2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Diesel: SUV, Meet MPG
Who said a traditional SUV can't be fuel efficient?
The Jeep Grand Cherokee is one of the best "go-anywhere" vehicles on the planet. But sometimes you don't have to go "anywhere"—you just have to get to work, or the store, or to Grandma's house.
That's traditionally been a costly proposition for the heavy, fuel-thirsty Grand Cherokee. For a 2014 equipped with four-wheel drive and Chrysler's 5.7-liter V8, EPA estimates peg combined fuel economy at just 16 mpg. The smaller Chrysler Pentastar V6 only boosts that number to 19 mpg, and reduces the Jeep's towing capacity. The V8 will cost you $5.41 to drive 25 miles—one expensive trip to the office. And even if you fully intend to use the Jeep's off-road capacity, most weekends away in the wilderness begin with a long, expensive highway slog.
Thankfully, the refreshed 2014 Grand Cherokee now offers an optional 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6. Built in Italy by VM Motori, the diesel is rated at 21 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, and 24 mpg combined in a four-wheel drive Grand Cherokee. It's Jeep's attempt to dramatically improve fuel economy without sacrificing performance. So far, I'm impressed.
I drove the Grand Cherokee Diesel for a week of mixed highway and city driving and averaged an astoundingly frugal 23.2 mpg. That's family sedan territory—except the Grand Cherokee will make it up the dirt roads to the lake house in a snow storm. And you won't want for power when you get there: The diesel V6 can tow up to 7,400 pounds, no different from the thirsty V8.
Power has its price
Unfortunately, those fuel savings don't come cheap. The diesel is only available on the higher-end Limited, Summit, and Overland trims. Although a base Laredo with a gas V6 stickers for $28,995, the least expensive diesel option is the $41,590 Limited 4x2. (All Grand Cherokees come with Chrysler's 8-speed automatic.)
The diesel engine alone adds $4,500 over the Pentastar V6. It's likely most customers won't be willing to pay that kind of premium for an additional 5 mpg from a more costly fuel, but the math changes for customers interested in a V8. The premium over the larger gas engine is only $1,305, which is slightly easier to swallow. Luckily, there are few other drawbacks.
First off, the diesel puts more power on tap at a lower RPM. Hit the gas when the light turns green, and the Grand Cherokee's acceleration is downright tectonic. And thanks to the 8-speed transmission, that power doesn't fade away when passing or merging on the highway. The diesel is just slightly louder than its gas counterpart at low speeds, with a note closer to a truck engine than the silky smooth oil burners under the hoods of Audis and Mercedes. And there's an 8.5-gallon tank of diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) that helps control emissions. Refilling it every 10,000 miles might double the cost of an oil change at a Jeep dealer, but it's not a major hassle, and it means you won't see smoke pouring from the tailpipe.
Make a connection
Regardless of engine choice, the 2014 Grand Cherokee benefits from an updated version of Chrysler's Uconnect software. In addition to its trademark straightforward map, audio and climate control interfaces, the latest version of Uconnect offers the ability to add apps such as Yelp and—coming soon—Aha, Pandora, iHeartRadio and Slacker.
There's a new LCD gauge cluster that can change up the speedometer to show fuel economy data and vehicle diagnostics, or act as a secondary screen for the infotainment system. You can also turn the Grand Cherokee into a WiFi hotspot—perfect if your rear seat passengers would rather watch streaming video than the nature passing by outside.
All the key functions also have physical controls, except for the heated seats and steering wheel. That meant I had to fumble with a touchscreen with my gloves on to turn on those wintertime features—a serious oversight on a car that sells so well in cold climates.
Otherwise, the interior is world-class. Softer, matte accents replace chrome trim from the prior model, but the seats are as gently supportive as ever. Outside, a few subtle changes mark the 2014 facelift—including odd honeycomb plastic inserts beneath the front headlamps that don't appear to serve any purpose. But the silhouette is unmistakably a Grand Cherokee.
So is the ride: It's supple and easy to control on the highway, but the Quadra-Trac II four-wheel drive system can send all of its power to the front or rear axle depending on where it's needed. The new transmission allows for a 44.1:1 crawl gear for steep inclines, and new Hill Ascent Control joins Hill Descent Control for easy driving on steep and winding mountain roads. Selec-Terrain makes off-roading foolproof, with preset options that customize the drivetrain for mud, snow and rocks.
That makes the diesel a wise choice for power, efficiency, and luxury—which is exactly what the Grand Cherokee is all about. Few vehicles on earth can match the Grand Cherokee's off-road prowess and on-road composure. Now, with the diesel's improved fuel economy, nothing else can come close.
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