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Old 02-25-2008, 01:51 AM   #1 (permalink)
Depends on the Day
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Arrow Off-Road Test: '08 Jeep Grand Cherokee (Rally Race)

As you may know, I’m a huge Rally racing enthusiast. See Rally America for more details…

There comes a time in any Hypermiler’s life that a larger vehicle is required for the task at hand. I happen to take the philosophy that if you require a small vehicle in everyday life, then that’s what should be driven. When there comes time to move large items, transport many passengers, or require off-road capabilities, there are a slew of rental agencies to get you that vehicle.

In the meantime, you’re saving more than a truckload of cash (for a variety of reasons from cost to insurance). Emissions, road safety, fuel consumption, and drivability are among the other items on the plus-side. I’ve done this for the last 7 years, and it works beautifully.

This brief examination is for off-road and utility capabilities (I guess the “Sport” and “Utility” in SUV)… I was pleasantly surprised with the result

2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo 4X4.
3.7L V-6 rated at 210 hp and 235 lb-ft torque.
Transmission/Drivetrain: Quadra-Drive I (Automatic/Full-Time four-wheel drive without a low-range gearbox).
Purpose: 2008, 100-Acre Wood Rally Medic/Response and Communications Vehicle.
Requirements: Ability to carry supplies (including a 7-foot backboard and full-compliment of supplies and radio equipment); potentially traverse off-road conditions.

At the start line: Rally Stage Lineup -- Car 199 (Pastrana/Ringer) passes the usual group: Medical Sweep Vehicle, Heavy Sweep, and Ambulance.

Essentially, the Med-Sweep is quickly dispatched if a vehicle goes off-road / crashes and displays the “Red-Cross” or is unconfirmed of status by spectators, marshals, or drivers. The Heavy Sweep follows and is equipped to help right a vehicle ‘shiny side up’, pull it from off-road, or onto a trailer if undriveable. The Ambulance responds as quickly as possible considering road conditions – the Med Sweep prepares the patient for transport, assessment, or or treatment for life-threatening emergencies (also to aid in spectator issues and cold-weather emergencies). Thankfully, no injuries or responses this year!

I chose the Grand Cherokee, essentially from my own experiences with the Jeep brand. A Commander and Wrangler were also available, but for the task, the JGC seemed the proper size. Ground clearance and off-road capability is top-notch. At the same time, creature comforts like heated seats, a trip computer, and Sirius Satellite Radio made it a comfortable sanctuary. In addition, 3 power points, and an on-board inverter made powering radio equipment a breeze with no blown fuses this year! The Liberty is also capable (last year’s vehicle), but don’t be fooled by the Compass and Patriot -- they’re city vehicles any nothing more.

On-road manners are actually quite good. It doesn’t at all feel top-heavy. Braking is decent and acceleration from the base engine is quite good. Power pulls up to the gracious redline. Emergency braking is SUV-like – however, stability control handles the squirms.

Off-road is true "Jeep". The disadvantage to this model is the lack of a 4-low transfer case. For reference, I parked a too far off the side of the road and, well, sunk up to the axles. With instruction from the Jeep club (and the electronic 4-wheel drive system), I was able to get out without a tow (ironically, a the Wrangler pictured is adapted for off-roading and became stuck near the same place and needed a tug – likely my fault for helping the County Engineer with road drainage ). One big complaint: no tow hooks on the JGC Laredo. To make it quick, a Chevy truck aided in the tow (so much for bringing the tow strap and equipment).

The minimum amount of mud a Jeep should have…

...and what caused it

The course was quite snow covered and traction was variable. The Jeep performed excellently, and safely. While others were getting stuck on icy hills, the ‘Grand’ climbed them with ease. “ESP” kept the nose pointed the right direction. Cargo room out back is diminished with the spare tire and fuel tank, yet adequate with the seats folded.

Interior complaints: The dash protruded too far for knee comfort up front. In back, room was also lacking. For both passengers, 6-way power seats with lumbar adjustment were onboard. I prefer to sit lower, but the height of the seat would go practically to the roof, but not downward.

The Downside: I don’t see myself driving this vehicle everyday. Although maneuverability was good, everyday tasks would appear to take on extra effort. The ride is quite abrupt and unnerving over uneven road surfaces. It guzzles fuel in situations where a smaller vehicle would suffice. The transmission tunnel makes legroom for the driver painfully diminished into a triangle-shaped backache waiting to happen. To each their own, but getting back in my into my own car felt right. For your everyday vehicle, consider your priorities and consider other options.

FE: Well, not a strong point. ~20 MPG was the cycle average (EPA = 15/19). I would say all-around a good choice for the task at hand. The V-6 had plenty of power and torque to transport the vehicle and cargo at the range of speeds and conditions. A 6-cylinder Diesel will soon be available (which meets the latest, more stringent emissions standards, and likely more efficient and torquey). Other V-8 models are available, but frankly not necessary. Despite the loss of the great, durable, AMC 4.0L Inline-6, the new Daimler-Chrysler leftover did the job well.

2006, 2007, 2008 Medical Sweep: 100 Acre Wood Rally

If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be called research ― Albert Einstein

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