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First Drive: 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Diesel

Diesel power to the people.

by on Feb.25, 2013

Jeep makes some unexpectedly significant updatest to the Grand Cherokee for 2014.

It wasn’t all that long ago that the all-new 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee landed among the three finalists for North American Truck of the Year. And though the SUV didn’t win the coveted trophy it clearly clicked with potential buyers, helping drive a dramatic increase in sales

So, as the 2014 model-year approaches, it might seem like there’d be little reason to pay much attention when Jeep announced it is updating the Grand Cherokee once again. Three years in, that’s normally the time manufacturers come up with minimal cosmetic and technical changes that the average buyers would barely even notice.

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Not in this case.  While true, Jeep hasn’t gone back to square one, there are some surprisingly significant changes – from the basic electric architecture to the powertrain options, as well as exterior design details — coming for the 2014 model-year that justify a closer look by reviewers and a serious re-think by potential buyers.

The new diesel delivers mileage one would never expect in a big SUV, up to 30 mpg on highway.

Simply put, the new Grand Cherokee is one terrific vehicle and the new V-6 Diesel Engine that Chrysler has committed to delivering in the Grand Cherokee is a bold stroke that brings this high-mileage technology ever close to the heart of the American automotive market.

(Jeep brings back the Cherokee name for its 2014 Liberty replacement. Click Here for that story.)

The diesel version of the Grand Cherokee basically adds a whole new dimension to what was already one of the very best vehicles in its class. As it has since its first incarnation debuted two decades ago, the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee can climb up rocks like a mountain goat, haul a full-complement of passengers and their gear – but it now is also capable of getting fuel economy of close to 30 miles per gallon, which is quite substantial for a full-bodied vehicle with four-wheel-drive.

In fact, it wasn’t too terribly long ago that the notion of a big-SUV getting even 25 miles per gallon seemed out of reach without a hybrid-powertrain.

The interior of the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee underscores its evolution into a luxury vehicle.

But the diesel in the Grand Cherokee, with an eight-speed transmission also new for 2014, delivers both a smooth, even ride with a minimum of fuss. The interior of new Jeep models have grown steadily quieter over the past few years. But the minimal noise level of the diesel will likely take potential buyers by surprise if they’re not familiar with the improvements made in this technology over recent years.T he new eight-speed transmission helps by more often keeping the diesel in its RPM sweet spot – even as it adds more precision to the automatic shift pattern that only adds to the overall drive feel.

Paddle shifters are also standard on all versions of the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee, including the base model on which the standard gas-powered V-6 with Variable Valve Timing produces 290 horsepower. At the other extreme, there’s the 465 hp, 470 lb-ft Grand Cherokee SRT8, which we’ll subject to another review in the coming days.

The diesel engine puts out a nominal 240 horsepower, which isn’t a lot by today’s standards. But as diesel aficionados know, it’s all in the torque, and there the engine delivers 420 pound-feet, more than enough for quick launches and confidence-inspiring passes.

The Grand Cherokee has gained better on-road manners but maintains the utility, including cargo space, originally buyers craved.

The extra torque also means the diesel-equipped Grand Cherokee delivers some pretty good fuel economy: 21 miles per gallon in city driving, according to Chrysler’s preliminary numbers, the maker also estimating the Grand Cherokee can travel up to 730 miles on a single tank of fuel.

The improvements to the Grand Cherokee don’t stop with the powertrain. The Grand Cherokee also comes with an electric power steering system that has been carefully tweaked by Chrysler’s engineers so it delivers ample road feel and feedback into the driver’s hands. The four-wheel-disc brakes found on the Grand Cherokee also have plenty of stopping power.

Overall for a tall vehicle with a relatively high center of gravity, the ride and handling of the 2014 Grand Cherokee is most impressive.

Chrysler also tweaked the exterior design of the Grand Cherokee by revamping the front and rear fascias. In the front, the fog lamps have been raised slightly and made more distinctive and the vehicle has been equipped with HID, or high intensity discharge, headlamps, with LED daytime running lights and turn indicators. In the rear, the Grand Cherokee features bigger LED taillamps while a larger rear spoiler embellishes the roof line while helping to enhance the vehicle’s aerodynamic properties.

The rear tailgate also has been revamped to provide drivers better rearward visibility. The Jeep badge also been enlarged.

Jeep claims the 2014 model has undergone more than the usual, mid-cycle updates.

The Grand Cherokee’s interior has been targeted for major improvements for 2014, including a new center stack with either a 5-inch — or optional 8.4-inch — touchscreen for Chrysler’s Uconnect system to operate mobile phones, connect to entertainment or provide assistance with navigation and traffic.

Among the other changes are a new electronic T-handle shifter that matches up with the eight speed transmission, and a new information node tucked inside the instrument cluster that can provide additional information, such as a compass heading or outside temperature. The exact appearance of the reconfigurable display is left to the driver to set.

Overall, the interior of the Grand Cherokee delivers a deep sense of comfort even during a long drive. The materials inside the cabin have been neatly matched and give the interior space an aura of luxury.

The Grand Cherokee also has been equipped with a full array of safety features including a full complement of airbags, electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes as well as adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, forward collision warning and park assist. Since many motorists buy the Grand Cherokee with the expectation of towing, trailer sway control also is available.

Jeep CEO Mike Manley unveils the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee at last month's Detroit Auto Show.

If there’s one drawback with the 2014 model, some buyers are bound to be put off by the $4,500 premium Jeep has placed on the diesel option. The price tag for a diesel-powered Grand Cherokee topped $51,000 and the model we actually drove, which came with 20-inch painted aluminum wheels and an assortment of optional comfort and convenience features, carried a price tag of $56,990.

Chrysler brass acknowledge that is part of the Grand Cherokee’s evolution from mainstream to luxury vehicle, though they contend those figures still are less than a motorist would pay for a comparably equipped vehicle from a German brands such as BMW or from its arch rival Range Rover.

Costly, yes, but considering what has been accomplished with the 2014 model, the new Jeep Grand Cherokee should have no trouble holding its own against any and all challengers.

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