"You might not be tired of looking at the Grand Cherokee," says Mark Allen, director of Jeep design, "but we've been looking at it for quite a while." He's not kidding. Although it didn't reach dealers until the summer of 2010 as a 2011 model, Jeep first showcased the WK2-platform Grand Cherokee at the New York auto show in 2009.
At roughly three years young, the Grand Cherokee may not desperately need a makeover. Nonetheless, the automaker orchestrated what amounts to a fairly extensive overhaul in time for the 2014 model year.
On the surface, that may not be immediately evident. The 2014 Grand Cherokee isn't wildly different from previous models, but designers worked to evolve both the front and rear fascias. Up front, the 2014 Grand Cherokee boasts a new bumper fascia, lower air dam, and most importantly, a new implementation of the brand's familiar seven-slot grille graphic. Previously, the grille's surround ended where the headlamps began; now, it continues to the outer edges of the fascia before wrapping up and into the leading edges of the fenders. Headlamps are slimmer than before, incorporate projector lenses, and - on higher trim grades - LED daytime running lamps.
Revisions at the opposite end are even more subtle. Tail lamps are now LED-lit on all trim levels, while the rectangular trim piece that previously ran between them is no more. A new rear diffuser panel not only envelops the exhaust tips, but now helps conceal the receiver hitch and wiring connector.
As always, exterior decor varies slightly depending on the trim level. High-performance Grand Cherokee SRT (formerly known as SRT8) models boast black-framed head and tail lamp assemblies, along with chrome. The new Summit trim, positioned at the top of the heap, is the flashiest: chrome accents encircle the entire vehicle just above the rocker sills, and the rear diffuser is modified to incorporate trapezoidal exhaust tips.
Interior trim also differs from model to model, but by and large, the 2014 Grand Cherokee's cabin is a mild evolution of the last design. A new electrical architecture provides support for a new gauge cluster with a configurable 7-inch LCD screen, along with an optional 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment system that incorporates Chrysler's new uConnect Access connectivity functions. Klaus Busse, Chrysler's head interior designer, is quite proud of the numerous two- and tri-tone interior schemes available, along with the open-pore wood trim on Overland and Summit models, and the Summit's copper-hued dash and console trim.
EIGHT SPEEDS AT LAST
As is the case on the Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 sedans, a unique shift knob signifies the presence of a ZF-licensed eight-speed automatic. The new transmission replaces both the outgoing five- and six-speed automatics, and is standard on all 2014 Grand Cherokees, regardless of trim grade, driveline, or engine selection (a big deal for the SRT, especially, considering that model was previously restricted to a five-speed automatic). When paired with an available two-speed transfer case, the newfound gear spread allows for a crawl ratio of up to 44.1:1.
Predictably, the bigger draw of the eight-speed automatic is its fuel economy benefits. Preliminary specifications reveal a slight reduction in fuel consumption across the board. Rear- and all-wheel drive Grand Cherokees fitted with the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 are rated at 17/25 mpg (city/highway), up from 17/23 and 16/23, respectively. Grand Cherokees fitted with the 5.7-liter V-8 see smaller gains: two-wheel-drive models rise from 14/20 mpg to 15/21, while four-wheel-drive versions increase from 13/20 mpg to 14/21.
Fuel economy figures for the 2014 Grand Cherokee SRT, with its honking 470-hp, 6.4-liter V-8 are still forthcoming, but SRT brand CEO Ralph Gilles says his team has been able to coax some fairly impressive fuel economy figures, especially when using the new Eco mode button, which is found on all Grand Cherokee models. When active, eco mode alters shift points and, on V-8 models, increases the frequency of cylinder deactivation systems in order to save as much fuel as possible.
AT LAST, ANOTHER DIESEL
Customers seeking the utmost in fuel economy need only shop for one engine option: the EcoDiesel. The 3.0-liter, DOHC, turbo-diesel V-6 - sourced from Fiat subsidiary VM Motori - is nearly identical to the one used in European-market Grand Cherokees, but tuned and homologated for sale in all fifty states. Chrysler's preliminary figures suggest two-wheel drive Grand Cherokee diesels will be rated at 21/30 mpg, while four-wheel drive models will achieve 20/28 mpg.
The EcoDiesel offers up 240 hp at 3600 rpm, but, like turbo-diesels often do, it packs quite a punch in terms of torque - 420 pound-feet, to be precise, which is delivered at only 2000 rpm. That not only eclipses the 5.7-liter Hemi's 390 lb-ft of torque, but it also helps the diesel-powered Grand Cherokee to match the Hemi-powered models' tow rating. Two-wheel drive models can pull 7400 pounds, while four-wheel drive models ring in at 7200 pounds.
The EcoDiesel will be available on 2014 Grand Cherokee Limited, Overland, and Summit models. Pricing has yet to be determined for the diesel, but Chrysler predicts it should represent 15 percent of all Grand Cherokee sales.
Look for more detailed information on the 2014 Grand Cherokee shortly - production is scheduled to begin in early spring, with diesel production commencing in the second quarter of 2013.