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In January of this year -- specifically on my birthday -- I acquired a rather well-preserved white '98 Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited V8 with roughly 136,000 miles.
I'll spare you the time and effort I spent getting it and instead answer the question you may likely be asking yourself. Does she still purr?
Yes, but I would no longer call it a "purr". It's more of a "Get off my lawn, you damn kids or I'm calling the cops!"
You know how they say, "the older you are, the angrier you get"? Apparently it's true. I like it!
What's a '98 Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.9L V8?
Oh, you know what it is. Do I really need to repeat what everyone else has many times before?
That it is the grandfather of the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8?
That it has (had) 345 foot pounds of torque from a Dodge magnum V8?
That it has been clocked in from 0 to 60 at 6.7 seconds?
That only roughly 14,000 were made in just 1998? Surely fewer now, especially thanks to the well-intended, but poorly executed Cash for Clunkers government program.
No, I don't need to say all of that because I, well -- just did. Crap!
What's it like driving a '98 Grand Cherokee 5.9L in 2019?
It's different, for sure. With all of the soft crossovers flooding the streets these days, I feel like an adult at a 2019 Backstreet Boys concert. They performed recently, right? I'm not a fan -- just making a point.
It truly is driving a time capsule from the '90s.
From it's slightly tilted, but iron-flat dashboard with an obtrusive overhang, to its spare tire -- full size, might I add -- resting every so kindly and on full display in the "wayback" for you, all of your passengers, and the people tailgating you, to see.
In fact, you could think of the spare tire as one of your own children. If ever while driving you just need to see how she's doing, simply peek into the rear view mirror and you'll clearly see that round and well-inflated smile.
Even 20+ years later, I find that the 5.9's acceleration is highly adequate for passing others or merging onto the highway.
A couple years ago, I had a 2011 WK2 with the 5.7 HEMI for a short period of time. The HEMI moved the WK2, but not like the 5.9 does the ZJ.
When you floor the HEMI, there is the expected strong pull that gets you going, but it doesn't last long due to the extra gears in the transmission that want to shift as early as possible to save gas.
The 5.9 is different. When you floor it, you are pushed much further back into the seats. In fact, I'm sometimes hesitant to do so for fear of breaking the support-lacking, miserable excuse for bucket seats.
Not only does the 5.9 V8 give you hell when the pedal is to the floor, unlike the HEMI, the pressure of being pushed back into the seats doesn't let up. It can be pretty intimidating, even if you're prepared for the yank.
What's wrong with her?
Being a 20+ year old Jeep, there are sure to be things about her that have broken, fallen off, or simply rusted. But as an owner of a 5.9L, I feel it's my duty to take extra special care of this precious gem and rarity in the Jeep community.
One of the big concerns with the ZJs were their automatic transmissions, which were known for having issues.
In fact, before I purchased this 5.9L, I was looking at a black 5.9L that had some very apparent problems, including an issue with the solenoid in the transmission.
Purchasing this 5.9L was taking a $2,000 gamble (transmission repair cost) on top of the respected $2,000 asking price for the great condition this Jeep was in.
Sure, she shifted a bit hard at times, but there were no active or cleared transmission codes and the owner kept the service records, of which I went through and didn't find the word "transmission" once.
Costly powertrain aside, there was a leaking lower transmission cooler line, a ruptured and leaking auto-dim driver side mirror, and the leather on the steering wheel was mutilated.
The cigarette lighter was missing, which I assumed was part of the previous owner's attempt to upgrade the Jeep and give it a more 2019 feel.
Screws were missing from the interior door panels, dashboard, driver side sun visor, and the I'm-still-not-convinced-they're-stock "wayback" infinity ceiling speakers.
After reading through the Jeep's service records, I found the headliner was replaced at one point, which explained all of the missing screws, but not the laziness of the person who didn't put them back.
And of course, the VIC's "COOLANT SENSOR BAD" indicator is working just fine.
Much of these items I have restored, fixed, and replaced, but I still need to tackle the power seats, some rust on the exterior, a failing sun roof cloth, a front Jeep logo that has seen better days, and some new, less yellow headlights
Since she is such a special and rare Jeep, I plan on keeping her as stock as much as possible. However, I really would love to paint the rims and grill black.
Here's my poorly photoshopped vision of this modification:
What's to love & hate about it?
It's a Jeep with solid front and rear axles, and a great low-end torque engine. Need I say anymore? I will.
The ride is very smooth, even before I replaced all 4 shocks with all new Bilstein's. Having said that, I never understood why Jeep replaced the solid axles with independent components.
Did the Grand Cherokee need better steering? Lighter and less components to meet government fuel economy standards? All of the above? It has to be, because my girlfriend loves how the Jeep just eats pot holes and other low-funded government road work with ease compared to her 2013 Honda Fit.
I will say that as much as the Grand Cherokee has evolved from 1993 to 2019, the one thing that remains the same is that it is truly a couch on wheels, no matter the generation.
The one thing that drives me nuts are the seats. No, I'm not talking about their struggling ability to move with the push of a button. Honestly, I despise power seats -- just give me a lever (so much quicker).
The bucket seats are just tiny. So much so, that moving the headrest to its recommended height to best counteract whiplash removes them from their sliding tracks.
I don't like to lean too far back while driving, but the back rest seems to stop prematurely; still can't figure out if this is the stock position or the seat motor is having a temper tantrum.
I postulated if the seat's back rest came any more forward, my head would be touching the roof, so I'm thinking it's a stock position.
One of the reasons I swapped the TJ for this ZJ is room. I'm sure you haven't heard that before.
I didn't realize how much room this simply box shaped '90s Jeep had until my brother, who drives an XJ, noted how much bigger and roomy the interior was compared to his XJ.
