2014 marks a mid-life refreshment for Grand Cherokee. All 2014 Grand Cherokee models come with a new 8-speed automatic transmission, replacing the previous 5-speed. And a new EcoDiesel V6 engine is available that provides good performance and fuel economy. Inside, the 2014 Grand Cherokee gets updated electronics. To mark these changes, the 2014 Grand Cherokee gets mild exterior styling changes and the interior gets some new color schemes.
In most cases the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee is more expensive than last year, but it also offers more equipment (in some other Chrysler products the 8-speed automatic is a $1,000 option). Every model except the SRT is offered with rear-wheel drive or all- or-four wheel drive. The rear-drives account for a small fraction of sales, but they get better fuel economy and claims of 30 mpg Highway is worth a small fortune to Jeep.
This is a sport-utility for a family of five. They will fit better than four big adults, yet the Grand Cherokee offers competitive cabin and cargo dimensions. Trim varies from cloth upholstery and faux wood to piped, perforated leather with real open-pore wood and suede-like headliner. Upgraded electrical systems mean additional infotainment choices and more owner configurability.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee five-passenger sport-utility drives well on the pavement and off it.
Four-wheel drive, low-range gearing, and a full-size spare tire required for genuine off-road activities are optional. A variety of drive systems and two suspension arrangements are available.
Chrysler's 3.6-liter V6 engine is standard and more than sufficient for anything but heavy towing. For towing, they offer the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 and, at a higher price point, the new EcoDiesel. With 240 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque, the EcoDiesel's effortless nature is ideal for a big-wheeled heavy box like this. The diesel's EPA City rating matches the V8's Highway rating; and EPA ratings for diesels tend to the pessimistic side, counter to ratings for gasoline and hybrid vehicles.
The restyle applied to the 2014 Grand Cherokee gives it a cleaner, more integrated look, while sophistication increases with price. You can trace some development of the Grand Cherokee back far enough that it paralleled the Mercedes-Benz M-Class but with the new electronics it will feel familiar to drivers of other Chrysler product (and the diesel engine is now from VM, part of Chrysler's Fiat links). If there's a safety feature you want that isn't standard you can often get it as an option.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee competes against a spectrum of vehicles including four-wheel drives such as the Land Rover LR4, Mercedes-Benz G-Class, Toyota 4Runner and Land Cruiser, any number of compact-to-mid-size crossovers and niche models, and to a lesser extent with the Chevy Tahoe and Ford Expedition. If you want a seven-seat Grand Cherokee the closest thing is the Dodge Durango, but that does not yet offer the diesel or an SRT version.
Although SRT is now a standalone brand within Chrysler we include the Grand Cherokee SRT here because it still says Jeep on it and can be purchased at any Jeep dealership. This steroidal performance wagon competes with the Porsche Cayenne, BMW X5M and X6M, Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG, and might get some Audi SQ5 or Cadillac CTS-V wagon shoppers. It's the fastest, most expensive, thirstiest Grand Cherokee, and the last one you want to use in the same sentence with off-road; in an SRT off-road means you missed the braking zone on a racetrack.
Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo ($28,795); Laredo AWD ($30,795); Limited ($35,795); Limited 4WD ($37,795); Overland ($42,995); Overland 4WD ($45,995); Summit ($47,995); Summit 4WD ($50,995); SRT ($62,995)
The basic panels on the Grand Cherokee didn't change for 2014 but body-color trim around the wheels and revised door sills clean up the profile view. Front lighting, wheel sizes and styles, and body-end sections vary among the Jeep models. See below for SRT specifics.
Although the same size as its predecessor, the 2014 Grand Cherokee looks a bit trimmer, lighter, cleaner, less inflated. The whole thing flows better and shows you can build a capable looking utility without resorting to excessive fender flaring or-plastic ramp bumpers. The clearances required for off-highway travel front, rear and underneath remain good. Note that some of the critical off-highway dimensions Jeep claims are with the front air dam removed, a few-minute job before you hit the nastier terrain.
