In Chrysler’s Jeep lineup Wrangler may be the face of the off-road enthusiast, but Grand Cherokee is the flagship. That’s just the way the dirt cake crumbles. So when it came time to sling the highly anticipated 3.0L EcoDiesel into a Jeep chassis, the Wrangler will wait. The Grand Cherokee diesel is now. But 2014 isn’t all about the new V-6 oil burner. There’s a fresh array of styling changes, interior refinements and upgrades, and mileage boosters for Grand Cherokee. Not to mention one of the best automatic transmissions we’ve driven to date: the ZF eight-speed. So let’s get right into it.
Models and Styling
Technically, there are five levels from which to choose. From most basic to extravagant are: Laredo, Limited, Overland, Summit, and SRT. The Grand Cherokee SRT is an animal unto itself, so for now we’ll focus on the others. Externally, the Laredo sports body-colored grille, side mirrors, and door handles, silver painted 17-inch wheels, and other low-fluff niceties. Next up is the Limited which uses dark grey lower rocker trim bedazzled with chrome trim accents around the lower fascia opening, rear bumper sill protector, and dual exhaust tips. The Limited grille insert uses vertical and horizontal bars, while the higher-end Overland models up the ante with black egg-crate mesh inserts, xenon HID headlights, and LED daylight running lamps. Finally, the top-of-the-range model, the Summit, has its own front and rear treatments that borrow queues from the SRT. The egg crate is chrome on Summit and the lower valence has a uniquely shaped opening augmented by a downturned bar that lends a more sinister, purposeful look to the front. Differently shaped fog lamp openings, HID headlights with LED running lamps, and unique 20-inch SRT-esque wheels round out the front and sides. Out back, the Summit employs a (we think) cleaner rear valence style with very attractive rectangular exhaust tips.
Jeep set its sights on the BMW, Rover, and Audi buyer, so attention has been paid not only to adding more trinkets and toys, but to adding more refinement and sophistication to the interior experience. The cabin is quieter, but it’s also been softened in terms of materials, colors, and textures to make the interior a nicer place to be for long periods of time. Stuff like a stitched leather-wrapped dash, heated and air conditioned seats, filtered air, footwell lighting, and more is found on the higher-end models. On the techno-front, there are USB ports all over the place, a 115-volt outlet for charging phones or running computers, backup camera, adaptive cruise control, Chrysler’s very good touch-screen U-connect sound system, and a new-for-2014 configurable multi-view gauge cluster displays ranging from tranny temp to off-road elements like angle, yaw, and even wheel articulation. You can toggle through menus to set the dash to display a variety of parameters and even change the look of the gauge display from style to color. There’s also a forward collision warning system with crash mitigation and all sort of other voodoo to keep you and yours safe.
All engines from the 3.6L Pentastar to the 6.4L Hemi in the SRT get the new ZF eight-speed auto transmission. It’s pretty superb. With a 4.71 First gear, it gets the heavy Grand out of the hole with authority and contributes to an excellent 44:1 crawl ratio, while the compound Overdrive gears of 0.84 (Seventh) and 0.67 (Eight) keep the tach barely registering on the freeway. In between, there’s a gear for any occasion, which contributes to a real savings in fuel economy. You can toggle the electronic console shifter or play with the steering wheel-mounted paddles to change gear. We absolutely hated the vague electronic console shifter, but the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters actuated the eight-speed quickly and the tranny holds gear until you tell it not to.
Engine-wise, the 3.6L Pentastar and 5.7L Hemi remain unchanged from the previous years, but all platforms benefit from the new eight-speed as well as Eco Mode, which comes on automatically every time you turn on the Jeep. You have to hit the button to turn it off. In Eco Mode, the transmission’s shifting, cylinder deactivation (V-8 models), and throttle sensitivity are modified for fuel savings. Eco Mode also cuts fuel delivery upon deceleration for further fuel savings and in vehicles equipped with air suspension, it lowers the vehicle 1.6 inches to “aero ride height” to minimize under-chassis drag and improve aerodynamics. The EPA highway ratings for the ’14 4x4 models are 24 mpg for the 3.6L, 20 mpg for the Hemi, and 28 mpg for the diesel. The two-wheel-drive models eke out even more mileage, but really, who wants a two-wheel-drive Jeep?
