During our three days in hell, we decided the three best things about the Grand Cherokee are its:

1. Nimble size: At just over 15 feet long, just under 6 feet tall, and with a curb weight of "just" 4050 pounds, the Jeep is very easy to maneuver on or off the road; it's also a snap to park and will fit in virtually any garage. Plus, with the optional towing package, you can trailer up to 6500 pounds. Overall, it's the sportiest sport/ute of all. (However the low-speed suspension calibration still allows too much on-road rocking motion for our tastes.)

2. Great V-8 and 4x4 system: Although Jeep's tried-and-true 4.0-liter/195-horsepower OHV inline six remains in the lineup, we heartily recommend opting for the new high-tech 4.7-liter SOHC V-8. Producing a heady 235 horses and 295 pound-feet of torque both at 4800 rpm, this smooth and great sounding powerplant (backed by a four-speed overdrive automatic) really makes the Grand Cherokee fun to drive. Its stout low-rpm torque combines with the relatively short 3.73:1 gearing (and 4WD grip) to deliver a neck-snapping wallop of acceleration from a standing start. Its 0-30-mph time of 2.3 seconds rivals that of many all-out performance cars, and even its 7.2-second 0-60-mph time puts it at the head of the SUV class. Combined with the sure-footed traction of its Quadra-Drive II full-time 4WD system (controls wheelspin with progressive speed-sensing torque transfer differentials front, center, and rear, rather than via brake-application intervention, such as on the Mercedes), the Jeep was a master at rock crawling, where one or more wheels may be off the ground at a time. From gooey mud to soft sand dunes, we never found a surface it couldn't handle. (And all this while wearing tires more suited to a Lexus LS 400.)

3. Luxury: Jeep offers the Grand Cherokee in seven-passenger configuration, but the vehicle is really better suited for use by four (or occasionally five) humans. The new design delivers a welcome 3-inch increase in rear hiproom and an additional 1.2 cubic feet of cargo space, over the previous-generation, but this is still not a huge interior. The front buckets are soothingly soft as you first sit, but proved weak on long-haul (as well as off-road) support. Welcome features include steering-wheel-mounted radio and cruise controls, dual-zone heater/AC system, and high-performance sound system.

But one of the Grand Cherokee's best features is completely unappreciated as you climb a craggy ridge. At its base price of $33,890, the top-drawer Jeep is also quite a value. Which will obviously give you more to spend at the mall.

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