988 × 661
First generation Jeep Grand Cherokee

When customers hear terms like “next generation” and “reboot,” what comes to mind is a near total reimagining of the model in question. Often, this is true. The Jeep Compass, for example, evolved even in its short history to adapt to consumers’ desire for smaller, more capable crossovers. However, the Grand Cherokee, which has seen four generations since its release in 1993, has never been reimagined, but instead refined and perfected. At each stage the Jeep Grand Cherokee became more appealing to its specific audience, an awareness that has been reflected in steady sales for the model.

A Brief History of the Jeep Cherokee

The Grand Cherokee was not just born from the popular Jeep Cherokee of the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. It was meant to be its replacement, and so some background about the Cherokee is required to understand where its larger cousin got its start.

The Jeep Cherokee, which hit markets in 1974, marked an evolution from the popular station wagons of the time. Consumers wanted a family vehicle that was more rugged and capable, and that is exactly what the original Cherokee offered. The second generation, the Cherokee XJ, doubled down on those wishes by utilizing the unibody chassis, which made for an even sportier and more capable drive.

What makes the unibody chassis, which has been used in every generation of the Grand Cherokee, special is that its single-weld design allows for a much lighter vehicle without compromising on aspects like handling and safety. It essentially opened new possibilities for automakers entering the SUV segment.

The Grand Cherokee ZJ: Replacement for the Cherokee?

The Grand Cherokee was initially meant to be the third-generation issue of the Cherokee, released in 1993, but Jeep executives decided there was room for both models on the market. They were not alone in this decision, as most SUV-makers in the nineties offered or were planning to offer models in a range of sizes.

What sets the Grand Cherokee apart from the Cherokee? The two words that come to mind are size and comfort. Not content just to be a larger version, the Grand Cherokee in all but the base trim offered comforts like advanced climate control and diagnostics, as well as an entertainment system that was advanced for the time.

Of course, Jeep was not the only automaker whose SUV offerings grew larger during the nineties- many offered vehicles that directly rivaled the Grand Cherokee. Still, Jeep’s diverse lineup of SUV’s has always represented their ability not to fall behind in the race to capture the attention of American drivers.

The Grand Cherokee WJ: More of the Same

The 1999 issue of the Jeep Grand Cherokee was seen more as a reinforcement than a reboot, and the model continued to stress size and comfort, specifically in terms of the quality of the ride.

Toward the end of the six-year period in which the Grand Cherokee WJ dominated the SUV market, special editions like the Freedom, Columbia, and Overland editions helped the model to remain popular and exciting. These special editions offered unique wheels, interior and exterior patterns, and even comforts like a sunroof typically reserved for luxury vehicles.

The Grand Cherokee WV: Speed and Power

In 2005, the market for large vehicles was beginning to change. Many drivers wanted an SUV that felt more like a truck, and more rigid steering and suspension systems, along with more powerful engine options, helped to endear the WV to American drivers.

This overall shift was noticed not just in the vehicles from the period, but in promotional materials as well. Automakers, including Jeep, began toting the acceleration speeds and towing capacities of vehicles like the Grand Cherokee in ways that were unnoticed a decade earlier. A diesel version of the Jeep Grand Cherokee was even offered, which signifies the shift in focus from comfort and roominess to speed and power.

The Jeep Grand Cherokee WK2: Perfection

Much has been said about the “Gotta have it all” mentality of auto buyers in the most recent decade, and the 2011 reissue of the Jeep Grand Cherokee in the form of the WK2 underscores that mindset in the absolute. The previous model combined size and space with the feel of a truck, and the WK2 would add more competent handling and a dose of style to the mix, causing the fourth-generation Grand Cherokee to be the most awarded SUV of its time.

Each year SUV manufacturers are designing more rigid bodies in order to improve handling on paved roads, a change that is typically well received. Many of these manufacturers are simply following the example set by the WK2, whose rigid body and independent suspension caused it to take tighter, more confident turns than the earlier issues of the Grand Cherokee. The fourth generation WK2 also included a range of four-wheel drive modes and options, which made it more capable outside of the city.

While Jeep may have pioneered many of these more practical changes, the stylistic updates to the Grand Cherokee WK2 do seem to come out of the playbooks of their competitors. SUV’s look sleeker and more angular today, and that is because of modern, more efficient exterior design shapes that are growing in popularity. A comparison of just about any recent model with its predecessor causes these changes to become obvious, and that includes the sharp, angular fourth generation WK2.

500 × 315
Jeep Grand Cherokee WK2

In many ways, the Jeep Grand Cherokee is considered the gold standard for large, truck-like SUV’s. This isn’t by accident- Jeep continues to keep its ear to the ground to learn the needs of drivers in the market for SUV’s, and continues not only to meet those needs, but to meet them in new and exciting ways.

Categories: History