1997 Model Review

Apr. 01, 2002 By Gerald Luiz
I was quite excited to drive with the new turbo diesel engine. With 45 more lbs-ft of torque from last years turbo diesel, I was expecting some peppier performance. Well I wasn't disappointed. In the wagon I drove, I felt it picked up off the line much nicer than the 96 model. If you read my review of the 96 models, I was not impressed by the 96 turbo. Even with a 95 lbs-ft increase from the non-turbo, it just didn't feel like it.

The turbo spools up nicely, making a sweet whistling noise. Power is quite even but that is not unexpected in a turbo diesel. It seemed to breathe nicely up the rpms with only a slight feeling of strain unlike the non-turbos. Around town it kicked down smoothly and had plenty of power considering it was pushing around an 8000 lbs vehicle.

On the highway it also performed excellent. It had plenty of power left at 65 to overtake traffic. It exhibited that smooth pull only a large cubic inch motor can provide. I did not get a chance to run up a long grade, but I am sure that is where the power would really be nice. On the rolling terrain it felt just fine. Like the previous years, after about 60 it is hard to get the motor to downshift to 3rd which can be frustrating.

AM General really seemed to do a good job with the new sound insulation package. I always found diesel wagons to be a little reverberating but the 97 was very nice. At all speeds the motor was just a low rumble. Other noises seemed to be attenuated also. The coating in the front fenders seems to work well, along with the new headliner.

Handling felt the same. I still don't like the accelerator pedal. The drive by wire electronic throttle still gets me. It seems to lack the sensitivity when starting and at light application. People tell me that they adjust quickly.

The controls and instruments felt the same as the 96 models. The new seats I found very comfortable and I like the new cloth and leatherette. I did notice the flow though ventilation to be better especially at highway speeds. The scoop increases the volume of fresh air. With the AC on, it seemed to not cool as much which makes sense with the higher air volume but it was adequate for the 90 degree weather. In recirculate mode it got quite nippy in a reasonable amount of time.

What I don't like is the new black treatment in the engine compartment and the hood grill. It seems that they must paint the body underside black first, then they mask off and spray the rest. The transition on the firewall between the black and body color was a ragged line. You could feel the step to the body paint over the black. I think it will peel in no time. The black hood grill is ok but I really don't see why it needs to stand out.

Overall the 97s are quite a refinement from the older years. While you will never confuse it with a Toyota Land Cruiser, it is beginning to feel more like an SUV (gasp!). However, they have not sacrificed anything in the off-road performance side, just improved the on road performance.

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