Jeep Grand Cherokee top of SUV heap

Farm Forum

Though smaller than it was at its peak, the premium sport utility vehicle segment is far from small. Jeep has deep roots in this market with a connection that stretches all the way back to the first Grand Cherokee, which rolled out in model-year 1993.

Grand Cherokee is still at the top of Jeep’s lineup today. In addition to the hot rod SRT edition ($63,995), Grand Cherokee is available in four models for 2014, as well as a new, range-topping Summit edition. The lineup includes Laredo, Laredo E, Limited, Overland, and the new-for-2014 Summit. Grand Cherokee prices range from $29,195 to $51,195.

Most notably new for 2014 are the powertrain pairings. An eight-speed automatic transmission is now standard on all Grand Cherokee models. It pays dividends in both engine responsiveness and fuel economy. In addition, a diesel engine option is newly available.

The 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6 joins the standard-equipped 3.6-liter V-6 and available 5.7-liter Hemi V-8. The Pentastar V-6 delivers 290 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque. The Hemi V-8 boasts 360 horsepower and 390 lb.-ft. of torque.

The new EcoDiesel shows the cross-cultural influences in today’s Chrysler corporation. It’s built by VM Motori Cento: an Italian company partially owned by Fiat, which has been providing diesels for European market Chrysler products for years.

The turbocharged diesel engine is rated at 240 horsepower and 420 lb.-ft. of torque at 2,000 rpm. Bundled with an 800-amp battery and heavy-duty, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, the EcoDiesel engine is a $4,500 option on Limited, Overland, or Summit models.

My tester was an Overland EcoDiesel 4×4, priced at $53,685. Behind the wheel, the diesel demonstrates reasonable acceleration — in the low-8-second range from 0-to-60 mph — which trails the Hemi, as well as much of the Jeep’s diesel competition. However, power flow is smooth and even, and the diesel is quiet at speed.

EPA fuel economy estimates for the turbodiesel are 21 city/28 highway (4×4), 22/30 (4×2). I logged 22 mpg combined in a week behind the wheel, which was 2 mpg below EPA’s combined average for the 4×4 model. The Grand Cherokee diesel promises a cruising range of over 700 miles.

The diesel’s forte is abundant torque, which benefits those who off-road or tow. The EcoDiesel is rated to tow 7,200 pounds (4×4), and 7,400 pounds (4×2) — identical to the Hemi V-8.

Trail riders will take note of the Grand Cherokee’s angles of approach/breakover/departure, which are 26.3/19.0/24.0 degrees respectively. With the available air suspension (and the front air dam removed), those angles increase to an impressive 36.1/22.8/27.1 degrees. Ground clearance is 8.6 inches on standard steel springs and 10.4 inches with air suspension. Crawl ratio has been improved to 44.1:1 for the 2014 model year.

Three 4×4 systems are available: The most advanced is the Quadra-Lift air suspension system, which is optional on Limited models and standard on Overland and Summit. The system can operate automatically, or drivers can select from five height settings, via console-mounted dial. In addition to a normal ride height, there are two off-road modes, and a park setting for easy ingress/egress. Finally, an aero mode drops the ride height at speed, to improve stability and fuel economy.

Overland models present nicely inside, with real wood trim and a cut-and-sewn leather instrument panel cover and center armrest. The heated wood-and-leather-wrapped wheel is comfortably chunky. Controls are generally easy to operate, though some HVAC settings are absorbed into the 8.4-inch touchscreen, making adjustments slightly slower than conventional buttons and knobs might be.

The option sheet is long, and well stocked with everything from sound systems to sunroofs to advanced safety gear. In the latter category, for example, the Advanced Technology Group ($1,995) includes Adaptive Cruise Control, Forward Collision Warning with Crash Mitigation, and Blind Spot/Rear Cross Path Detection.

Jeep’s Grand Cherokee seats five adults comfortably in both rows. Back doors open 10 percent wider than they did in the last generation models, settling a concern raised by owners of earlier Grand Cherokee models. Cargo capacity ranges from 36.3 to 68.3 cubic feet, placing it about mid-pack with its full-size utility vehicle contemporaries.

Powertrain improvements highlight the latest edition of Jeep’s Grand Cherokee. Both the transmission upgrade and available turbodiesel engine broaden the appeal of Jeep’s flagship sport utility vehicle.