, full-time all-wheel-drive requiring no driver intervention; Quadra-Trac II, an advanced all-wheel-drive system; and Quadra-Drive II, a more traditional four-wheel-drive system especially designed for off-road use. Rear-wheel-drive models are also available.

Engines/transmissions: The optional 5.7-liter V-8 in the tested Grand Cherokee Limited develops 325 horsepower at 5,100 revolutions per minute and 370 foot-pounds of torque at 3,500 revolutions per minute. A 230-horsepower 4.7-liter V-8 and a 210-horesepower 3.7-liter V-6 are available. All three are linked to five-speed automatic transmissions.

Cargo and fuel capacities: The new Grand Cherokee, sold as the plush Limited and the slightly more earthly Laredo, has seating for five people. Cargo capacity is 35.3 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 67.4 cubic seat with the seats down. With the Hemi V-8, the Grand Cherokee can be equipped to tow up to 7,200 pounds. Fuel capacity is 20.8 gallons. Mid-grade (89-octane) unleaded gasoline is recommended.

Mileage: We averaged 18 miles per gallon in highway driving.

Safety: Standard multi-stage driver and front-passenger air bags; optional head/curtain bags for outboard passengers front and rear; standard traction control for models with Quadra-Trac I and II all-wheel-drive systems; optional electronic stability control; standard tire pressure monitoring system.

Price: Prices at this writing are not firm for the tested 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 version of the 2005 Grand Cherokee Limited. But expect them to be about $2,000 higher than the base $34,055 sticker of the 4.7-liter V-8 model. Keep in mind that the Chrysler Group has had to struggle to meet consumer demand for its Hemi-equipped vehicles. The company's dealers often sell those models at a premium.

Purse-strings note: If you have no plans to haul heavy loads, or to run around off-road, it makes more sense to get a V-6 version of the Grand Cherokee with the Quadra-Trac I system, or the even less-expensive V-6 model with rear-wheel drive.

The rear-seat video screen, six-disc dash-mounted CD player with MP3 capability and the optional Sirius satellite radio system are also personal items. But they are fastened to the Grand Cherokee and, anyway, there are only so many personal items a person can carry from a vehicle to prevent their theft.

That's a problem. At least, that's what I'm thinking, looking at the two sets of headphones sitting on my home-office desk. Cars and trucks nowadays come with so much stuff! They are rolling living rooms, bedrooms and family rooms. They are mobile work and communications stations. At a post-Thanksgiving rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike, we used the Grand Cherokee's huge center console as a table and turned the vehicle's interior into a restaurant.

We were tempted to pop a movie into the video player and watch it while we ate, but my wife vetoed that idea as being "too trailer park." We have standards. So we ate and ran -- fast.

Please understand. We were not speeding or showing off. Other motorists were zipping past us in everything from little Mini Coopers to giant 18-wheelers. We allowed them to do that. Going 70 miles per hour in a 65-mph zone is one thing. Going 90 on a crowded post-holiday highway dampened by rain is insane.

We're not crazy. But the people at Jeep, an arm of DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group, may have gone a bit bonkers. They've put a Hemi in the Grand Cherokee Limited! Yep. Along with the DVD and MP3 player, satellite radio and satellite navigation system, leather seats and numerous other luxuries that have not much to do with driving on-road or off, Jeep has added a 5.7-liter, 325-horsepower Hemi V-8 engine capable of developing a humongous 370 foot-pounds of torque.

In a vehicle as big and boldly styled as the new Grand Cherokee, that kind of power, generated by a surprisingly vibration-free engine, could seduce and corrupt the gentlest of souls.

On many occasions, we were creeping along so slowly that only four of the cylinders in the Grand Cherokee's Hemi V-8 were active. That's because the big engine is the progeny of odd-couple engineering. It uses the Chrysler Group's new Multi-Displacement System (MDS) technology.

MDS employs a series of sensors to detect vehicle speed and load. In traffic jams when nothing is moving, or when the vehicle is moving at a snail's pace, four of the eight cylinders are electronically deactivated to save fuel.

MDS-type technology will be offered by a variety of light-truck makers in the near future. General Motors Corp., for example, uses a similar system, which GM calls Displacement on Demand, in several of its large pickups.

Frankly, I'd rather see more of that kind of useful technology going into more cars and trucks, as opposed to the increasing level of gimcrackery that has nothing to do with the on-road performance, fuel efficiency or safety of those vehicles.

I mean, really, how many video screens, DVD and MP3 players, remote headphones, hands-free communication devices and mobile Internet portals do we need? Are all of those things freeing us to enjoy the road, or are they forcing us to worry about which component or device will be missing if we are unfortunate enough to park in the wrong place?

I could have sworn that the garage attendant on East 53rd Street in New York was salivating when we pulled up in the elegantly rugged, device-laden Grand Cherokee Limited. His smile seemed more of a smirk as he watched me remove the headphones, DVD and CD discs, cell phone and yet-to-be-activated BlackBerry e-mail device (Why the heck did I bring that?) from the vehicle.

"That's a nice truck," he said. "We'll watch out for it. Don't worry. We'll take care of it for you."

Said Mary Anne, my wife: "That's going to cost us a big tip."

She was right. We paid for protection. When does tipping become bribery, and bribery extortion?

© 2004 The Washington Post Company