So the all-new "ZJ"-brand Jeep Grand Cherokee sport/utility is finally among us. Surveillance pictures of this thing began circulating so long ago that only Liz Taylor has been on more news pages. Elephants carry their babies to term quicker than this. It looks, however, like the wait has been fruitful. Jeep's long-awaited upscale and highly equipped Grand Cherokee will be more expensive than the XJ Cherokee whose muscular ranks it joins (the old truck stays in production for now), and at first glance, you may not be able, to see where the money is. Unless it's side-by-side with an XJ, the magnitude of the ZJ's change is far from apparent. The best improvements are observed from behind the wheel on- and off-road -- where it's clear the Grand Cherokee is again a top dog.
Give Ford its due -- the Explorer has pushed the sport/utility envelope until it burst. A new grade of ground-pounder, defined by the Explorer and now the Grand Cherokee, emerged from the other side. More than ever, these trucks are hybrid vehic1es blending the aptitude of a classic 4x4 with the comfort and ride quality of a passenger car. This is certainly the case with the Grand Cherokee. Where the XJ Cherokee had crisply folded origami sheetmetal corners, the ZJ Grand Cherokee has smoothly contoured edges. Where the XJ had a bewildering five-model range with a weak 130-horsepower four-cylinder base engine, the ZJ has but three models (a fourth will be added later) with one engine, which, at 190 horsepower is the right one (a 230-horsepower 5.2-liter V-8 is in the works.). Where the XJ had rough-and-tumble on-road ride quality, the ZJ is comfortable on-road or off. The XJ Cherokee was the benchmark sport/utility when it debuted in 1984. The ZJ Grand Cherokee further refines the concept into its next logical phase. Whether it torpedoes the Explorer awaits a comparison test, but it out-classes the XJ Cherokee in every way.