The word “ultimate” is a pretty powerful word and a description that is subject to interpretation. The ultimate Grand Cherokee in this article will be the result of over a year of research and planning plus my 30 years experience owning and building Jeeps.[Not a valid template]
The plan was simple. Our Grand Cherokee had to be affordable to the average family, a vehicle that could be used as an all purpose daily driver but also capable and confident on overland adventures. A Jeep that one could build in stages as time and money allows.
We debated which Grand Cherokee should be our base vehicle. The 1st Generation Grand Cherokee was chosen. The ZJ, as it is referred to, is plentiful and easy to find and the best feature of all is price. You can find a nice used ZJ for $3000 to $5000 dollars. Another advantage includes lower cost to register and insure. We narrowed our choice to the 1996-1998 ZJ which had benefited from technology and subtle styling enhancements over the 93-95 models. The 96-98 model year range would give us a better chance of finding a lower mileage one in good condition, making it a reliable Jeep for years to come. But how did we decide on which ZJ to buy? From our wish list we looked at items of importance such as gas mileage, power, comfort, color and trim levels.
At first the thought was that fuel economy should be the determining factor. After all, overland travel could lead to several days between civilization and gas stations. But in looking at EPA ratings of a 6-cylinder model over the V8, the differences were not that great. There are occasions where torque and HP can be beneficial and there have been a number of times I wished that even my TJ had a V8. In the end, the V8 became part of the shopping list.
Comfort was a consideration as well. Over the past four years I have heard people say numerous times, “My wife would love to come along but the Jeep is too small or just uncomfortable.” The Grand Cherokee will certainly take care of the problem of too small. While the base trim level Laredo could easily make an awesome ride for some, this is the “Ultimate ZJ” and our choice will be a Jeep with the Limited option. This will take care of all the creature comforts one could ask for. Besides, leather is easier to clean than cloth and with proper care lasts longer and is less resistant to stains and tears. The Limited model, which enjoys a better resale value, was added to our shopping list.
Color for most is a matter of preference but for this project the logical choice was white. Over long distance desert adventures here in the southwest, white will reflect the heat keeping you cooler in the summer. White doesn’t show trail dust as much as darker colors and in normal driving doesn’t look dirty the day after the trip to the car wash. White is also much easier to see from the air by search and rescue than most any other factory color. An easy choice and another addition to our shopping list.