by Daniel Bennett in November 2014 (4.5)
Grand Cherokee Summit road test
I recently had the opportunity to put in a few miles with a 2014 Grand Cherokee Summit EcoDiesel, and I was very pleasantly surprised at the experience.
Having owned a ZJ (1998 5.9 Limited) and a WK (2006 SRT8), I was a bit taken back by the overall size of the WK2. It is not a small vehicle. It dwarfs my 1998 Dakota, and it even holds its own size-wise with my 2005 Ram (regular cab). But, with that said, it never felt massive while driving it around. Admittedly, you might have to pick your parking spaces with a little more care than normal, but on the road, it feels almost nimble.
Nimble, yes, not a word you would expect to be used with a vehicle of this type, especially considering Jeep’s background. Turn-in is crisp for a vehicle of this size, and the steering is weighted well. The chunky steering wheel has a good feel, and the overall driving position is comfortable; I could see where an all day drive would leave you feeling pretty good rather than worn out. Braking was solid, no quirks, although I did not get to test the limits of the brakes, but in casual stop and go and other mixed driving, there was nothing that alarmed me about pedal feel or stopping distance.
The need to stop. That always seems to be the imperative when driving, especially when you are in traffic, but you have only arrived at that point because of the need to go! And go this EcoDiesel does. I was actually very surprised at how well this thing accelerated. Zippy is the word I would use to categorize it. Not fast by any means, but enough to get the job done, and without having to abuse the equipment to get it there.
There is plenty of part throttle torque (420 ft/lbs) so that you do not have to go full throttle to get moving. I found two-thirds throttle was plenty for any sort of merging maneuver. My only complaint about the whole drivetrain experience, and I am not sure if it is engine or transmission calibration, is that there seems to be a bit of lag in the uptake from slowing to accelerating. If you are on the brakes and slowing for a red light, and all of a sudden that light turns to green and you need to get on it to get going again, it takes a bit for power to be applied. Having driven other ZF 8 speed equipped Chrysler products, and not experiencing this ever before, I would have to say its something unique to the diesel or the way they have it tuned.
The EcoDiesel itself is a great little mill. I was pleasantly surprised at how quiet it was, even outside the vehicle. Diesels have some a long ways in sophistication, and this EcoDiesel is a gem. In fact, if you didn't know any better, while driving, you don’t notice its a diesel at all. Gone are the rattle and fume days of diesels, and present are the days of diesels being a legitimate option for almost any vehicle.
This was a loaded Summit model, and had every gizmo and trick in the book thrown at it. The seats, while seemingly just flat, are actually quite comfortable and supportive, even with my bulk (300 lb). I already covered the feel of the steering wheel, but did not mention the plethora of switches that adorn it. Honestly, for my personal taste, its too many switches. It would take awhile to learn them all and every function of each before I could use them without having to glance at them, and I really don't like to take my eyes off the road when I am driving, especially in traffic.
The cluster display is flanked by mechanically operated gauges. I was taken by the instant and long term mileage display. I probably ended up playing with it a little too much. With that display up, you end up playing a game of “How high can I make it go?” with generally positive results on your long term mileage.
The 8.4 Uconnect system is well done, and the dual controls for everything, either through the touch screen, or actual knobs and buttons on the console, dash or steering wheel, makes using most of the functions pretty intuitive. This Jeep was optioned with the dual pane front and rear sunroofs, but I did not get a chance to see how they affected the cabin atmosphere because it was pouring down rain the whole time I was able to have this Jeep.
Overall, I found the driving experience to be pleasant, non-intrusive, and relaxing. The gadgets, where I would normally shun them, are appropriate on this Jeep. The backup camera and the blind spot detection system, while not absolutely needed, do make the job of backing and lane changes easier. The blind spot actually saved my posterior at one point when a small import ducked into a turn lane early and zipped past just as I was wanting to move over.
