Jeep Grand Cherokee

LaredoSport Utility Veteran

The Jeep Grand Cherokee is the grand dame of the SUV world, blending luxurious accommodations with space-efficient unibody construction. The Grand Cherokee Laredo we tested has a smooth 235-hp, V-8 engine and a five-speed automatic transmission. Its Up Country suspension package includes skid plates, heavy-duty coil springs, and Goodyear 70-series All Terrain radial tires. A Quadra-Trac II transfer case offers three drive modes-full-time, four-wheel drive for daily use, low-range for hard-core off-roading, and neutral for hitching behind an RV.

The Laredo boasts a substantial 6,500-pound tow rating. Rigid axles carry both ends of the vehicle, so there's no fear of tires pointing in unbecoming directions when hefty loads are carried. Neither the 2,500-pound boat nor the waterbike we pulled was a burden. Even without using the low-range gear, the Laredo climbed the launch ramp without hesitation and, with the boat in tow, it hustled to 60 mph in 13.2 seconds.

However, stopping performance was less impressive. Halting the Laredo, boat, and trailer from 60 mph required 254 feet-more than 100 feet beyond the distance we measured bareback. And when the brake pedal is stabbed in a panic stop, the nose dips, the tail rises, and the middle of the rig squirms in a futile search for stability-a disconcerting response, particularly in an emergency.

Some manufacturers cram an uncomfortable third-row seat in midsize SUVs, but Jeep hasn't, so there's ample room for gear behind the rear seats, which fold to accommodate extra-bulky loads. Adjustable pedals, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and side-curtain air bags are great updates from prior models. The Laredo may be the starting point in the Grand Cherokee catalog, but a wealth of options-including leather seats, a navigation system, and a six-speaker CD sound system-elevate it to a lofty plane.

LAST WORD. No longer the most up-to-date SUV, the Grand Cherokee Laredo is still a viable vacation machine.