In Limited trim, the Jeep Grand Cherokee represents the best of what SUVs were in the 1990s. This decade, a sweet spot for SUVs, was a time between the watered-down vehicles following and the elemental vehicles of prior years. 1994, the year of the featured Grand Cherokee, was also a year in which the last vestiges of traditional American luxury still had influence in automotive design. Enter the pillow topped tan seats, gold-trimmed lattice wheels, gold emblems, and fake plastic wood of the Limited. The first generation (ZJ) Grand Cherokee arose from the AMC era with the Concept 1 of 1989, but unlike the XJ Cherokee, reeks of design principles defining the contemporary Chrysler. Those surprisingly stiff, yet luscious-looking leather seats look at home in any puffed-up K-based Fifth-Avenue. The overhead console, with its green dot-matrix computer, looks like nothing but Chrysler.
What made the ZJ great was the dimension of substance in combination of its fanciful accoutrements. It had two coil-sprung solid axles and, of course, the soulful and stout 4.0 liter inline-six. The powertrain was longitudinal, as it should be in an SUV, and transfer cases offered low range gearing. It had a Uniframe design, common to all closed Jeep SUVs in the 80’s and 90’s, that unified the frame and body into a single structure.
The exterior is, in essence, an XJ Cherokee of larger dimensions with more concave sides and rounder edges. Square headlights and taillights have a stacked look to them, but are flush and smooth with the tidy body. The Limited in particular has prominent gold colored strips on the monochromatic bumpers and ribbed cladding; who can’t love a little bit of flash. The interior is posh with the squishy flat seats but unlike many classic SUVs, has appreciably spacious and efficiently designed accommodations. The gold theme continues with a 120 watt Infinity Gold stereo.
Nearly everything was perfect about this pure white ’94 ZJ. The paint, often peeling down to the bare metal on these, shown dazzlingly bright against the cold drizzle. Doors shut tightly and easily; aside from some cracked leather, it was free of the buy here pay here aura of impending death by neglect. But unfortunately, being a ’94, the engine spins a dubious Chrysler four-speed as opposed to the rock-solid AW-4 four-speed in 1993. At over 180 thousand miles, it could have only so much life left. But this perfect example of what is, on paper, the perfect SUV has a fresh transmission ready for the years and miles to come.