For years, the Jeep Grand Cherokee just didn't live up to the model's substantial nameplate equity. A top-to-bottom 2011 redesign set things straight, rewarding the post-bankruptcy Chrysler with strong sales. Now a 2014 mid-cycle update brings more refinements and improvements for the popular and well-rounded Jeep, including a new diesel-engine option.
You can argue the value of the new front and rear fascias; I prefer the pre-facelift styling to this new fussy treatment. But the changes go far deeper. All Grand Cherokees now get an eight-speed automatic transmission. This change will certainly benefit the most-popular engine choice, the 3.6-liter V6. More gear ratios should enhance performance and fuel economy of this not-lightweight SUV. New electric steering should also help save fuel. (Read our latest Jeep Grand Cherokee road test.)
But the biggest fuel economy potential lies with the optional EcoDiesel 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6. While the Grand Cherokee offered a Mercedes-Benz-built turbodiesel from 2007-2008, it didn't find many takers. This time around, Jeep is using a diesel from VM Motori, which is part-owned by Fiat. That company also built the crude diesel four-banger in the 2005-2006 Jeep Liberty; we're very happy to report that the V6 is way more refined.
Diesel Jeep buyers will have to pay to play, though. The diesel adds a stiff $4,500 to the sticker ($5,000 for the Summit model), partly thanks to the costs of the necessary diesel exhaust fluid treatment system. You also need to get at least a Limited trim for the privilege to tick the option box for the diesel.
Two footnotes mitigate this cost bump... somewhat. Shuffled options packages make the mid-level Limited more approachable in general; indeed, you can't even get leather on the base Laredo trim anymore. You also get a $1,000 discount on the Limited's "Luxury" package—chock-full of features such as a power adjustable steering column, HID headlights, panoramic sunroof and ventilated seats—if you buy the diesel. That makes the diesel a more palatable $1,305 upgrade over a similarly equipped Grand Cherokee with the optional Hemi V8.
There are other refinements inside. Gone is the cumbersome MyGig touch-screen radio, replaced by the available Uconnect touch screen. This new-generation system retains the user-friendly design that we raved about in the Chrysler 300/Dodge Charger: big on-screen icons and fonts, knobs and buttons for often-tweaked controls, and not a single loathsome capacitive button in sight. It adds new capabilities, including downloading apps and a 3G network. Not to be outdone by the center dashboard, the instrument cluster also gets a big configurable digital display. Chrysler shows that you can achieve contemporary levels of connectivity and customization without frustrating the user. (We're looking at you, Cadillac's CUE and MyFord/MyLincoln Touch.)
To get a preview of these changes, we paid to drive a Grand Cherokee Limited 4x4 diesel press car. Loaded with the aforementioned Luxury package, the advanced technology package (adaptive cruise, forward-collision warning, blind-spot detection) and towing and off-road packages, the price tag approaches $50,000. That seems like a lot—until you realize that duplicating this equipment in a BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz ML, or Volkswagen Touareg TDI would cost you at least $10,000 more.
First impressions are that the diesel pulls strongly with welcome mid-range torque; we look forward to hitching up our trailers to this beast of burden. Unlike the near-silent Mercedes GL BlueTec that's currently in our test fleet, you can tell the Jeep is a diesel, with some rumble at idle and low speeds. (To be fair, the Hemi V8 shared between the Grand Cherokee and the platform-mate Dodge Durango is far from silent.) Things quiet out at speed. Enjoying the torque around town yielded about 22 mpg, while more restrained highway driving showed 26-27 mpg on the trip computer. Jeep claims 30 mpg highway for the rear-wheel-drive model with a 730-mile cruising range.
The new electric steering wins less praise, due to lackluster driver feedback. And some awkward shifts from the eight-speed hint that the Touareg TDI's drivetrain might be better calibrated. Perhaps there will be tweaks before production.
Gasoline-powered 2014 Grand Cherokees should show up in dealers in a few weeks, while the diesel will arrive 2-3 months later. We'll get a better idea by spending quality time behind the wheel of a production Grand Cherokee when we buy our own versions at local dealers to test at the Consumer Reports' track.