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AUSTIN, Texas -- As one would expect of any Jeep drive, it would only be useful if there was a route worthy of showcasing the new Grand Cherokee's off-road prowess.
Aside from the typical loose gravel and uneven rocky surfaces, the Jeep crew had prepared a climb up and down a granite rock hill at a 2,600-acre ranch. The exercise highlighted the vehicle's automated hill ascent and descent systems featured on the V8-equipped models.
After effortlessly ascending the rock dome, the Grand Cherokee began chirping and slipping on the way down. The regular road tires did not like the slippery granite. It required complete faith in the electronics. At the bottom of the hill, the departure angle was sharp enough to require the removal of the truck's lower front valance and rear trailer receiver cover -- it requires removing five screws up front and two at the back. As such, the Grand Cherokee remains as off-road friendly as ever.
The reason for the party trick was to introduce the media to the updated 2014 Grand Cherokee lineup. The most obvious changes are the revision of the front and rear fascia. Each trim level gets a distinctive front grille with new lower valances under the front and rear bumpers. Models with a trailer hitch will have the receiver hardware covered by a removable section of the valance. LED-rimmed HID headlights come as a packaged option on the refreshed models and a cool retro feature added to these units is a "since 1941" text line within the light lens.
The 2014 Grand Cherokee will be offered in five trim levels, Laredo, Limited, Overland, Summit and SRT. This is the first time the Summit model will be available in Canada.
Base equipment and interior finish have been improved compared to earlier models. Natural wood replaces the faux lumber and designers have matched colour palettes on upholstery and dash surfaces with LED interior accent lightning.
A seven-inch TFT LCD screen sits in the centre of the instrument cluster allowing the driver to choose between a host of information readouts including speedometer, odometer and fuel consumption figures. Infotainment systems have been upgraded by the addition of an 8.4-inch dash-mounted display on pricier models.
Four engines choices will be available across the range. The Laredo and Limited models feature a 3.6-litre V6 Pentastar engine and offer the 5.7L V8 Hemi as an option for an extra $2,150. The Hemi comes standard with the Overland and Summit models, but in an unusual twist, customers can deduct $2,150 should they choose to downgrade to the V6 on these models. The 3.0L turbocharged EcoDiesel engine is available as a $4,995 uptick on the Overland and Summit. Naturally, the SRT gets one engine choice, a 6.4L 470-hp monster.
All four engines are mated to a new ZF-manufactured eight-speed automatic gearbox instead of the five- and six-speed units on last year's models. The extra gears wring the most out of each engine for better performance and better fuel economy. Three all-wheel-drive systems will also be available in Canada -- Quadra Trac I on the Laredo with its single-speed transfer case and 50/50 torque split front-to-rear. Quadra Trac II, which comes on the Limited and Overland, adds a two-speed transfer case and allows for 100 per cent variable torque between the front and rear axles. Finally, Quadra-Drive II on the Summit adds an electronically controlled limited-slip to the rear differential. A Quadra-Lift air suspension, that raises the vehicle by 10.7 centimetres for 28.7 cm clearance, comes standard on the Summit and is part of a $2,300 package option on the Limited and Overland. Got that? It is typical of Jeep to muddle what should be a simple grade ladder.
Chrysler has made a concerted effort to move the Jeep Grand Cherokee upmarket and has set its sights on the Mercedes ML and, more directly, the BMW X5. Prices reflect the upmarket shift also. A Laredo now starts at $39,995 (a $3,000 increase), while a diesel-powered Summit starts at $67,140.
The latest 3.0L turbo-charged V6 common-rail diesel is based on the Fiat engine sold in Europe. For North America, the Italian-made unit has been modified by adding a water-cooled turbocharger and by increasing the injector pressure by 200 to 2,000-bar. This does a better job atomizing the fuel, improving fuel economy. The 3.0L EcoDiesel produces 240 hp and 420 pound-feet of torque, 30 lb-ft more than the 5.7L V8 Hemi, yet it posts better fuel economy than the V6.
The 3.0L EcoDiesel is a delight to drive, although even with the addition of sound isolating laminated side windows, there is a slight hint of diesel chatter when stopped at a light. The good news is the lack of the usual diesel smell from an oil-burning engine. On road, the diesel pulls strongly and quietly off the line and once up to speed, the engine has plenty in reserve for highway passing. The transmission seems ideally suited in this application. During our short drive, the onboard computer was showing an average economy of 10 litres per 100 kilometres, which is pretty good. The downside is the cost of getting the EcoDiesel -- it is a $5,000 premium over a V8 Hemi and $7,150 over a V6.
-- Postmedia News