"Designing the new Grand Cherokee was like doing a new generation of Rolls-Royce or Harley-Davidson," said Tom Gale, executive vice president of product strategy and design. "The Jeep image is larger than life."
Called "the most capable sport-utility ever," the WJ series debuted in August 1998 as a "reaction to the increasing desire on the part of the sport-utility marketplace to move the vehicle upscale," said Jack Broomall, director of Jeep vehicle development. Developers wanted it to be "quieter, more sophisticated, with a higher level of interior appointments."
Appearance of what was called "The New Level" was not dramatically different from the 1993-98 version, but sheetmetal edges were softer and rounder. Traditional styling themes remained, including the familiar slotted grille and ribbed body cladding. A less-angular grille displayed greater rake. An arched roof and stretched trapezoidal wheel arches rounded out the picture.
Wheelbase was unchanged at 105.9 inches; while length increased 4.3 inches. Track width grew an inch, overall width 1.6 inches, height 2.2 inches. Step-in height dropped by 1.1 inches, but seating position turned out to be higher than before.
Jeep reported that only 127 very small pieces were carried over and, according to AutoWeek, claimed they had "redesigned the interior using German sport/luxury sedans as benchmarks." Solid front and rear axles were retained, but matched to a new three-link rear suspension.
The big news for model-year 1999 was an all-new Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Still with seating for five, the 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee offered more usable luggage capacity, because stretching the rear by three inches allowed the spare tire to move from the cargo hold to beneath the rear floor. Rear hip room grew by 3.1 inches. Laredo and more luxurious Limited models were offered.
A revised 4.0-liter, six-cylinder base engine produced 10 more horsepower this year; it was rated at 195. The pushrod 5.2-liter V-8 of prior years was replaced by a brand-new, overhead-cam, 4.7-liter V-8, yielding 235 horsepower. Those with trailering needs could get an optional 6500-pound towing package.
Instead of the usual two planetary gearsets, the new "multispeed" 45 RFE automatic transmission fitted to V-8 models had three. It used four ratios for upshifting, but five for downshifting. When downshifting under light or normal load from third, it would select the 1.50:1 second gear. But when maximum response was needed, it shifted to an alternate second gear, with a lower (1.67:1) ratio. The latter gear was also used for upshifts.
Jeep Grand Cherokees could have rear-wheel drive or an appealing choice of four-wheel-drive systems. Selec-Trac could be shifted from two-wheel drive to full-time four-wheel drive. Permanently engaged Quadra-Trac could apportion power between the front and rear axles. The new permanent Quadra-Drive could send 100 percent of engine power to any wheel, at any time, to maintain traction.
The innovative Quadra-Drive system consisted of two components: a Quadra-Trac II transfer case and Vari-Lok progressive differentials. Under normal conditions, most of the engine's power went to the rear wheels. As soon as any wheel lost traction, a speed-sensing torque-transfer coupling detected the speed variation that occurs between the front and rear axle. A special pump would then apply hydraulic pressure to a multidisc clutch that sent power to the front axle. As a result, nearly 100 percent of engine torque could be diverted to a single wheel, allowing the vehicle to keep moving even if that tire had minimal traction.
Meanwhile, Vari-Lok sensed wheelspin caused by differing traction characteristics at certain wheels -- for instance, when ice was present only on one side of the road. Torque would then be transferred to the wheel on the higher-traction surface.
A two-wheel-drive Laredo started $25,695, while the four-wheel-drive Limited stickered for $33,890. At the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the Grand Cherokee was crowned the 1999 North American Truck of the Year by a panel of journalists.
No midsize SUV rode more comfortably, in the estimation of Consumer Guide staffers, noting that the revised suspension "handles all but the worst potholes with aplomb." The new V-8 was declared far smoother than its predecessor.
Find out more reactions to the 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee, as well as the 1999 Jeep Wrangler, on the next page.
For more information on Jeeps, see:
- History of Jeep
- Consumer Guide New Jeep Prices and Reviews
- Consumer Guide Used Jeep Prices and Reviews