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After an a day spent chugging along dirt trails, marveling at the climbing ability and articulation of the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel, I encountered a bit of rain on the freeway. As I considered whether to turn on the wipers, they came to life on their own, clearing the windshield of the gathering drops. These automatic windshield wipers nicely complemented the adaptive cruise control, which had let me run for miles without touching either brake pedal or accelerator.
That is the essence of the Jeep Grand Cherokee these days. At least in high trim, this Jeep can scrabble through the dirt while cocooning passengers in elite comfort. The EcoDiesel option is a new twist for the Grand Cherokee, adding a high-torque, fuel-efficient mill with excellent fuel economy.
In the US, EcoDiesel is a pricey option at $5,000. Added to the base price of $51,190 for our 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4x4 in Summit trim, it brought us up to $56,190. However, drop the trim down to Limited with the EcoDiesel option, and you are looking at only $43,490. UK buyers get the diesel option as a standard feature, and will pay £50,205 for the Summit trim Grand Cherokee. Down under, the Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit, with EcoDiesel, comes in at AU$83,852.
EcoDiesel is a 3-liter turbocharged, six-cylinder diesel engine. In the Grand Cherokee, it makes 240 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque. This engine option comes mated to a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission. Part of the option cost goes to the diesel exhaust cleanup system, which requires refills of its 8-gallon diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) tank every 10,000 miles.
The most notable advantage of this diesel engine is a fuel economy rating of 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway, which compares nicely to the 17 mpg city and 24 mpg highway of the available gasoline-fueled 3.6-liter V-6. While monitoring the trip computer, I was impressed to see freeway average fuel economy hitting 35 mpg. That stellar economy kept my average, which included time spent in slow city traffic and the aforementioned offroad crawl, up at 24.9 mpg.
The Grand Cherokee, designed to seat five with plenty of room for cargo, is an extremely refined-looking vehicle, eschewing overly brawny features for subtle wheel arches and a raked grille. The small headlight casings hold high-intensity discharge lamps (Jeep isn't yet offering LED headlamps), and the grille features Jeep's traditional seven-opening design, or six-bar if you want to count it that way. In Summit trim the interior gains fine appointments, including stitched leather over seats and dash, and satin-finished wood trim. Electronics include the excellent UConnect infotainment system shown on an 8.4-inch touchscreen, a Harman Kardon audio system and an available HD rear entertainment system.
At idle, the EcoDiesel option made itself known by the clatter of its injectors, that distinct diesel chatter underneath the whir of pumps. It comes through a little noisier than the gasoline engine. Poking the accelerator, the Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel feels a tad more sluggish than its gasoline-powered equivalent, and the engine noise comes through in the cabin. Maneuvering through city traffic, the high torque of the engine made for some surging at low speeds, requiring a more careful touch on the accelerator.
The air suspension, standard with the Grand Cherokee Summit's Quadra-Drive II four-wheel-drive system, created a comfortable ride over potholed city streets and a tight turning radius enhanced maneuverability. Steering assist comes from a hydraulic system powered by an electric pump, so it never lost pressure from low-speed driving. For driving the paved roads, I left the terrain selection dial on Auto, where it would automatically lower the ride height for freeway speeds.
On the freeway, the Grand Cherokee retained its comfortable character, and I made ample use of the adaptive cruise control. I noted how this system actively accelerated when I hit the turn signal and began a lane change to pass slower traffic, mimicking what I would do under similar circumstances. One odd quirk of Jeep's adaptive cruise control: I could choose either standard cruise or adaptive cruise depending on which steering wheel button I hit.
A blind-spot monitor system lit up icons in the side mirrors when other cars were to either side, and the Grand Cherokee had a rear view camera with trajectory lines. However, there were no side or front cameras, which would have come handy while parking or offroad.
And despite the comfortable cabin appointments of the Grand Cherokee, it remains a very credible offroader. At Jeep's launch event for the Grand Cherokee, I wheeled a gasoline-powered one up and down black-diamond-rated trails, heading down sandy grades that had me white-knuckled on the steering wheel.
