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Big Jeep Grand Cherokee diesel performs with panache

TechnoFile.com

Jeep's new Grand Cherokee is a real competitor in the higher end SUV market, big and imposing and comfortable, and with about as much stuff as one could want stuffed into it.

It even features interesting little trim touches that highlight Jeep's long heritage, hearkening back to the days when the brand began by providing the famed little "general purpose" vehicle for the military.

Available with a trio of engine choices, Jeep Canada's "Summit" trim level test vehicle was of the diesel persuasion, which suited me just fine: I love diesels for their torque and their "gas" mileage, and this particular version proved to be a fine addition to the diesel marketplace.

The vehicle starts at just shy of 40,000 Canadian dollars, and of course you can option the vehicle up from there substantially; heck, Jeep's sample tipped the scales at just over $72K, which is a lot of money until you consider all the stuff you get. Jeep's sample Grand Cherokee even had the first rear seat entertainment system I've seen that embraces Blu-ray technology instead of merely DVD! And it's about time someone did that.

Jeep says the new for 2014 Summit model "establishes a new standard of premium luxury for discerning drivers." The company cites its "sumptuous interior" which features "Natura-Plus leather-faced seating, open-pore wood trim, copper accents" and more. And that, of course, is just the beginning when you're talking about a vehicle whose starting price at this trim level is $63,345.

The three engine choices include the 3.6L Pentastar V6, with its 290 hp and 260 lb-ft torque, the 360/390 hp/torque 5.7 liter V8, and the three liter turbocharged EcoDiesel V6 of Jeep's sample, which the company rates at 240 horsepower and - wait for it! - a delicious 420 lb-ft of torque. Needless to say, that torque moved the big Jeep along with near alacrity once the turbo started paying attention.

Jeep says the diesel delivers best-in-class performance and fuel economy of up to seven liters/100 km (40 mpg) highway which translates into a driving range of up to 1,300 kilometers on a fill. As usual, I didn't get anywhere close to that, but my "just shy of 10 l/100 km." was still excellent considering the vehicle and the driver. My only quibble is that this particular diesel is a tad loud compared to others I've driven.

All of the Grand Cherokee's engines get their power to the road via an eight speed automatic transmission. The sample even had mini-paddles mounted behind the steering wheel, above the audio controls Chrysler products mount back there traditionally. And they work pretty well. The console-mounted shifter is one of those electronic ones that are unfortunately becoming popular on vehicles these days. It works fine, but it feels strange to use, though to be fair it probably won't take owners long to get used to it and probably won't be an issue; I just miss a "real" shift lever.

All wheel drive is standard, of course, and the sample wore handsome, 20 inch polished aluminum wheels. Jeep's Selec-Terrain traction system gives you settings for a variety of driving conditions by, as Jeep says, "electronically coordinating up to 12 different power train, braking and suspension systems." The settings are accessed via a knob on the center console and include automatic, low range, sand, snow, mud and rock. The Grand Cherokee even lowers itself automatically when you're driving at highway speeds, to help with its aerodynamics and handling! It's still pretty well as aerodynamic as a brick, but it's a pretty cool one.

The suspension is a tad soft for my liking, but then again, I like 'em nice and stiff. Brakes are discs all around, with ABS and the usual aids.

Inside is a very classy and pleasant cabin that features a very comfortable 12 way power driver's seat, with memory and four way power lumbar support. The Summit model (and Limited and Overland) also gets a 12 way power-adjustable passenger seat as standard equipment.

The instrument panel is straightforward, and includes a customizable, seven inch driver information display between the two big analog gauges (the usual speed and tach displays). An 8.4 inch color LCD touch screen gives you easy access to the usual entertainment, HVAC, setting, and navigation stuff (if your arms are long enough), including the "next generation" Uconnect media technology and optional 19 speaker, 825 watt harman/kardon audio system that does, in fact, rock.

The optional DVD/Blu-ray system, with its seatback-mounted LCD screens, keeps the ankle biters from biting any ankles (the screen looks great with Blu-rays, too), and connectivity choices abound, including HDMI (and USB and SD slots and more) so you can leave your kids to their own devices, so to speak. The Bluetooth and voice recognition let you drive and talk with your hands firmly on the steering wheel where they belong.

Alas, the robot controlling the navigation system is an idiot, but this is common in the industry. If I'd followed its advice when sallying forth to a location at the opposite end of the city, we'd have ended up in a different town - and when I ignored the turns it wanted me to take it would then want me to turn onto imaginary roads or driveways before it finally figured out that it might as well just recalculate. And when I wanted to find the quickest route to a town about an hour away, it insisted that I enter a destination street address rather than just hightailing me to the town in question.

Again, this isn't just an issue with this Jeep; it's more the state of artificial intelligence and programming today. Some nav systems are better than others, but none of the ones I've tried are as smart (or user friendly) as they think they are.

On the other hand, one thing I loved about the Grand Cherokee was its big, dual pane panoramic sunroof, and the power tailgate came in handy - as did its interior-mounted open/close button - considering the height of both the vehicle and the reviewer.

The Grand Cherokee also comes with adaptive Bi-Xenon HID headlamps with washers, power folding mirrors with approach lamps, interior LED lighting with integrated controls, dual-zone automatic temperature control, a heated tilt/telescoping steering wheel, tire pressure monitoring, adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-path detection and a rear view camera and park assist front and back.

The sample even had remote start! That would be a terrific feature during the cold winter months.

The Grand Cherokee is available in these trim levels, from lowest to highest: Laredo (Starting at $39,995 Canadian), Limited ($48,195), Overland ($58,345), the Summit of this review ($63,345) and SRT ($63,795). Those, naturally are all starting points and you can option them up from there. For example, you can up the base Laredo's price to about fifty grand if you add all the options Jeep offers.

Likewise, check all the SRT's boxes and you'll spend over $77,000. That's serious coin!

Fortunately, the Grand Cherokee is a serious vehicle!

Copyright 2014 Jim Bray
TechnoFile.com