Time's up. We gave last year's 4x4 of the Year winner a full year to solidify or dissolve our beliefs about the winning vehicle. This was enough time for us to clock about 18,000 miles on the vehicle, ranging from freeway to fire roads to off-roading trips. We also used it for the full variety of commuting, family outings, towing, and cross-country blasts. So we think we got a pretty firm grasp on how the vehicle would hold up in the typical five to seven year ownership of new trucks.
Last year's winner and the object of our past 12 months of use and abuse was the '99 Grand Cherokee Limited. Most of the likes and dislikes we found during the competition were only magnified during our year behind the wheel.
We'll start with the drivetrain. The 4.7L V-8 is awesome for zipping through traffic and pulling holeshots on unsuspecting commuters. The engine's power is right on the money for city streets as well as blasting through sand dunes. Combined with a suspension that provides luxury-like ride on pavement, decent handling in the corners, and great flex and control off-road, the total engine and suspension package hits the spot.
We've often referred to the '99 Grand as a sports car with low range. However, the ear-to-ear grin generated by all that horsepower faded once a trailer and significant weight on the trailer were hitched to the back of the Jeep. We thought that we were spoiled by big trucks with large displacement engines, but back-to-back testing confirmed that the '98's 5.9L Limited Grand Cherokee towed our toys far better than the '99. Don't get us wrong-the '99 still has enough power to maintain 45 mph up the nastiest hill, and just enough brakes to keep a heavy load under control, but it just doesn't measure up to its predecessor in the engine-torque department.
Throw off the trailer and head for any terrain, and the smile returns. The Quadradrive (Quadra-Trac II transfer case and axle traction systems) was new for the '99. We have heard complaints from readers about the system not working properly, but we suspect much of that may stem from not completely understanding how the components work.
With the Quadradrive, there are G-rotor pumps in the transfer case and front and rear axles. When one output (front or rear driveshafts for the 'case, left or right axleshafts for the axles) spins quicker than the other, the pump is activated. The pressure built by the pump is applied to clutches, locking the two outputs together. This requires a little bit of wheel speed, but it engages smoothly and can be used in conjunction with modulating the brakes.
During our long-term test, we did find that the system still isn't as good as true lockers and you can reach a point where the Jeep just won't pull itself up or over extreme situations, but it handled 90 percent of the predicaments we threw it into.
The 45RFE automatic transmission held up to our aggressive driving and towing. It is well tuned as is evidenced by the fact that no one noticed its shift points or quality. It consistently tossed you the correct gear for the hill and throttle position you put in front of it. The one complaint we could find with the tranny was that it would take a few seconds to slide into gear the first time it was engaged in the morning. The Dana 44 noise that the previous Grand Cherokees have become known for was back in our year-long test vehicle.
On the inside, the comfort level was never complained about, nor was the legroom, cargo space, or the quality of the stereo. The interior panels stayed in place and held up far better than last year's Grand. The location of the shifters didn't bother us nearly as much as we had expected, but the emergency brake did prove awkward to engage and disengage because of lever position. We dug having generous storage pockets, bins, and indentations throughout the interior.