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Jeep Grand Cherokee Diesel: even more to like

by Bill Cawthon on

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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.

Jeep-GC-EcoDiesel-2-WebThe “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.

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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.)

2014 JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE ENGINE OPTIONS
Specification/Parameter 3.6L V6 Gas 5.7L V8 Gas 6.4L V8 Gas 3.0L V6 Diesel
Horsepower 290 360 470 240
Torque (lb-ft.) 260 390 465 420
0-60 (sec.) 7.7 6.6 4.4 7.8
EPA Mileage City (mpg) 17 14 13 22
EPA Mileage Highway (mpg) 25 22 19 30
EPA Mileage Combined (mpg) 20 17 15 25
CO2 Emissions (grams/mile) 443 527 595 405
Cost to add $0 $3,195 SRT Only $4,500
Fuel Type (EPA) Regular Mid-Grade Premium Diesel
Fuel price per gallon as of 7/14/2014 $3.614 $3.796 $3.968 $3.880
Fuel cost, 48,000 miles (EPA Combined) $8,674 $10,718 $12,698 $7,450

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.

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Bill Cawthon grew up in the auto industry in the 1950s. His Dad worked for Chrysler and Bill spent a number of Saturdays down on the plant floor at Dodge Main in Hamtramck. Bill is also the U.S. market correspondent for just-auto.com, a British auto industry publication, and a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, which has named the Jeep Grand Cherokee the “SUV of Texas” several times and named the Ram 1500 as the “Truck of Texas” two years running.

Bill has owned five Plymouths (including the only 1962 “Texan”), one Dodge and one Chrysler and is still trying to figure out how to justify a Wrangler. He also has owned at least one of every 1:87 scale model of a Chrysler product. You can reach him directly at (206) 888-7324 or by using the form.


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