The front end utilizes two headlight and two foglight designs, with premium models getting LED running lights and turn-following bi-xenon headlamps. With the black plastic trim on the inside edge we thought Jeep pulled them off the Chrysler 300 but they are unique to the Grand Cherokee.
Jeep's trademark seven-slot grille is now seven slots cut into a panel rather than a single grille, with black slats on most and the Summit's lined with chrome mesh to mimic Bentley and every other pretender. There's plenty of chrome on upper trims, while the entry model's simpler appearance looks more apropos Jeep's mission statement. Some have dark tow hooks, the Overland gets chrome and the Summit doesn't have any.
At the other end all Grand Cherokees get LED-ring taillights that echo the headlights, with clear-lens signals and backup lights that actually help the camera view. Replacing the big broad chrome name strip beneath the window with an inset Jeep badge cut the pudgy factor notably. Rear lighting is very good, the bumper scuff panels vary in color and some models have a nicely integrated cover for the tow hitch.
The hatch is easy to open, powered on higher trim levels but more an advantage for those who can't reach it open or as a convenience than in effort saved as the manual version is easy, also. The glass in the hatch does not open separately as on some utilities. Laredos run a single exhaust outlet while the other models get two, regardless of engine.
The bodywork between the wheels below the door sills is stamped No Step at the rear edge as it looks an inviting place to stand for roof loading. Better to put a foot on the rear tire, on the door scuff plates, or the rear bumper cover.
Everything below the glass on an SRT looks at least a little bit different. Side sills are more aggressive and fenders filled better by 10-inch wide forged alloy wheels (and those filled with big brakes). The lights have darkened housings, the front running lights are strips in the bumper and the chin spoiler is more prominent. A bulging hood has dual air outlets to release heat, and you'll see the hot air wafting out sitting at a traffic light.
At the back a larger hatch spoiler and big black chrome exhaust barrels back up the SRT badge.
The interior has arguably become the most important part of a Grand Cherokee. It's become first and foremost a wagon or sedan replacement, off-road adventurer secondary, a wee conundrum since the best 4WD equipment comes only with the heated leather upholstery.
A price doubling across the range means a base Laredo will neither look nor feel like a top-line Summit inside, but the Laredo has the same five-passenger seating and cargo space. More important, the materials and finishes in the Laredo seem better suited to Jeepin' and don't have the disparity between the Summit's suede-like headliner, stitched dashboard, natural-finish wood, perforated leather and plastic panels on the doors and console sides.
After hours in both, we found no appreciable difference in comfort between Laredo cloth and Summit leather upholstery, the Laredo's cloth absorbing temperature extremes almost as well as the Summit's seat heat/cooling. Space is more than adequate, headroom remains sufficient with either moonroof.
The split-fold rear seats offer slightly less room but anyone less than six feet should fit comfortably. Many of them recline slightly, some are heated, and some have power points and dual USB ports.
Ahead of the driver is a dog-bone shaped instrument panel with conventional rev-counter on one side and fuel level/coolant temperature on the other. Between is a 7-inch configurable display for speed and a host of lesser data, and the only drawback to a digital representation of an analog speedometer is minor needle ratcheting, like a quartz watch's second hand only faster, as it rises and falls. Virtually everything in this display is controlled by steering wheel switches or redundant from the central infotainment screen.
The 8-speed transmission necessitated a change in shifter, now an inverted putter-head on the left of the console. It requires a more delicate touch than the old gated unit, doesn't move from Drive to Neutral as you might at long lights or crossings without the button, and the lighted icons are not easy to see in daylight, so it's better to look at the dash display.
To choose amongst the forward gears, there are now shift paddles, little levers atop the horizontal spokes on the steering wheel. This isn't a new concept but it is joined with audio controls on the back sides of the same spokes so more than once we changed volume or station when we wanted a gear change.
The LED lighting in the cabin works well, to erase the yellow harshness of the old days. There's an optional giant dual-pane panoramic sunroof that opens wide to the sky. So you can see the stars, maybe better than you can see out the windows or through the rearview mirror. The generous windshield pillars, sloped backlight and rear headrests pinch the space for visibility.
