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2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Upgraded… Great Gets Greater

Award Winner Gets Major Changes After Only Three Years The 2012 Grand Cherokee has been arguably the best affordable “real” SUV on the market since the latest generation was launched for the 2011 model year.  The Grand Cherokee was so good that its owners rated it higher enough against its competition to win AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Award in 2011 and 2012 AND AutoPacific’s Ideal Vehicle Award in 2011 and 2012!  This sweep in these tough-to-win owner awards is testament to the excellence of the Grand Cherokee.

Developed in Time of Hardship The 2011 Grand Cherokee was developed during the dark days of the reign of Cerberus Capital Management.   Their ownership of Chrysler steered the firm to the bankruptcy courts and a bailout by the U.S. and Canadian government, UAW and CAW.  Ultimately, Fiat took control of Chrysler and Jeep and the firm is now prospering.  It is surprising that under the eyes of Cerberus, the 2011 Grand Cherokee turned out to be such a good vehicle.

Best Gets Better Like other Chrysler products (Chrysler 300, Chrysler 200, Dodge Charger, Ram 1500), Jeep’s product team has reinvigorated the vehicle but mostly under the skin.  The front fascia is new.  Taillamps are new.  A couple of wheel designs are new.  And the interiors are new and much more upscale.  Grand Cherokee gets Chrysler’s latest iteration of its excellent and easy to use UConnect system.  Gone is the 5-speed automatic transmission replaced by a silky smooth 8-speed unit.  A 240HP 3.0L V6 diesel is available for the first time.  So, the Grand Cherokee is a substantially upgraded version of the 2011 vehicle.  And it works!

Powertrain Lineup Other than the addition of the 3.0L V6 diesel, Grand Cherokee’s powertrain lineup remains basically the same… 3.6L V6, 5.7L Hemi V8 and 6.4L Hemi V8 for the Grand Cherokee SRT.  The gasoline V6 gets 290HP with 260lb ft torque.  The diesel gets 240HP with 420lb ft torque.  The “small” Hemi puts out 360HP and 390lb ft torque.  But the star of the power plants is the 6.4L Hemi in the SRT with 470HP and 465lb ft torque.

Each of the engines is matched with the new 8-speed automatic transmission that yields about 2mpg better highway fuel economy on the V6 and V8s.  The diesel can claim best in class highway fuel economy at 30mpg.

Driving the Grand Cherokee But that’s the grimble.  How is the Grand Cherokee to drive?  Dynamically, the vehicle is excellent.  The performance with each engine is excellent.  The V6 is more than adequate even in the premium trim level Overland that we drove.  The 5.7L V8 Summit proved to be just the ticket at the expense of much worse fuel economy.  The SRT is a huge sports car… gobs of power, great stance, booming exhaust note at full throttle.  If you are an adrenalin junkie and have the cash, the SRT is the ticket at $68,000 in the example we drove.

Ride quality is very good – almost luxurious – and certainly not what you’d expect in an off-road capable SUV.   The Grand Cherokee feels very stable and planted on the road.  Cornering is flat with little body lean.  Even at higher speeds the vehicle tracks exactly where you want it to go.  My co-driver noted that the electric power steering felt a bit loose, but if it was I didn’t notice it.

New Interiors Upscale to Luxurious The seats are wide, supportive enough and very comfortable.  The interior trim is upscale with four different “attitudes” fitting the exterior color and trim level of the vehicle.  The Overland I drove had an interior with a Grand Canyon theme – dark, dark brown door trim panel uppers and instrument panel trim contrasted with dark, dark blue lower door trim panel trim and seats with light piping.  Sounds weird, but the combination works very, very well.

Interface Tour de Force Each Grand Cherokee, no matter Laredo, Limited, Overland or Summit, comes with a center screen and reconfigurable instrument cluster with a 7-inch TFT (thin-film transistor) screen.  The Laredo and Limited have a 5-inch touch screen for AM/FM/CD/MP3/SiriusXM.  Optional on the Laredo and Limited and standard on the Overland and Summit is an 8.4-inch center screen with navigation and UConnect.  That’s the way to go.  Without the big center screen the interior looks bare boned.

Off-Road with the Diesel We selected the diesel version to drive off-road at Inks Ranch near Austin, Texas.  The diesel is quiet and with 420lb ft of torque will go anywhere.  Even with street tires the Grand Cherokee climbed a 60-degree rock face, traversed, and came back down using hill descent control.  Coming down felt almost vertical.  Very impressive and this is why the Grand Cherokee has such solid credentials as an all-around vehicle – very comfortable on road and very capable off-road.  This is what Jeep used to call “the occasional use prerogative”.

And, Now, For the Bad Stuff I’ve been on the press previews for each generation of Grand Cherokee.  I once owned a 1st generation Grand Cherokee Laredo.  Liked it a lot except for the rear seat room.  After owning one and studying the segment for years, at the preview for the second generation the rear seats were still cramped.  The chief engineer admitted that, if he could have done one thing differently, he would have added more room to the rear seat (which would have required a longer wheelbase).  So, here we arrive at the 2011/2014 model and the rear seat is still the same.  The front seats are great and the roominess there is outstanding, but the rear seat is coupe-like.  Maybe the Grand Cherokee is an SUV Sports Car designed only for two passengers?

1 Comment

  • jp| July 31, 2014 at 11:32 pm

    The Jeep Grand Cherokee is the perfect size you idiots. It is a driver’s SUV & not a spoiled child’s taxi. Those of us who get it just wish you’d stay out of it all together. Go sanitize & white wash someone else’s world. We like character.

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