The grandest Jeep competes in one of the industry’s most brutal segments. Unlike the Wrangler, which has no legitimate competition, the Grand Cherokee has to lure buyers away from Mercedes, Rover, Lexus, and other latte-serving dealerships. A legendary SUV pedigree alone isn’t always enough to hook upscale SUV buyers.
We’ll leave the discussions about sumptuous amenities to the whine-and-cheese magazines. (“No whiners” is our motto.) Instead, we’re obsessed with the vehicle’s mechanicals, particularly its powertrain technology.
For 2014, the Grand Cherokee remains on the shared-with-Durango WK2 platform. But the big news is the highly refined 50-state-legal diesel. The Fiat-influenced 3.0L EcoDiesel V-6 from VM Motori (a joint Fiat/GM holding) has the same displacement as the former optional Mercedes-supplied BlueTec mill. The EcoTech has the edge in power over its predecessor: 220 hp versus 210, 420 lb-ft of torque compared to 400.
For a diesel to appeal to discerning SUV buyers, the oil-burner needs a metaphorical sport jacket over its biceps. Inherent compression-ignition rattle and clatter are minimized in the EcoDiesel by a 60-degree cylinder-bank configuration. Furthermore, the engine’s straight-across firing order produces smooth enough rotating-assembly action that a balance shaft isn’t needed. The engine block itself is made from compacted graphite iron, which has better strength-to-weight properties and corrosion resistance than traditional “gray” cast iron.
Efficient fuel burn contributes to the eco part of the diesel’s name. The common-rail injection system feeds the fuel at 29,000 psi for improved diesel-droplet atomization. Air is pumped in by a variable-geometry turbocharger through swirl-control intake ports.
Advanced thermal dissipation contributes to the EcoDiesel’s 50-state compliance. The turbocharger and EGR are water-cooled; an intercooler also helps shed heat and drop the air charge temp. Inside the cylinders, oil jets cool the pistons. For emissions control the EcoDiesel uses a particulate filter and urea-injection Selective Catalyst Reduction to reduce nitrogen oxide.
The V-6 EcoDiesel outperforms comparable gasoline V-8s in vital areas. Granted, top-end horsepower is often less: 220 hp in the EcoDiesel versus 360 in the Grand’s 5.7L Hemi or even 470 in the 6.4L Grand SRT street-sweeper. Torque is a different story, as the EcoDiesel makes all of its 420 lb-ft near idle; the 5.7L Hemi manages 390 lb-ft at 4,250 rpm, and the SRT tops out at 460 lb-ft in that same range. Towing capacity is the same for the EcoDiesel and Hemi: 7,200 pounds for 4x4 models, 7,400 for two-bys.
Fuel economy is no contest. Jeep hypes the EcoDiesel’s mileage as best-in-class at 22/30 mpg (4x2) and 21/28 (4x4). In comparison, the 5.7L ’14 Grand Cherokee is EPA-rated at 14/22 (4x2) and 14/20 (4x4). That equals an estimated 43 percent fuel economy advantage over V-8–powered SUVs in the segment. The EcoDiesel’s cruising range is ballparked at 730 miles. The carryover 3.6L Pentastar V-6, shared with the JK, is also offered for 2014.
One other powertrain innovation debuts for 2014: Eight-speed automatic transmissions are now standard. Gas engines get the 845RE, while the EcoDiesel is paired to a stouter ZF gearbox. The additional gears mean closer ratios to make shifting less perceptible. Gearing also factors into the EcoDiesel’s impressive fuel economy, keeping revs as low as feasible for as much time as possible. The ZF’s lower First gear also numerically raises the crawl ratio for 2014 to 44.1:1 (4.7 First gear multiplied by 2.72 transfer case multiplied by 3.45 axles). (The previous model’s 65RFE six-speed had a 3.0:1 First gear.)
These improvements make the Grand feel increasingly more like a luxury vehicle than a rough and rugged Jeep we’re accustom to. Nearly no new-Grand buyers will actually go off-road recreationally, so pavement handling and overall fit and finish are the engineering attention-grabbers. Any adventurous owners will appreciate all the preexisting chassis technology that gives 4x4 WK2 Grands their Trail Rated badges. This includes Quadra-Lift adjustable air suspension and Selec-Terrain mode, which does almost everything but steer for the driver off-road.
Also, the EcoDiesel’s torque is apparent upon acceleration, but the diesel engine is barely louder than the Hemi from inside the cockpit. Jeep, Fiat, and VM engineers apparently worked long and late extinguishing or absorbing all truckish traits (other than torque and fuel economy) for the ’14 EcoDiesel Grand Cherokee.
So what’s not to like? The price of entry appears to be the only drawback. Upgrading to the EcoDiesel adds $4,500 to the Limited’s MSRP. (The diesel isn’t available in base Laredo models.) Furthermore, the EcoDiesel option is bundled with the Limited’s $3,000 Luxury Group II package (HID headlights, panorama sunroof, GPS, ventilated leather upholstery, and more), making the “base” EcoDiesel Grand’s MSRP $46,290. Add in the various off-road option packages or step up to the Overland or Summit trim levels and the ’14 diesel prices out around 50 grand. Believe it or not, that’s actually reasonable in the luxe-ute class. However, it raises the question, will the Wrangler someday get a $4,500 optional diesel under the hood?
We look forward to flogging the ’14 Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel against the industry’s other new vehicles in our annual 4x4 of the Year test. Look for detailed observations then on the most buttoned-down Jeep to date.
Model 2014 Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel 4x4
Base Price $46,290 (Limited), $50,995 (Summit)
Type VM Motori A630
Displacement 3.0L DOHC V-6 diesel
Horsepower 240 @ 3,600 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 420 @ 2,000 rpm
Type 8-speed automatic w/ manual shifting mode
Model ZF 8HP70
Model Magna MP 3022
Low-range Ratio 2.72:1
Front/Rear Unequal-length A-arms, coil springs, twin-tube shocks/multilink, coil springs, twin-tube shocks
Size (in) 20x8
Size P265/50R20 all-season
Overall Length 189.8
Overall Height 69.3
Overall Width 76.5
Min. Ground Clearance 8.6
Curb Weight 5,275
Max. Payload Capacity 1,270
Tow Capacity 7,200 (4x4)
EPA Estimate (city/hwy) 21/28 (4x4)