The location and operation of things on the center stack, such as the electronic switchbank and HVAC controls, is all good. Chrysler's Uconnect systems, big touch-screen and voice control work quite well, and as a bonus you can engage seat and steering wheel heaters before OK-ing the distracted driving warnings.
An SRT comes with most luxuries and features standard (get the 19-speaker sound system because it weighs less than the standard stereo). However, it gets unique, thick-bolster front seats, a really hefty steering wheel (oar-thick on the bottom half), different graphics and finishes, and the displays offer more information catered to the enthusiast driver.
Cargo space is rated at 36 cubic feet with rear seats up and 68 with them folded; add a bit more for longer items over the fold-flat front seat. That's about par for the midsize SUV class, but it's also within a cubic foot of a Ford Escape (34/68) and smaller than a Honda CR-V (37/71), showing that mid-size SUVs don't necessarily have more room than do the compact SUVs.
There's an abundance of storage pockets and bins, including two bins under the cargo floor surrounding the spare. That spare may be a temporary-use model or full-size but you won't have to lie in the snow of mud to get it out.
The EcoDiesel engine and 8-speed transmissions are the big deals for 2014. The 8-speed automatic improves the EPA fuel-economyt rating of every model and increases performance available.
Three more gears make it easier for the engines to work at the most efficient speeds. At full throttle, acceleration is notably improved. At a mild pace, calls for more power downshifts are quicker and less jarring, and at cruising speeds it just lopes along. Gear changes are quick and seamless; most drivers won't realize how often it shifts.
The 3.6-liter V6 is a fully competitive engine. Like most new engines it favors revs and horsepower over torque, not ideal for heavy rolling stock but not an issue with eight forward gears. Unless you plan on towing, the 3.6-liter gets the job done. Remember, semi-trucks were making do with 290 hp and lots of gears when Jeep was just discovering round fenders. EPA ratings are 17/25 mpg City/Highway (17/24 mpg with 4WD).
The 5.7-liter V8 adds a muscular exhaust note, 70 horsepower and 130 pound-feet of torque. Top tow rating is 7400 pounds, roughly a ton more than we'd put behind something this size, and EPA mileage is 14/22 mpg (14/20 mpg 4WD).
The diesel is the way to have fuel economy and towing grunt when needed; you'll need a spreadsheet (with fun-to-drive, towing performance, highway range and other objective columns) to find the payoff point for the $4500 option.
This modern clean diesel delivers 240 horsepower but 420 pound-feet of torque more than 2000 rpm lower on the tachometer than the gas engines. At 75 mph in top gear it is near peak torque and just goes, where the others will need a drop (or 3) in gear. It is hardly noisier than some gasoline engines, doesn't smoke, and gets the Jeep moving briskly with ease.
EPA says 22/30 mpg (21/28 mpg 4WD) for the diesel. In a loaded 4WD Summit we managed a lowest of 19 mpg doing two miles across town in 8 minutes, and a best of 31 mpg on undulating two-lane at 65-75 mph. In a rear-drive model on smaller wheels you might see 35 mpg with some throttle restraint on highways.
Though heavy, the Grand Cherokee chassis is quite rigid, one key to the feel of overall quality. When you combine a rigid chassis with a well-executed independent suspension, the result is a vehicle that feels much like the German triumvirate it competes with. Three tons of people and car are not ideal for swift directional changes but the Jeep goes where you point it, soaks up bumps big and small and delivers a comfortable, worry-free drive.
Apart from the SRT, our favorite Grand Cherokee to drive was a 2WD Laredo with E pack and some options. It's more than 800 pounds lighter than the tubbiest Grand Cherokee, with a lower percentage of weight on the front end, and the 18-inch tires are more compliant.
