First Drive: 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee

AUSTIN, Texas -- Think of the Jeep Grand Cherokee as an ant. As ant species extend from innocent little pismires in your yard to hellacious fire ants that plague ranches in central Texas, the Grand Cherokee family extends from the bargain-priced Laredo to the ravenous SRT that has now devoured the Circuit of the Americas.

With its compound eyes roving on prey, from the hapless Toyota Highlander to the BMW X5 M, the refreshed Grand Cherokee shows impressive adaptivity. Of the gamut of changes for 2014, a few in particular stand out.

One is the available DOHC 3.0-liter turbo-diesel V-6. Joining its gasoline-inhaling teammates, namely, the DOHC 3.6-liter V-6 and 5.7-liter V-8, this oil-burner is available for a $2300 premium. Generating 240 hp and 420 lb-ft, it announces itself with a grumble and a tangy whiff from the tailpipe.

Another change is the eight-speed automatic transmission that's now applied across the lineup. Mated with the diesel, it helps to produce a driving experience marked by bust-your-chops acceleration and midrange body punches that lead to TKOs in the passing zone. Tow up to 7400 pounds if you like. Meanwhile, fuel economy improves by around 20 percent, with a top result of 30 mpg, according to Jeep's latest estimates. Range approaches 730 miles.

Conquering road, rocks, or streambeds with efficiency

We experienced a feeling of invincibility when driving the diesel-powered Summit, which is the luxurious new model that presides over the Laredo, Limited, and Overland. (All reach showrooms in March, while the diesel, offered in all but the Laredo trim, come out this summer.) A feline rumble emanated from under the oil-burner's hood, but the structure of this big Jeep was so solid that we wafted through the Hill Country in splendid isolation.

Ride quality was excellent; the motions of the Summit's standard 20-inch wheels were beautifully well controlled, trivializing patched sections of pavement. Meanwhile, on steep climbs or while overtaking slower vehicles, a flick of the paddle shifter seamlessly introduced a lower gear, and an increase of 500 rpm delivered the needed surge. Adding in the 19-speaker audio system and leather-trimmed cabin made for a truly remarkable experience.

Yet this is a Jeep, so we sampled the gasoline V-8 and latest off-road features on trails over the Llano Uplift, an area of granite inclines and streambeds choked with coarse and soggy sand. With a selection of five dynamic modes for obstacles from snow to rock, the ability to lift itself on air springs and create eleven inches of clearance, and selectable crawling speeds for uphill and downhill sections, the Summit made short work of the obstacles.

A few turns on the track tell a tale

Meanwhile, over on the Jeep ant farm's venomous side, the 2014 Grand Cherokee SRT goes on sale in April. For the first time, its arrival coincides with the refreshed model's launch. "As times progress and we become our own brand, it joins the base program," said SRT brand chief Ralph Gilles.

Engorged with the 6.4-liter V-8 rated at 470 hp and 465 lb-ft, the SRT, which shares the other models' eight-speed transmission, is "so delicious and so awesome" that you'll want to use the new shift paddles, Gilles correctly predicted. Even with an extra gear change along the way, the SRT does 0 to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds. Then it tops out at 160 mph. Yet towing capacity increases to 7200 pounds.

One new feature is the SRT's launch button. To reach the low-13-second range in the quarter mile, you can stage the vehicle, advancing the V-8's camshaft to set its jaws fully open. A max-shift program takes over and torque is directed mostly rearward, with the suspension set at full-firm to avoid energy loss from front or rear lifting.

The SRT's selectable driving modes include a track setting, which Jeep kindly arranged for us to sample at length on the Circuit of the Americas. The SRT went roaring around this splendid new 3.4-mile, 20-turn circuit with impressive bellicosity. We found ourselves exiting Turn 11, a hairpin, and surpassing 120 mph on the one-kilometer-long backstretch without even thinking of wind noise but gratefully aware of the cooled sport seats with suede inserts.

Nestled behind its unique 20-inch wheels, six-piston-caliper front and four-piston rear brakes slowed this jumbo for Turn 12, an obtuse lefthander that introduces a very technical part of the track. Thanks to perfectly weighted, precise, and communicative steering (the SRT has a smaller pinion gear than the other models), we knew exactly when the huge Pirellis would break loose. The chassis and suspension are so well developed, with just a touch of body roll at the limit, that the terrific mass of 5,150 pounds was easily placed and managed in turns.

Our only regret lay in forgetting to summon up the performance pages that the 8.4-in touchscreen displays, so our lap times are unknown. The track record was safe, however.

Restyled and refined for continued relevance

Jeep's leader, Mike Manley, spoke of continuing to refresh the Grand Cherokee "so it stays relevant in the marketplace." It would be hard for us to be any more impressed with his team's effort. The revised exterior and interior styling is unquestionably improved, the powertrain menu is now complete, and the only safety feature that's lacking is incoming missile detection.

Our main struggle with the Grand Cherokee involved the electronic shifter on the center console. Providing a virtual link to the eight-speed gearbox, it could use more positive detents to indicate the selection. Our driving partner perceived some shortcomings with the UConnect infotainment system, but Jeep's system is no less quirky or logical than most, only requiring diligent practice before it becomes second nature.

Beyond these trifles, we enjoyed cataloging the division of labor within the family. The diesel engine improves the Grand Cherokee's capability as a worker. And from the Laredo to the Summit, the lineup shows it can transfer between tasks as needed, like any successful ant species. The SRT, though, reminds us that some ants can fly.

