When Jeep released its, it startled old Jeep aficionados by going with an entirely independent suspension and implementing electronic off-road settings. The 2014 Grand Cherokee takes the technology even further with its digital speedometer and integrated apps.
The result is a near-perfect luxury SUV that maintains real off-road credibility.
Rather than manual differential locks, the Grand Cherokee benefits from Jeep's Quadra-Trac and Selec-Terrain systems, which take sensor information and intelligently distribute torque to all four wheels. Likewise, an air suspension automatically levels the vehicle and aids in wheel articulation. As a bonus, that air suspension gives the Grand Cherokee a particularly comfortable ride on pavement.
The example I got into was a 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit with four-wheel drive. Most models can also be had with just rear-wheel drive. The Summit trim comes fully loaded, and although it tops $50,000, it competes extremely well with the much pricier Range Rover feature for feature.
In fact, the interior of the Grand Cherokee sported all the luxury and comfort I would expect of a Range Rover. The dashboard was covered in leather, colored in Jeep Brown. The wood trim, with its matte finish, felt grainy and natural. The front seats, power-adjustable on each side, even had both venting and heating controls.
Instead of a big pole of a shifter stabbing up from the console, the Grand Cherokee uses a modern, compact, and ergonomically designed hand grip for the vehicle's eight-speed automatic transmission. Rather than pulling it through a gate, I merely had to pull it back or push it forward to engage whichever drive mode I wanted. It's fully electronic, smooth, and easy to operate.
This Grand Cherokee came equipped with the base engine, Jeep's 3.6-liter V-6. Not the most advanced power plant, its variable valve timing helps it turn out 290 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, while getting fuel economy averaging around 20 mpg. Not stellar, but reasonable for this 5,000-pound SUV.
The V-6 proved adequate for the Grand Cherokee, but there are a few other engine options to consider. The most intriguing is a 3-liter V-6 diesel, which Jeep says gives the Grand Cherokee a range of over 700 miles. Other options are a 5.7-liter V-8 gasoline engine, and the Grand Cherokee SRT's 6.4-liter Hemi V-8.
What really surprised me initially about the Grand Cherokee was, instead of a lumbering tank stripping side mirrors off of parked cars as I piloted down city streets, it proved to be excessively maneuverable, with easy and precise handling. The steering, which uses an electrohydraulic boost system, moves with little effort and the turning radius seems better than on some compact cars. That tight turning radius helps in the city, crowded parking lots, and on the trail.
Checking the spec sheet, I saw that the Grand Cherokee comes in well under 16 feet long, yet accentuates its five-passenger seating with healthy amount of cargo space.
When I hit the gas for a passing maneuver or a merge, the V-6 delivered decent acceleration, good enough for traffic but not enough to be impressive. A couple of things can affect acceleration, one being the Eco mode, which comes on by default at startup. It affects the transmission programming and can be defeated with a button push.
The other is Sport mode, activated with a second pull back on the shifter. The car let me know I had selected Sport mode by turning the LCD speedometer red and posting a big alert saying "Sport Mode Activated." Suddenly the throttle response became sharper and the transmission more aggressive. But it was loath to use the top two gears, so in the interest of fuel economy I only used it when the road got twisty.
Paddle shifters on the steering wheel let me manually select gears, but this transmission was very laggy in its gear changes. I reserved manual gear selection for engine braking when going downhill.
Sport mode made the air suspension hunker down a bit as well, improving handling. The Grand Cherokee never showed quite the handling acumen of a, but I didn't have to slow for the turns too much.
Barreling down the highway at speed, the Grand Cherokee automatically lowered the suspension to improve its aerodynamics, resulting in better fuel efficiency. Despite being lowered, the air suspension still delivered a truly comfortable ride. After spending a full day driving the Grand Cherokee, I had none of the usual aches and pains one might associate with a road trip.
Part of the technology payload that comes standard on the Grand Cherokee Summit is Jeep's Uconnect navigation system. Instead of the tortured interfaces introduced by many other automakers, Jeep keeps it simple. An 8.4-inch touch screen mounted in the center of the dashboard and a few buttons around the steering wheel are all that is needed.
The touch screen shows a menu ribbon across the bottom with icons for navigation, the stereo, the hands-free phone system, and, surprisingly enough, apps.
This Uconnect system uses navigation software from Garmin, so the destination menus will be familiar to anybody who has used a Garmin portable navigation device. Unlike previous generations of the Uconnect navigation system, the Garmin software is much more integrated with the other functions, so I did not feel like I was going into an entirely different product when I switched from navigation to the stereo controls. The design is cohesive.
The maps show 3D representations of some buildings in downtown areas, and the Garmin software does an excellent job with route guidance, taking traffic conditions into account for intelligent routing. Along with good graphics illustrating upcoming turns and junctions on the main screen, the LCD speedometer also shows turn directions.
Garmin offers typical destination options, such as address input and a points-of-interest database. The Grand Cherokee's voice command also let me enter an address as a single string, instead of breaking it down into single components. But the real bonus, something showing that the Grand Cherokee is embracing tech, is that Jeep includes Bing for local search on the app screen.
Bing includes its own voice command function and an onscreen keyboard for entering search terms.