Jeep Grand Cherokee — A sport utility for all seasons

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The exterior has been refreshed, but there’s no mistaking the 2014 model as a Jeep Grand Cherokee. While the basic body structure and sheet metal is retained from 2013 on closer inspection you will discover handsome new front-and-rear treatments that include new headlights, taillights, grille and bumper covers.

The modest exterior tweaks mask extensive changes for 2014 that make the Grand Cherokee now one of the premium sport utilities in America including a new eight-speed automatic transmission that goes into every Grand Cherokee replacing the out-going five-and-six speed automatics, the addition of a fuel-efficient V-6 diesel engine, and numerous new technology updates and features.

The diesel engine addition to the lineup gives the Grand Cherokee mileage bragging rights and offers customers a choice of SUV utility and off-road prowess without giving up precious gas mileage. The 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6 rated at 240 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque delivers a best-in-class 30 mpg highway with a range of more than 730 miles. And bring the boat — the EcoDiesel has a towing capacity of 7,400 pounds.

The Jeep offers three additional engine choices starting with the base 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 pumping out 290 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. The term “base” might be a bit of a misnomer when it comes to the Grand Cherokee. The award-winning V-6 is a very capable engine in the 4,875-pound truck with a towing capacity of 6,200 pounds, a payload capacity of 1,270 pounds and the ability to move the 2.5 tons from 0 to 60 in about eight seconds.

Also available are two V-8 engines, a 5.7-liter Hemi making 360 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque; and an over-the-top 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 making 470 ground-pounding horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque. It comes in an expensive SRT package starting at $63,990. Practical? Are you kidding? Fun to drive? Better believe it.

The official SRT numbers are 0-60 mph in 4.8 seconds; quarter-mile time of 13.3 seconds and top speed of 160 mph. If that doesn’t put your blood pressure into the stratosphere then — even if you could afford it — don’t risk life and limb, look at one of the other four Jeep Grand Cherokee models because there’s something for everybody.

The SRT is a man for all seasons with a five-position Selec-Track knob that diverts an increasing percentage of torque to the front moving through Track (30/70), Sport (35/65), Auto (40/60), Snow and Tow (both 50/50).

When you wake up from your high-performance dream, the Grand Cherokee has more practical versions starting with the Laredo two-wheel drive at $29,790 including destination charge with the aforementioned very adequate 3.6-liter V-6. Prices escalate through four trim levels to the loaded Summit starting at $48,990 — and the aforementioned SRT.

We lean toward the new diesel V-6 after driving it through some tough off-road terrain in Texas and for several hundred miles on road. It offers a smooth, comfortable ride on the streets and highways with excellent road manners. The SUV has a quiet interior and proved stable on winding roads. And the new eight-speed automatic transmission is a great addition, much smoother and quicker-shifting. Most people will be satisfied with the base gasoline V6. If you opt for the diesel it will increase the cost of the vehicle — compared to the standard V-6 — by $4,500. One major car-buying site predicts break-even will come at about 35,000 miles.

Behind the wheel, we instantly liked the handsome look of the instrument panel. There are two large dials within a stylized housing that Jeep calls a “curvilinear gauge cluster.” It frames a 7-inch customer-configurable multi-view display. There’s a large center console with a deep storage bin, two excellent cupholders and to the left a science fiction-looking shift lever. It took a little getting used to because we kept going into Reverse instead of Park but it’s so pretty that you really can’t get mad at it.

The center-stack features a new Uconnect 5-inch or 8.4-inch touchscreen. We enjoyed the 8.4-inch screen, which is standard in all trim levels expect Laredo, because — if for no other reason — it presented the satellite radio information in very large letters. If we were handing out prizes for “easiest to view screens,” Chrysler would get the grand prize.

Standard equipment across the lineup is fairly generous and includes automatic headlights, cruise control, keyless ignition/entry, full power accessories, dual-zone climate control, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth connectivity, and a six-speaker sound system.

Our SRT test vehicle came with one major option, a Harmon Karden 19-speaker sound system for $1,995 bringing the bottom line to $67,225.

Base price: $29,790; as driven, $67,225
Engine: 6.4-liter V-8
Horsepower: 470 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 465 foot-pounds @ 4,300 rpm
Drive: four-wheel
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 114.8 inches
Length: 191.3 inches
Curb weight: 5,150 pounds
Turning circle: 37.1 feet
Towing capacity: 7,200 pounds
Luggage capacity: 35.1 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 68.7 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 24.6 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 19 highway, 13 city
0-60: 4.8 seconds (manufacturer)
Also consider: Ford Explorer, Toyota 4Runner, Volkswagen Touareg

The Good
• Excellent engine lineup
• Upscale interior
• Fuel-efficient diesel option
• Segment-leading off-road capability

The Bad
• Poor fuel economy with V-8 models

The Ugly
• SRT performance over the top