The Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep groups, now absorbed into the larger Fiat-Chrysler America umbrella, has seen a lot of growth and success, as seen in new products like the 200 and the substantially updated 300. New products like the Charger and Challenger (and associated Hellcat models) are re-igniting the enthusiasm not seen from the brand in quite a long while.
Over in the Jeep section, the new Cherokee is impressing the media and public alike, and can be regarded as a sales success. We’re excited for the new Jeep Renegade – I recently got a quick chance to play with one and came away impressed at the sheer amount of character it oozes. The Wrangler remains a staple product in Jeep’s lineup and remains as raw and brutish as everybody knows and loves it to be. The Grand Cherokee in its current iteration dates back to 2011, but meaningful updates from FCA have kept it relevant in terms of technology and consumer demand. Refreshed last year, the Grand Cherokee brings powertrain, styling, and equipment updates to the table. I picked up a 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland, with the EcoDiesel engine to play with.
Jeep has been historically good at capitalizing on heritage. The Grand Cherokee shape and style dates back to almost the year 2000, where the Grand Cherokee started to take on a slightly rounder, “post-90’s” shape. For 2015, the functional two-box design remains, with sleeker details (mostly updates to the front grille and lighting modules) front and rear. LED daytime running lamps and high-intensity discharge low-beam headlamps are standard on the Overland trim and really help dress-up the otherwise boxy front-end. While the Grand Cherokee features a unibody design, Jeep has made it a point to emphasize towing capability (up to 7200lbs with the EcoDiesel), off-road capability, while maintaining good on-road manners befitting that of a luxury sport-utility vehicle. I think the Grand Cherokee is Jeep’s best-looking product at the moment.
The up-level Overland package normally equips the Grand Cherokee with 20-inch wheels, but the Off-Road Adventure II package (a $500 option) actually downsizes the wheels to 18-inches (265-section with 60-series tires) for better off-road traction. You also gain the benefit of several underbody skid plates to protect the front suspension, 4WD transfer case, and fuel tank. All of these bits are supremely functional, but some may understandably prefer the 20-inch wheel setup if they’re primarily sticking to the concrete in the urban jungle. The Grand Cherokee also features the Quadra-Lift system, an air suspension system that can dynamically alter the ride height depending on the situation. While controllable by the driver, it will automatically lower the ride height at highway speed to improve aerodynamics.
Inside, the Grand Cherokee, acting as the flagship for the Jeep brand, comes with pretty much all the luxury appointments you’d expect. Power everything, leather seating surfaces, heated and ventilated seats, heated second-row seats, heated steering wheel, lots of real wood all around, panoramic sunroof, satellite navigation, adaptive radar cruise control, and the list goes on. All of this is stuff one might expect in an imported luxury SUV costing thousands more. The Rear DVD Entertainment option adds two LCD screens that fold out to just behind the headrests – great for longer trips. Back to the satellite navigation interface – FCA’s Uconnect interface is one of the better ones in this business. Quick to respond, logically laid out, and the screen is a good size to interact with in motion. I only wished the seat heater controls had their own dedicated hard buttons, but this can just come down to the learning curve new owners will have to pick up.
Another interesting bit that is making its way across the FCA family: the split digital and analog instrument cluster. The speedometer in the middle is part of a large digital screen, and is flanked by three analog gauges that display engine revs, diesel fuel level, and coolant temperature. Everything else you’d need to know is in the very-configurable digital screen. Navigation info, audio status, fuel efficiency info, and even more detailed readouts for things like transmission temperature, engine oil temperature, and the Urea diesel exhaust fluid level. This isn’t much unlike what you’d find in Cadillac’s up-level instrument cluster, and is about as configurable.
The gear selector is something FCA has been toying with lately. The Chrysler 200 and Ram’s newer pickup trucks feature a unique rotary knob to select gears. While different, it’s actually very effective at freeing up space in the centre console. The Grand Cherokee hasn’t quite adopted the rotary knob design, but has picked up a very Audi-esque shifter with defined P, R, N, and D detents. The only quirk here is that once you select Drive, the shifter springs back to a “neutral” position. I’ve heard reports of people accidentally selecting the Sport mode by “overshooting” the standard Drive mode.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee has always offered customers a variety of powertrains. Back in the day, the old 4.0L straight-six was often said to be the one to have, with its robust low-rev design and rugged construction. Tighter emissions regulations and fuel efficiency expectations have changed over the years, and those old-school motors have been pushed out in the favour of multi-valve V6s and V8s. Diesel came into the picture (at least in North America) in 2007. Sourced from former partner Mercedes-Benz, the 3.0L diesel V6 quickly transformed the Grand Cherokee into a serious player in the midsize SUV segment. To this day, diesel-equipped third-generation Grand Cherokees can fetch a fair amount of money on the used market thanks to the stronger resale value.