For me, I foolishly thought all boxy Jeeps from the '90's were roughly the same interior size. The use of the word "Grand" in front of "Cherokee" makes sense now.
The practical joys of this Jeep aside, there is a nostalgic component I wanted to tap. I can remember being a child, the "wayback" was where we spent most of our time in the ZJ our family had at the time.
Obviously the driver was in the driver's seat driving. My siblings and I, I should have said.
Also, as a child, I never got to appreciate the Jeep ZJ outside of my mechanically limited child brain's motto "It's a Jeep and will go anywhere". Honestly, I thought that was cool enough.
Can anyone explain how the 4 wheel drive system works?
This Jeep comes with Quadra Trac 1 and I'm not 100% sure how the transfer case works.
The transfer case lever has 3 options: 4 High, Neutral, and 4 Low. Having a TJ, I know what these mean -- on a TJ -- but there has to be something more to them since the word "Grand" is used in front of "Wrangler".
From my research, Jeep had 2 Quadra Trac 1 systems at different points during their existence and any information I find on Quadra Trac 1 describes the one my Jeep doesn't have.
The owner's manual (yes, it still has it) wasn't any help, YouTube commentators seem to invent 4 wheel drive systems of their own in the comment section (no tools needed), but one website -- which wields a similar '90s design to my ZJ -- made the most sense in describing how the 4 wheel drive system works.
I have to find that site, but they mentioned that while in 4 High, the transfer case will send 100% of the torque to the rear wheels. When slippage is detected in the front, the transfer case variably splits the torque between the front and rear wheels to increase traction (no side to side transferring).
Neutral is neutral.
4 Low works in a similar way (if not the exact way) to the TJ. The center differential is locked with an even 50/50 distribution of torque between the front and rear wheels, complemented by an increased gear ratio for greater low-end torque.
If you know how Quadra Trac 1 works in a 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited, I'm all ears.
How does she compare to the WJ, WK, & WK2?
I've spent plenty of time with the ZJ, WJ, WK, & WK2 as my daily drivers throughout my Jeep life.
My first Grand Cherokee was a 2002 black Laredo WJ (my parents also had one before I owned). I really enjoyed the WJ and took it off road quite often in my high school days.
The Select Trac 4 wheel drive system always made me feel in control, with its many different types of 4 wheel drive depending on your mood.
The WJ is really just a ZJ 2.0. One of these upgrades includes a stronger unibody compared to the ZJ. It also got a cabin filter, if I remember correctly.
Yes, the ZJ has no cabin filter.
I love the WJ, and honestly, it really is my favorite Grand Cherokee generation. That styling! I always like to say the exterior designers of the WJ simply stuck a straw in a ZJ and blew.
From the WJ, I graduated to a 2006 black WK Laredo, the first Grand Cherokee generation with an independent suspension in just the front. On the fence much? It's not a truck, so clearly there was some hesitation in going completely independent on the suspension.
The handling on the WK was very precise and responsive thanks to its independent front suspension. Turning the steering wheel in a ZJ or WJ comparably will result in just a slight nudge in the vehicle itself as opposed to its direction.
The WK had the ZJ and WJ beat with not only handling, but also computers.
I can specifically remember a time driving the WK through deep snow. To not get stuck, my experience off-roading told me to maintain momentum and slightly move the Jeep from side to side to bite new snow, to which the computer sensors in the tires did not approve.
As I pushed the accelerator down to maintain momentum, the wheels detected some slippage and began to automatically brake.
If you happened to drive parallel to me while this event was unfolding, you'd now know that what you saw was a man yelling at his Jeep to keep moving even though it didn't want to.
Not the greatest algorithm for a wheel drive system. The ZJ and WJ were great because they lacked 4 wheel drive systems that competed with stability control systems. You were in near-complete control.
Also, I wasn't the biggest fan of the WK's dismal ground clearance, of which snagged many times. The removable front air dam was nice for the increased approach angle.
A removable electronic stability control system would have been great for increased traction, ironically.
Lastly, we come to my 2011 silver WK2 Limited Altitude Edition, which was a part of my life for a very short period of time. I must first say that Jeep hit this one out of the park in terms of style. Wow, what a f**kin' good lookin' Jeep!
The WK2 was the first generation Grand Cherokee to feature an all independent suspension. Not cool, Jeep, but at least you've made up your mind.
As I drove it, it was really hard for me to figure out if what in fact I was driving was a Jeep. It was such a nice vehicle.
It came with the Select-Terrain knob, which changes how the 4 wheel drive system works depending on the road conditions. Simple enough. If THAT was too much work, you could just leave it in "AUTO" and the computer will figure it out for you.
I think computers are great for telling you that there is an EVAP system leak, but collaterally have found much of the joy in driving a Jeep off road is removed with them.
I hear the engine of the new Wrangler JL shuts off if the door is opened. What the hell is that about?!
The 5.9L's Legacy, With me
It's a real honor to drive a well-preserved 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited V8 in 2019.
I do get looks in the Jeep, but only from people who know that what I'm driving is so much more than just a first generation Grand Cherokee. It's the ultimate sleeper.
In the 3 months that I've had it, I've only seen one other 5.9. This rare occurrence caught me by such surprise, that when I saw this other 5.9, I thought someone had stolen mine.
I absolutely love starting this thing up. When I turn that key, there is such a satisfaction to hear it growl. I'm no racer, but I'd be lying if I said the Jeep doesn't always make me want to tear up the road.
She now has around 137,000 miles (I don't drive much), which isn't young, but not entirely old. She'll be getting the best care and maintenance possible to keep her growling like the tiger she is.
Keep an eye out for post updates on my 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited V8!
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