Jeep Grand Cherokee gets stylish inside and out for 2014

By Jeep standards - or any standards for By Jeep standards - or any standards for that matter - the 2014 Grand Cherokee's interior is high-tech, stylish and can go toe-to-toe with other luxury makes. The Summit trim is pictured. Photo Credit: Chrysler Group LLC

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Sport utility vehicles might be fading from the automotive landscape, but at least a couple of Chrysler's Jeep-branded models tenaciously hold firm to the go-anywhere concept.

Of course Jeep's warrior-inspired Wrangler is the group's undisputed icon, but there's certainly nothing old fashioned about the updated Grand Cherokee that's now rolling off the assembly lines. The new 2014 model shows a freshly scrubbed face plus some major adjustments under the hood.

The current-generation GC that arrived for the 2010 model year was an instant hit right out of the gate with stylish looks, sure-footed suspension and a smooth-running 290-horsepower V6 engine. The 360- and 470-horsepower "Hemi" V8 options (the latter attached to the super-swift SRT model) have added considerable performance luster to the lineup, but it's the fuel-efficient V6 that has contributed the most to the GC's continuing popularity.

For 2014 an all-new V6 turbo-diesel comes on stream. Although it has the same 3.0-liter displacement offered on the 2007-'08 GC (that was sourced from Mercedes-Benz), the new version is built by an Italian supplier, which is understandable given Fiat's dominating control of Chrysler. In addition, its 240 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque trump the previous 215/376 ratings.

Unlike the original, the new turbo-diesel is legal throughout the land, a fact that Jeep reinforces by labeling it the "EcoDiesel" V6. To keep the exhaust clean, a substance known as urea is injected into a chamber just ahead of the muffler. The organic-based compound reacts with and neutralizes the engine's nitrogen oxide gasses. It then burns off the remaining soot and expels what little is left. The eight-gallon urea reservoir will last for about 10,000 miles before requiring a $50-$60 top-up.

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The other component added to the EcoDiesel mix is an equally new eight-speed automatic transmission. In fact, all Grand Cherokee powerplants will be connected to the new gear changer that replaces the five-speed unit. Jeep says it provides quicker acceleration, smoother shifting and improved fuel economy. The rear-wheel-drive EcoDiesel GC is rated at 21-mpg city and 30-mpg highway (20/28 on 4x4 versions). By comparison, the base gasoline 3.6 earns a 17/25 rating for both the 4x2 and 4x4 models.

Opting for the EcoDiesel adds $4,500 to $36,800 price of the mid-grade Grand Cherokee Limited (the base 3.6 Laredo starts at $29,800). Factor in the extra cost of diesel fuel and the EcoDiesel upgrade doesn't seem quite so tempting. However the 7,200-7,400-pound tow rating matches the 5.7-liter V8's while providing a 1,000-1,200 advantage over 3.6 models. Additionally the estimated 730-mile maximum cruising range should persuade buyers to seriously consider the extra expenditure, especially if towing is in the cards.

The Grand Cherokee continues with three different 4x4 systems: single-speed Quadra-Trac I; Quadra-Trac II with a two-speed transfer case (low range for severe off-roading); and Quadra-Drive II that can direct torque to a single tire instead of just front to back.

Also returning is Jeep's available air suspension setup with five separate height settings, along with Selec-Terrain that allows the driver to adjust the 4x4 and height/transmission settings for sand and mud, snow, rock or sport. The latter reduces the degree of traction control, lowers the ride height and directs extra torque to the rear wheels.

The GC's drivetrain components are housed in a sleeker-looking body featuring a restyled front end that varies slightly depending on the trim level selected. Inside, the cabin has been retailored and the control panel redesigned to accommodate the new 5.0- and optional 8.4-inch touch-screen controls.

All but the base Laredo arrive fairly geared-up, but the luxury-laden Summit edition with its lacks-for-nothing content level is set to compete with any top-end German or Japanese competitor you would care to name.

The physical improvements and expanded engine lineup make the Grand Cherokee an even more complete package and an exemplary member of the dwindling sport ute fraternity.

What you should know: 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee
Type: Four-door, rear- /four-wheel-drive mid-size sport utility vehicle
Engines (hp): 3.6-liter DOHC V6 (290); 5.7-liter OHV V8 (370); 3.0-liter DOHC V6 turbo-diesel (240)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Market position: As the ranks of true sport utility vehicles continue to thin, the Grand Cherokee is playing a more dominant role as an off-road vehicle the whole family can enjoy in safety and comfort.
Points: Redesigned body projects a softer appearance; New turbo-diesel option is strong on power and fuel efficiency; Eight-speed automatic transmissions for all engines only a slight boon to fuel economy; Will the impending return of the Cherokee for 2014 hurt GC's popularity?; A solid favorite in the sport-ute segment keeps on getting better.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy) 17/25 (3.6)
Base price (incl. destination) $29,800

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BY COMPARISON

Ford Explorer
Base price: $29,700
Spacious, stylish wagon makes available a fuel-saving turbo-I4 engine.

Toyota 4Runner
Base price: $32,100
Truck-based off-roader is specifically built to tackle the tough stuff.

Land Rover LR2
Base price: $37,250
Updated base 4x4 now runs with a Ford-supplied 240-hp turbocharged I4. 

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