When the current fourth-generation Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel rolled around, the Mercedes-Benz diesel was swapped out for a new 3.0L diesel V6 from Italian diesel specialist VM Motori. It produces 240hp at 3600rpm and a big 420lb-ft of torque at 2000rpm. Both these figures are improvements from the former German diesel. The other big update that came in 2014 was the inclusion of the ZF-sourced “TorqueFlite” 8-speed automatic transmission, now standard across the Grand Cherokee lineup, regardless of engine choice. This dramatically improves driveability and refinement by reducing engine speeds on the highway, as well as improving shift quality and feel.
This powertrain is paired up with one of several 4WD systems. Opting for the EcoDiesel (a $4,995 option) means you get Jeep’s Quadra-Drive II 4WD system. The base 4WD system in standard gasoline models is mostly mechanical, using hydraulic pressure to engage clutch packs that can move power around to the axle that has the most traction. The EcoDiesel uses a more advanced electronically-controlled system that can more precisely move power around, down to individual wheels in some cases. A 4WD low-range gear is included for serious low-speed rock-crawling. The 4WD system is controlled a rotary knob, called Selec-Terrain, on the centre console. Each mode tailors transmission programming, throttle response, and electronic aids to keep you moving, no matter what you’re driving on.
I couldn’t help but compare this powertrain to the very similar 3.0L diesel V6 and ZF-sourced 8-speed automatic transmission from the Volkswagen group. I tested a Touareg TDI last summer and it was quickly apparent that the TDI was the powertrain to have there. Both the VW TDI V6 and the VM Motori V6 in the Grand Cherokee are rated at 240hp, and the torque ratings are also close enough for the difference to be almost negligible. Even the programming of the 8-speed automatic (also from ZF) is similar, so in practice, the difference comes down to power delivery. I found the torque peak in the Jeep to be higher up in the rev range than in the VW TDI V6. Below 2000rpm in the Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel, there’s actually not a ton of torque available that you can feel, and the powerband trails off just before 4000rpm. Bottom line: by the seat of your pants, it feels like the Jeep’s V6 provides a slightly narrower powerband, located slightly higher up in the rev range.
Gasoline prices here in the Greater Toronto Area have been going up and down lately. Diesel remains a little more expensive than regular 87 octane gasoline, but the fact of the matter is that a single litre of diesel still moves you further down the road. Diesel has many advantages, such as the big torque delivery and efficiency per litre, but some may still be turned off by the deeper diesel sound (mostly only heard outside the passenger cabin) and the fact that diesel remains an unfamiliar beast in the eyes of the general public. Jeep rates the Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel at 11.2L/100km in the city and 8.4L/100km on the highway. Over 775km of mixed driving in a cold February, I averaged 10.1L/100km. I did have the Eco mode enabled pretty much the entire time – turning it off just meant more unnecessary revs and downshifts during normal driving.
The old adage of diesels being difficult in the winter wasn’t an issue whatsoever. Improved diesel formulations by the major fuel providers and glow plugs make winter starts easy. Thankfully, Jeep also provides a remote starter in the Overland trim. It’s also worth noting the EcoDiesel powertrain requires the diesel exhaust fluid to be topped up. This fluid mixes in with the exhaust to neutralize some of the more harmful pollutants before they reach the tailpipe. The diesel exhaust fluid reservoir is typically refilled when you visit your local Jeep dealer for scheduled service. The Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel will accept 93L of ultra-low sulfur diesel. This is good for over 1,000km before the refuel light will come on in the instrument cluster.
The Grand Cherokee Overland comes very well equipped, and starts at $59,245. My particular tester adds the Advanced Technology Group (forward collision warning, brake assist and adaptive radar cruise control) for $1,495. The aforementioned Rear DVD Entertainment Centre option is $2,150. Paired up with the $4,995 step-up to the EcoDiesel powertrain, the as-tested price of the Grand Cherokee Overland EcoDiesel rings in at a MSRP of $70,375 as tested, before taxes. A comparable BMW X5 35d or Mercedes-Benz ML350 Bluetec, both equipped somewhat similarly can easily hit the $80,000 mark. So, the Grand Cherokee Overland EcoDiesel sits right in the middle, but above the VW Touareg. And then, a wildcard appears: the Audi Q5 TDI.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee available today offers a lot of diversity to the prospective consumer. From an efficient entry-level V6, you also have the option to step up to V8 power, with the 5.7L V8. Those looking to compete on the racetrack (because, why not?), can step up to the Grand Cherokee SRT. The EcoDiesel fits in the middle of everything. Out of all four powertrains available, the EcoDiesel is the one I would have. It combines refined low-stress operation and power delivery with very good fuel efficiency. I only wish that the EcoDiesel was made available with lower-end trims, like the Limited. If you’re looking to jump into the EcoDiesel, the Overland trim is where you need to start.
The two-row midsize diesel SUV market is a fairly specific one – people looking for this type of truck with this specific powertrain will be armed to the teeth with research notes and generally already know exactly what they’re looking for. From the handsome design, good build quality, robust premium feature set, decent value, and competitive powertrain options, the Grand Cherokee has something for everybody.