Being several superb vehicles in one, the Grand Cherokee proves that adaptivity is the key to dominating SUV ecology.

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Calvin Brown
Automobile reports the price differential for the diesel as $2300, but everywhere else, including the "insider" posts on jeep forums indicate $4500-5000.  A huge difference, and likely to make payback unlikely for most owners.   Diesels are great. but poor economically in the US.
ron74
got the 2011 in feb of that year, has never been a let down, on the contrary it does not slip in ice even when I try to, it crawls over clay ( yes clay) and mud and it is just amazing at the fuel economy we get. oil, air filter and tires make a huge difference on MPG I managed 25 MPG from indy to atlanta even after taking it offroad.  after owning several diesels in my past I can sayt that this is the best thing to come to a jeep. diesels are now clean, there is no premium like some say. if you want a v8 you have to add 2000 dollars to the tag, so if you want a diesel that outdoes a v8 in MPG, (703 miles on a tank!) tow power, city MPG and low torque then say 2300 higher than the v6 tag should not be a problem.  if you do the math here is how it would turn out.average price per gal now. 3.97   average price for diesel 4.29  that is a 8% difference ( price difference has been stable since 2010)
MPG on v6 gas 14     MPG on diesel 19 ( assuming worst case scenario)  since no one takes the time to learn to drive a car properly.   35% difference savings 27% so out of every 4.29 dollars of diesel you put in your tank you will be saving  1.16 over gas for a v8 the scene would be like this    :    12 MPG over 19 MPG on diesel  makes for 58 % in savings  and if the price of fuel is still at a an 8% difference then you would be saving 50 % or 2.15 out of every gallon of diesel. 
if you figure this in to the premium you paid for a diesel, say 3000 ( inflating the figures )  by the time your odometer hits 46512 on your v6 your premium would have paid for itself and everything from there on will be savings, if you where driving a v8 then you would hit your premium at 27907 miles.  v6 or v8, it is not even half the life of the engine. in my family we have owned a total of 6 diesels, and if you follow instructions and care for them they should last well over 100,000 miles without trouble. besides diesel engines have a longer running life than gas, just keep in mind you have a turbo under the hood; therefore it is not your average v6 and it needs proper heating and cooling times before and after use.
had AMERICA done the math years ago, everyone would be driving a diesel and savings tons of cash and the need for high diesel taxes would be long gone. because if everyone drove diesel, then more people pay diesel tax thus the tax can be lowered. common sense AMERICA.  diesel has been the alternative world wide, has a proven track record, is untouchable by even the most modern technologies and yet AMERICA hesitates to jump on the bandwagon.   it is also true that if there where more diesel cars on the road today we would need more diesel technicians and more competition means lower prices therefore the price to fix or maintain a diesel would be lower. seriously people, WAKE UP.
rick_young_sector7
likewise, i hope the diesel is a BIG seller for them (i'm a big diesel fan)... and i SURE hope that it shows up in the WRANGLER -- with a manual tranny!!! ... 
James Keola
The diesel model will be a sellout. How many people have been waiting for a diesel model? This is the best move Jeep has made.
XSKYCOP
Well, it sure sounds like the new 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee line is going to be a great improvement  over the last few models. I am thinking seriously about either the Summit with the hemi or , more likely , the SRT model. My problem is that I can't find a quality dealer here in Indy. Very poor dealer experiences  are the rule with Jeep and I don't have much tolerance for that at all . I will keep trying , but I won't buy  a vehicle from a dealership that isn't professional with  a good service facility !
BigBlock45
At first glace, the overwhelmingly positive Ahrens review seems to put the new Jeep (in most of its iterations) atop the Range Rover.  While its a great thought, I wonder at the lack of almost any kvetvhing about the weight or ergonomics of such a heavy machine. Yeah, rides in previous Cherokees (Limited and not) were nice.  I note the turbo-diesel puts out almost as much torgue at the 6.4 Liter albeit at much lower revs.. that's a great thing except for the price premium for buyng diesel.  Possibly the "tangy whiff" could disappear with use of biodiesel -- I'm thinking of McD's french fries or BK's fruit pies.  There seems to be an oblique reference to the Jeep's interior electronics not being quite up to snuff, but presumably that will be worked out BEFORE deliveries to dealers?!  All said, it seems a near top-of-the-line machine with the turbo-diesel is the way to order a new Cherokee since about all you'd be missing is the 160mph top-speed and the lack of ground clearance of the SRT.  Now if Jeep could include the 'wave your foot under the bumper' power hatch opener..... 
cdrlbs
I've owned a fantastic Wrangler Rubicon for the past two years. As I grow older the Grand Cherokee looks better and better...This may be it!
Geoff Ekenstam
these last 2 generations of Grand Cherokee have been better than any other SUV from the Big 3
Ninos Denkha
Good they didn't ruin this one.
Fan David
All SUV designs look alike except the grill. pretty sad.
Rick Reny
I agree, much better looking than the new cherokee
Dominick Ruggiero
by god thats ugly!
Reid Crowder
Much better looking than the Cherokee.
Jay Estrada Lim
moose test please lol
Seyed Hassan Dalil
its new Chrysler 300 SUV
Mike Diggs
the shape of the lights is what is important, gives the front a certain connotation they added the vent there to have some sort of use for the gap..
Tad Dunville
What I can't understand is the faux-vents under the inboard bottom corner of the headlights.
ericone
wow I want one

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