Jump inside the second generation Grand Cherokee and you'll find more luxury, thanks to greater headroom in the wider cabin. Legroom is also increased, though taller drivers may still complain of a lack of rearward seat travel. Remember too that, unlike many of its rivals, the Jeep doesn't have the option of a third row of seats.
Unlike the Discovery, it's not primarily aimed at the family market - which may explain the relative lack of oddment holders and storage cubbies around the cabin. Still, as far as equipment levels are concerned, you'll want for nothing with virtually everything you can imagine fitted to the leather-lined 4.0-litre petrol and 2.7-litre CRD diesel models, though the V8 betters them with a 10 CD autochanger and a power sunroof.
Jeep have also got around to putting fingertip controls for the excellent stereo on the steering wheel - or, more accurately, behind it. It's the final touch to a smartly styled display spoiled only by the imitation wood liberally placed around the dashboard.
It's the clever little touches that will stick longer in your mind, however. The infra-red rays that read your body temperature, then set the climate control to the correct level. The removable load platform that provides an ideal picnic base. The his-and-hers remote entry keys that memorise each driver's individual favourite settings for the seat, mirrors and radio. The electric rear tailgate glass that retracts so that you don't have to lift open the tailgate when you want to chuck in a bag full of sports gear.
As with any used 4x4, check for signs of heavy off road use. Few Grand Cherokees will have done much more than climb a grass verge but you can never be too careful. Oil leaks and worn rear shock absorbers have been known.
As you might expect for a car of American origin, parts are not particularly cheap. However, there is a well-established dealer network so it should be reasonably easy to track spares down. A clutch assembly is around £400. Front brakepads are around £40, a full exhaust about £700 (with the catalyst) and an alternator around £300.
All models feature decent performance, with the uprated 4.0-litre making rest to 60mph in 10.9s on the way to 117mph. If you like your speed, however, don't drive it after trying the potent V8 (8.3s and 122mph) which blasts past slower-moving traffic with all the assurance of a BMW 540i or an AMG Mercedes. There's a penalty to pay at the pumps, however, with a 13.6mpg urban return (or 18.1mpg on the EC combined test cycle). The 4.0-litre isn't much better. The diesel reaches 60 in 11s and goes on to 113mph; the 29.1mpg combined use consumption figure should bring a smile to your face when refuelling. If consumption concerns you, try the 2.7CRD diesel, an engine 20% more fuel efficient than the 3.1TD it replaced, averaging an impressive 29.1mpg. Shaving two and a half seconds from the 3.1TD's sprint to sixty, the Grand Cherokee CRD manages the benchmark in 11 seconds and can comfortably cruise at over 110mph where conditions permit. The five-speed automatic transmission will be familiar to those who own an E or M-Class Mercedes, so no complaints on that score then. The less said about the clattery 3.1TD the better.
These figures are comparable with the competition, however, and in most cases there you can't enjoy all the performance because the car's likely to be swaying through the corners like a Channel ferry on a choppy sea. This is an area in which the latest Grand Cherokee excels. Despite what the marketeers will tell you, it's hard to imagine that anyone would mistake it for a luxury saloon on anything but a motorway. Having said that, it's now probably best of breed in terms of the 4x4 market with rolls and wallow exceptionally well suppressed.
So then, we have a car perfectly suited to buyers looking to make the jump from standard saloon to off roader: a vehicle described by one magazine as ''more of an estate car on tiptoe than a fully-fledged 4WD off-roader.'' You can understand the sentiment but, in reality, statements like this do Jeep's engineers an injustice. No estate car could perform the kind of feats off road that the Grand Cherokee takes in its stride.
Much of this raw ability comes courtesy of Quadra-Drive, a 4WD system that drives the car forward even if only one wheel has grip. The importers fit it as standard on all UK Grand Cherokees and having tried it, I can understand why. Tough off road sections that would have rivals sliding and scrabbling are performed without drama in the Jeep. It's only when you get out afterwards that you realise what has been achieved.
Although the second generation Grand Cherokee is a good deal plusher than its predecessor, the competition took a huge swing upmarket, effectively demoting the Jeep from a Range Rover rival to a Discovery challenger. From being in a class of two, the Grand Cherokee suddenly found itself flailing in a market where many rivals were offering similar propositions. Visit the training ground of a Premiership football club in 1997 and it would have been awash with Grand Cherokees. These days it's more likely to be BMW X5s and Lincoln Navigators that sit cheek by jowl with the usual Ferraris and Porsches. Whilst you'll no longer be the apex predator in the 4x4 pool, at least this means that used, low-mileage Grand Cherokees are an affordable way to land an excellent luxury sports utility vehicle. Bargains are rare in this sector, but this could be one of them.