A few weeks ago when I was driving a big, mean, hardcore Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, I was hoping for a big snowstorm or a zombie apocalypse, because behind the wheel of that beast, I would be invincible.
The entire week passed without a flake of snow or any reanimated dead people. I loved the Rubicon, but I never really got to test out its SUV capabilities besides driving over a few curbs that were in my way and some unlucky Smart cars (I kid, I kid).
This time, when I was driving a Jeep, it was the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit EcoDiesel, the top-level SUV in Jeep's lineup. And I couldn't have been driving it at a better time. Toronto was walloped by a huge ice storm and a healthy dose of snow days before Christmas.
The combination, as you've heard or experienced, was almost catastrophic. The heavy ice brought down huge branches from old trees, which fell onto power lines, knocking out electricity for thousands. People were without electricity for days, huge branches and broken trees were scattered around main roads, and the snow and ice-slicked roads were making it even harder to get around.
My home didn't have power for three days, and although we stayed put and bundled up, it probably wouldn't have been such a breeze if it wasn't for the Grand Cherokee. After I spent about 20 minutes chiselling the handsome Grand Cherokee out from under a thick blanket of ice, I was good to go. Adventure time!
The Grand Cherokee's 3.0L V-6 diesel engine (a healthy 240 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque) rumbled to a start and made a fair bit of racket after a cold start, but otherwise it's a robust and smooth engine. With an eight-speed automatic transmission, power delivery was smooth and, under normal driving, the Jeep never felt underpowered. My fuel-economy figures were nowhere near official ratings, but still not bad for a full-size SUV, with my average 70 per cent city/30 per cent highway driving getting an average of 12.7L/100 km, but that's with winter tires, a heavy foot and a snowstorm.
The Jeep drives like a big SUV, which means it's not tuned for sporty driving (you have to upgrade to the satanic SRT version for that). The steering, being on the light side, is not the most responsive and doesn't give the best feedback from the road, but this is the standard for full-size SUVs unless it's a Porsche Cayenne. The Jeep's large size also makes it a bit cumbersome during city driving, but the suite of safety technology features, such as parking sensors, blind-spot monitors and backup cameras helps considerably.
This is sad, but the first thing I thought after I lost power was, "How am I supposed to charge my laptop and phone?" I had some work to do during the holidays and my batteries were running low. Luckily, my older sister, who had power, invited us over for some meals and hot showers, but I would have felt uneasy taking on the chaotic roads if I didn't have a big, bad Jeep on my side. During our drive over, I plugged my phone into the USB jack and my laptop into the outlet in the armrest and I was charged for the long haul.
In a sojourn at the office during the blackout, the adaptive HID and LED daytime running lights and automatic high beams were amazing, because all the street lights were out and they were able to illuminate turns as I was making them.
The four-wheel-drive and powerful brakes (and snow tires) also came in handy when I had to slam on the brakes a few times to avoid hitting tress or big branches that had fallen onto the road. I probably could have just driven over the branches, which I may or may not have done on some occasions, but I usually just took the safe route and drove around them when the way was clear.
The Jeep also knows when it's cold out, so it turns on the heated steering wheel and heated seats automatically. It also moves the driver seat back and steering wheel away and lowers by about an inch automatically when you turn off the ignition, making it easier for people to exit. Now that's service.
The Grand Cherokee's interior is reflective of the SUV's position atop Jeep's lineup. It had a posh, leather-lined interior made with tight-fitting, luxurious-feeling materials. Everything is automatic, the layout is logical, and everything is where you expect it to be. The combination of physical buttons and the intuitive UConnect system make everything simple to use. From pairing a phone to entering a destination in the nav, the ultra-intuitive UConnect system makes it easy.
The Jeep's massive cargo capacity and privacy cover also proved useful, as I had to use the Grand Cherokee as a Santa sleigh to drive around to different parts of the storm-battered city to deliver Christmas presents to various in-laws, who all came down with a terrible stomach flu and weren't able to make Christmas dinner.
Compared to its European full-size SUV competitors, this Jeep offers more value. The fully loaded and as-tested price of $69,655 rings in far below what a similarly equipped BMW X5 or Land Rover LR4 would cost.
In the end, the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit 4x4 EcoDiesel made the perfect winter warrior. I survived the ice storm and would be a lot worse off if it wasn't for this handsome and brawny Jeep.
-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2014