Lacking spotters or any other support with the Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel, I stuck to the intermediate, blue-square trails. I set the terrain system to Rock, and the Grand Cherokee chugged steadily up and down the hills, the four-wheel-drive system negotiating the differing traction, automatically regulating wheel slip and putting torque to the wheels that could use it. I never once had to engage the 4WD Low setting, even with the standard Goodyear all-season tires.
Negotiating my way through the uneven ruts, I noted the Grand Cherokee's articulation, with one wheel's suspension compressed and the other side dropped to keep the vehicle's body on the level. I worried about the undercarriage as I crossed ridges, but the breakover angle, with the suspension height at maximum, was good enough to prevent scraping.
As well as the Grand Cherokee crawled through the dirt, I was also aware that this model had Jeep's high-end offroad gear. Lower trim Grand Cherokee's make this equipment optional, or come with the Quadra-Drive I system.
Making use of UConnect while looking for restaurants or other stop-overs, I had the feeling that this system, also found in Dodge and Chrysler vehicles, is one of the more undeservedly unsung infotainment systems available. For example, you probably didn't know that the UConnect in the Grand Cherokee comes with a built-in data connection. Although only 3G, it connects the car to a smartphone app you can install on your phone. This app lets you remotely unlock the doors, sound the horn and start the engine.
For looking up destinations, Jeep includes Yelp in UConnect, which you can access through voice command or the touchscreen. The data connection opens up the possibility for additional apps -- I would like to see a more general Google or Bing local search added to the apps.
Additionally, the UConnect interface features a very usable interface with excellent response. I could accomplish quite a bit through voice command and easily find icons on the touchscreen for audio, phone, and navigation. Maps for the navigation system showed in plan or perspective views, the latter including building renderings. Traffic coverage looked extensive, covering many surface streets as well as highways. Under route guidance, the navigation system advised me of traffic congestion on the road ahead and actively routed around it, when a detour would save time.
Route guidance included lane recommendations in the graphics. What I found more useful was the LCD instrument cluster. Ancillary gauges, for tach and fuel level, remained analog, but the LCD showed a virtual speedometer with a variety of useful information screens in its center. Under route guidance, that LCD showed turn-by-turn directions, so I didn't have to look all the way over to the center dashboard.
Traffic data and other information, such as weather, comes to the Grand Cherokee through Sirius Travel Link, a satellite-radio-based service. Satellite radio also means more music channels than you can reasonably listen to on a road trip. That audio source is joined by HD Radio and onboard sources such as Bluetooth streaming and a USB port. I found the music library screens for USB drives and iOS devices easy to navigate, but UConnect does not yet include an advanced Bluetooth streaming connection that allows music selection from its touchscreen.
The Harman Kardon audio system produced strong bass, while mid- and high-range speakers gave music a sense of presence, filling the large cabin. The surround-sound setting supported the rear-seat entertainment system, with flip-up LCDs mounted behind the front headrests. Most kids these days would likely prefer to use their iPads over this $2,000 option.
In high trim, the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee feels as comfortable and as capable as the Range Rover , its most direct competitor. It even comes in at a lower price and with better cabin tech. Faced with the BMW X5 or Mercedes-Benz ML-class , the Grand Cherokee seems like a better offroad candidate. The EcoDiesel engine option is pricey and adds noise, but average fuel economy in the mid-20s is going to make running costs look pretty good.
As I mentioned above, the UConnect system doesn't get the attention it deserves. Its entirely touchscreen-based controls respond quickly, and the icons are clear and easy to read. The built-in data connection is a nice addition, although I would like to see more apps to take advantage of it.
You could save money opting for the rear-wheel-drive version of the Grand Cherokee, and come away with a very comfortable general SUV, but that would kind of miss the point. Jeep has done good work taking advantage of modern technology to support its offroad reputation, so it would be a shame for the Grand Cherokee's flanks to remain mud-free.
|Model||2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee|
|Powertrain||Turbocharged 3-liter six-cylinder diesel engine, eight-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||21 mpg city/28 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||24.9 mpg|
|Navigation||Standard, with live traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Digital audio sources||Internet streaming, Bluetooth streaming, USB drive, iOS integration, SD card, satellite radio, HD Radio|
|Audio system||Harman Kardon 19-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitor, rear view camera|
|Price as tested||$58,180|