At a ranch somewhere in the middle of nowhere, I?m driving the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee through gravel, across a riverbed, and down a sheer rock face that almost puts it on its nose.
It?s probably the last time anyone ever will, but that?s not the point. The demonstration proved that the Grand Cherokee can live up to the bragging rights that owners want, even if the luxurious interior suggests otherwise.
On the outside, the 2014 model receives a mild refresh. There?s a wider grille, new front and rear lights with LED accents, cleaner side styling, and a new liftgate design that improves rear visibility.
The big differences are a new diesel engine offering, an eight-speed transmission with all engines, new top-line Summit trim level, and performance enhancements for the SRT model.
The last Grand Cherokee diesel was in 2009, provided by former company owner Mercedes-Benz. This one is from current owner Fiat, and it?s a 3.0 L V6 that spins out 240 horsepower and 420 lb.-ft. of torque.
Two gasoline engines carry over from the 2013 model: a 3.6 L V6 and 5.7 L Hemi V8, both upgraded to the eight-speed from the previous five- and six-speed transmissions for improved performance and fuel economy.
There are four trim levels (plus the SRT), and you can get the 3.6 L in all of them. It gets confusing, since the two top lines come standard with the V8 and there?s a credit if you order the V6. For simplicity, the base V6 prices are the Laredo at $39,995, the Limited at $46,995, the Overland at $54,995, and the Summit at $59,995.
The V8 is available in the Limited, Overland, and Summit, so add $2,150 to those prices for it.
The diesel can be optioned on the Overland and Summit, where it?s $4,995 more than the V8. That brings the diesel Overland to $62,140, and the Summit to $67,140. That?s an awful lot of money: the Summit so equipped is more than the $62,995 SRT.
Granted, the Summit is jammed with features, including a premium stereo, adaptive bi-xenon headlamps, adaptive cruise control, collision warning, air suspension, navigation, and blind spot monitoring. (The only options are a chrome package or CD slot, and yes, disc fans, your music?s rapidly going the way of the cassette deck.)
Jeep says it?s targeting the Mercedes-Benz M-Class and BMW X5. Order all three with diesels and the top-line Summit initially costs the most, although the other two climb considerably higher when you add options comparable to the Summit?s standard features.
But I can see a ?dead zone? in the market for the diesel, flanked on one side by Jeep fans that won?t pay into this nosebleed price range, and on the other by well-heeled buyers who won?t abandon the status of their German nameplates.
It?ll be a shame, because the diesel is really nice. It?s quiet and smooth, and the low-end torque gives you great passing power, as well as intense ability if you ever do go off-roading.
That said, as much as I love diesels, you simply can?t go wrong with the gutsy little gasoline V6. It brings the price within reason (on the lower levels, anyway), has more than enough strength for the job, and mates beautifully to the smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic. Once you?ve driven the smaller engine, the V8 seems like overkill.
Interior quality is excellent, and part of my price issue at the higher level might have been that the lower levels look just as good as the top ones. There was a $13,000 difference between the Limited and Summit that I drove, most of it in high-tech interior and exterior features, but the lower-priced model didn?t look any cheaper by comparison. Everything is soft-touch, the leather is top-stitched, and all but the Laredo include a heated steering wheel, rearview camera and power liftgate.
The only stumble is the nasty electronic shifter that Chrysler?s putting in various models. You tap it up or down, with no tactile feel of actually shifting. The result is that you usually have to look to make sure you have the right gear (a couple of times, I tapped too hard and bypassed Reverse). The company reps say I?d get used to it. I shouldn?t have to.
Overall, I think Jeep is going to do really well with the gasoline V6 models, especially the lower-priced lines. This Grand Cherokee is good-looking, it?s lovely inside, and with this new transmission, it?s a great driver.
The brilliant diesel is that and more, both in performance and fuel economy, and unfortunately, in the premium it commands. Whether this will become a sales success, or a rare ?future collectible? for the years to come, will ultimately be the $67,140 question.
2014 JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE
PRICE: $39,995 to $67,140
ENGINE: 3.6 L V6, 3.0 L V6 diesel, 5.7 L V8, 6.4 L V8
POWER/TORQUE: (hp/lb.-ft.) 290/260 (3.6); 240/420 (3.0); 360/390 (5.7); 470/465 (6.4)
FUEL CONSUMPTION: (city/highway, estimated) 13.0/8.6 (3.6); 10.3/7.1 (3.0); 16.6/9.9 (5.7); 16.6/10.7 (6.4)
COMPETITION: BMW X5, Dodge Durango, Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Land Rover LR4, Lexus GS, Mercedes-Benz M-Class, Toyota 4Runner
WHAT?S BEST: Impressive interior, great gas and diesel V6s, off-road capability.
WHAT?S WORST: Pricey top lines, especially with the diesel.
WHAT?S INTERESTING: The diesel engine?s made in Italy.
Travel for freelance writer Jil McIntosh was provided by the manufacturer. Email: [email protected]