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2003 Midsize SUV Buyer's Guide
by Steve Siler

Jeep Grand Cherokee
Jeep Grand Cherokee

If there is one company that knows about going off-road, it's Jeep. And its 2003 Grand Cherokee is a fine example of all it has learned about the properties of dirt since it first started making off-roaders in the Forties. With its any of its three well-bred four-wheel drive systems and generous ground clearance, the Grand Cherokee can pretty much guarantee that you'll get through the thick stuff with little problem.

Now how about the on-road experience? Well, in truth, it doesn't get down the road quite as well as some of its peers, particularly the car-based SUVs that are becoming more and more prominent these days. Its bumpy ride quality and somewhat heavy feel don't inspire a whole lotta cornering confidence, and as for fuel economy, well, let's not go there (although curiously, the optional, powerful V-8s don't guzzle much more gas than the standard V-6).

That said, many people have owned Grand Cherokees and come back for more. Can it be that there is some cache in owning an SUV built by one of the world's most credentialed off-road brands? There certainly is. The GC is also handsomely styled, with proportions and features that look as good today as when we first met this version back in '99 (can it be that long?). Prices start in the upper $20K range for a V-6 Laredo, which comes standard with such niceties as a CD player, a/c, ABS brakes and a full-size spare. The Limited adds lots of luxury extras, rising in price accordingly into the mid Thirties. The top-shelf model is the Overland, which is very comfy, with its leather/suede seats, luscious wood trim and 260-hp V-8.

Best part is that the older the design, the more willing dealers are to make concessions to get you into one. So, given how competitive the SUV scene has become, don't think that the sticker price is what you're gonna pay-you may end up with an irresistible SUV deal that you may not be able to match at the Honda or Toyota dealer. Just a thought.