Worth noting: Every high-end example we saw on 20-inch wheels wore Goodyear Fortera tires, while every lower-trim Grand Cherokee on 18-inch wheels had longer-wearing, higher-rated, more-expensive Michelin Latitude tires. We also find that many people buy a 4WD for the snow, but none of these are snow/winter tires. A set of proper winter tires on a 2WD Grand Cherokee will stop and turn better, and often climb as well, in snow and ice than a 4WD on its standard tires. Of course, the optimum winter setup will be a Grand Cherokee 4WD with snow tires.
A short trail course shows the 2014 Grand Cherokee will go where any previous Grand Cherokee will go unless it can't squeeze between the trees or boulders. Few owners will do this in a $50,000 bling-mobile and fewer yet will take the front air dam off with tools first. But if you pop for Quadra-Drive II and the air suspension, only ten or so other utilities might cover the same ground.
Driving off-highway is even easier on the 2014 Grand Cherokee thanks to a 44-percent better crawl ratio (axle ratio x low-range ratio x first gear ratio), because of the 8-speed that enthusiasts will appreciate and, on V8 models, Hill Ascent that controls climbing speed just as Hill Descent controls downhill progress. With its massive low-rpm torque the diesel doesn't need anything more than a steady, light throttle foot to climb.
An important note here that the air suspension and low-range four-wheel drive are not available on the $29,000 base all-wheel drive; plan on spending nearly $40,000 minimum for that level of trail ability. The all-wheel-drive system on base models is meant for mild off-road use and inclement weather; low-range gearing is available as an option on Laredo E, standard on the diesel and V8.
On the off-road course, Selec-Terrain electronically coordinates powertrain, braking and suspension systems, including throttle control, transmission shift, transfer case, traction control, and electronic stability control. What this means is that anyone following the spotter's steering instructions could have driven the Jeep over these terrain challenges. The computers did it all. Where a dead battery in the original Jeep was merely an inconvenience it may well render this one a fancy umbrella.
The SRT uses a 391 cubic-inch V8 like that in the Challenger 392 and other rear-drive SRT sedans. With 470 horsepower, 465 pound-feet of torque, a crisp-shifting automatic, full-time all-wheel drive and foot-wide sticky tires it goes quickly. Jeep didn't claim any big improvement in 0-60 time but even without a timer you can tell those extra gears made it quicker. Acceleration lifts the bow and braking brings nosedive, both tradeoffs for the solid roll control to keep the big, 5200-pound box stable. Don't even think of driving it off road.
Virtually every component that affects performance, be it bodywork, cabin pieces, electronic or mechanical is addressed by SRT, resulting in a package that isn't overpowered, underbraked or unable to use its power. On the contrary, the SRT likes to be pitched into a turn where it takes a set and you simply stand on the gas and let the all-wheel drive sort out the traction; the dynamics are impressive at this price. Like BMW's X5M, Mercedes's ML63 AMG and the Porsche Cayenne Turbo, the Grand Cherokee SRT proves a utility vehicle can make good time on the pavement: A multi-million-dollar Formula One car does 205 mph on the backstretch at Circuit of the Americas and an $65,000 SRT does 135 mph. With all 19 speakers working Sammy Hagar.
The Grand Cherokee gets adaptive dampers from Bilstein, meaning a choice of Touring comfort, which is fine even for unknown winding road, and Sport, in which things are buttoned up tighter. If your race car tends to break down and you want to keep running for the weekend, this might be the best way to tow the race car to and from the track. Just use your tow vehicle as your back-up race car.
Of course the SRT carries penalties typical of super-sport utility vehicles. Gas mileage is usually closer to the EPA city rating of 13, and the tires, easily used up making a heavy truck work like a sports car, are $475 each.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee boasts a capable chassis, comfortable interior that's utility useful or fashion friendly, and some of the most efficient powertrains in its class. It offers the off-road capability that mid-size SUVs should offer, along with substantial towing capability. The SRT puts the Germans on notice that there are super-ute alternatives, and this one costs $20,000-$40,000 less. A Laredo E Off-Road is the most Jeep and the one we want most.
G.R. Whale filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drives of all versions of the Grand Cherokee near Austin, Texas.