The real show stopper is the 3.0L V-6 EcoDiesel with 240hp at 3,600 rpm and 420 lb-ft at 2,000 rpm. Engine speed is limited to 4,800 rpm. If you’re keeping track of the rpm range, you’ll notice it’s very much like a gas engine, and other than a great rush of torque down low, the EcoDiesel delivers a fairly undiesel-like driving experience, but more on that later. With a name like EcoDiesel you may expect it to run on rainbows and dew drops, but in reality the turbocharged, intercooled engine requires regular old ultra-low sulfur diesel. That’s not to say it isn’t eco-friendly. With a cooled ERG system, catalytic converter, diesel particulate filter, and SRC with urea injection, it barely excretes a unicorn fart worth of emissions.
For starters, don’t automatically discount the 3.6L Pentastar. It’s a really good platform which the eight-speed makes even better. If towing or drag racing isn’t in your plans, it’s a viable option. The V-6 gas vehicle feels much lighter and more nimble than either the V-8 or diesel and will knock down impressive mileage numbers both around town and on the highway. It gets up and goes quickly, and despite only being a V-6, the engine makes enough torque and there are enough available gears to keep the engine happily spinning without the transmission hunting and pecking on every incline.
The ’11-up Grand Cherokees (commonly referred to as WKII) got a power upgrade in the 360hp Hemi, but they also got a lot more weight. The result, as many have said, is the ’11-up Grand feels slower than the 330hp ’05-’10 WK. You hear this mighty roar and get a sense of urgency, but nothing really happens. The eight-speed does help the Hemi, especially pulling away from stoplights, but once the transmission shifts into Third and Fourth the thrill is gone. More power, please.
Despite the gas engine-like rpm range, you do know you’re driving a diesel. You can hear the mild diesel clatter, and at a stop light with your foot on the brake, you feel a gentle tremble electrically pulsing through the vehicle that reminds you, “Hey, this isn’t a gas engine.” When the light turns green, stab the accelerator and wait roughly half a second for the turbo to spool and then First gear is over and done with like the Millennium Falcon making the jump to hyperspace. The ZF’s 4.71:1 First and the 3.45:1 axle ratio mean business. But then Second gear comes on a little softer, then Third moseys on by, and by the time Fourth and Fifth come around the party is kind of over. It’s not slow by any stretch of the imagination, and through it all you do get a nice torque surge that pulls the whole vehicle along as if on a conveyor belt of acceleration. It’s just not violent or fast in the taller gears. Another reality check is that there is turbo lag. It’s not bad, but the drivetrain doesn’t snap to attention with the puppy dog eagerness of the Pentastar.
However, once we settled down and started driving it like a normal person, the drivetrain really came into its own. Despite having eight gears to choose from, the transmission doesn’t hunt for gears—ever. It drives fluidly and seamlessly with more than enough torque to float you to the top of any highway climb without downshifting. Under way there’s no diesel clatter or harsh harmonics and the fuel gauge seems like it never moves. Actually, for all we knew it may have been broken. Our 150-mile loop didn’t even come close to the tank’s estimated 730-mile range.
So should you pay the extra $4,500 (Limited/Overland) or $5,000 (Summit) for the diesel option? That depends on how much you hate filling the tank every week or if you tow a lot. In our more-than-spirited driving we registered 28 mpg on the trip computer, which was more than twice as good as the V-8-powered testers. In reality, the extra fuel savings as compared with the V-6 version will take a long time to pay for itself, but if you actually utilize the Grand’s 7,400lb tow rating, the diesel option will eventually pay for itself. And in the end, you’re really not giving up much, if any, performance over the V-8.
Availability: Optional on Limited, Overland, and Summit
Type and Description: 60-degree V-type, liquid-cooled
Displacement: 182 cu. In.
Bore x Stroke: 3.27 x 3.60 inches
Construction: Iron block, aluminum head
Compression Ratio: 15.5:1
Power: 240hp at 3,600 rpm
Torque: 420 lb-ft at 2,000 rpm
Max. Engine Speed: 4,800 rpm (electronically limited)
Fuel Requirement: Ultra-low sulfur diesel