The only real oddity I find in this, is the paddle shifters and the “Sport Mode.” The diesel, while reasonably responsive, does not really lend itself to “sporty” driving.
If I were in the market for a superb do-it-all vehicle, this would rank right at the top of the list. Great mileage, plenty of room to haul people and stuff, all weather/all road capability, good towing capacity, comfortable place to spend time in, and overall a great driving experience. If you are in the market for that kind of vehicle, you would be doing yourself a disservice to not consider the Jeep Grand Cherokee with the EcoDiesel.
How does one take the most-awarded sport-utility vehicle in history and make it better? If you’re Chrysler Group, you take a 3.0-liter diesel from Fiat subsidiary VM Motori, an eight-speed transmission, and install them in a Jeep Grand Cherokee.
If you’re old enough to remember the state-of-the-art in automotive diesels in the late 1970s, you'll remember smoke, clatter, and acceleration that involved the use of day planners. That was then, this is now.
The “EcoDiesel’s” 240 horsepower sounds small compared to the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6’s 290 or the 360 produced by the optional 5.7-liter HEMI V8, but its 420 lb-ft of torque beats both of the larger-displacement engines. All that lovely torque is what provides a driving experience little different from a conventional engine.
I took the Grand Cherokee on an extended run covering about 128 miles that included highways, city streets, back country roads in various states of repair, and state park roads. Speeds ranged from 20 miles per hour to cruising at 75 with occasional spurts up to 80 while passing. Since previous experience had provided ample proof that the Grand Cherokee has far more offroad capability than most people will ever use, I elected to make this run to see how much fuel the EcoDiesel consumes.
The answer? The Grand Cherokee averaged 26.5 miles per gallon, just shy of the EPA’s 28-mpg highway estimate. In a four-wheel-drive SUV weighing the best part of 2.5 tons.
The majority of the drive was on roads where the speed limit was 50 mph or more, but there was enough stop-and-go, in-town driving to make that 26.5 mpg fairly impressive.
With the Grand Cherokee’s 24.5-gallon fuel tank, that’s a range of 650 miles. From Houston, a Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel and a full tank will get you to Roswell, New Mexico; Wichita, Kansas; Memphis, Tennessee; or Pensacola, Florida.
The downside to all of this goodness is the cost. Don’t buy the Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel with the idea that the upfront investment will be recouped through lower operating costs. The diesel option goes for $4,500, which includes an 800-amp battery, heavy-duty engine cooling, heavy-duty brakes and the “Selective Catalytic Reduction System,” a urea-fueled system that allows the EcoDiesel to meet emission requirements in all 50 states.
It would take more than 176,000 miles to recover the cost of the diesel and its trappings through better fuel economy — comparing the EcoDiesel to the base 3.6-liter engine. If the more powerful 5.7-liter HEMI is an appealing option, the diesel becomes worthy of serious consideration, and about 10% of buyers have selected the EcoDiesel.
While you do lose a bit over a second in 0-60 time, you will recover the additional cost of the diesel in about 20,000 miles, based on current fuel prices and EPA Combined driving cycles. Driving 12,000 miles annually for four years, you not only pay for the difference, you save nearly $2,000 more in reduced fuel expenses. (That’s assuming the gap between diesel fuel and gasoline persists at current levels; if gasoline rises and diesel does not, there will be more savings but don’t forget, diesel also carries higher federal and state taxes.)
The Grand Cherokee with the EcoDiesel engine won’t disappoint the vast majority of drivers. There’s plenty of power to move briskly away from stop signs, merge with freeway traffic or pass slow-moving 18-wheelers. The engine and transmission combine to provide throttle response on par with a conventional V8 and the torque is real, ready for towing and other tasks. Most important, you feel the push as the Grand Cherokee accelerates: most of us don’t have stopwatches in our heads but all of us know the feel of a strong engine.
Chrysler has done something pretty amazing. Not only is the Grand Cherokee an exceptional vehicle, it now has an option that can literally pay for itself.
2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee in depth
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