We have been here before, spending time with Jeep’s newest Grand Cherokee model, the Summit-trimmed EcoDiesel edition. It is an impressive automobile, perhaps the pinnacle of what is now available from the hottest domestic automobile company. The recent headlines below demonstrate that.
May 2015: “Sizzling demand for Jeeps will keep two of Fiat/Chrysler’s Jeep plants running all summer, without the traditional negotiated vacation breaks, as sales exceed previous success levels,” Wall Street Journal.
September 2015: FCA US LLC Reports August 2015 Sales increased 2 percent over previous August with the best Jeep Sales in August since 2002,” FCA Communications Release.
So far in 2015, Jeep sales are up over 18%, leading FCA’s stellar sales numbers. FCA has enjoyed 65 consecutive months of sales gains since the 2008 market crash. Four Jeep models have been setting sales records: the compact Cherokee, the midsize Grand Cherokee, the Compass, as well as the venerable Wrangler have all been hot sellers this year.
Jeep’s Grand Cherokee is going on year six of the latest iteration, yet sales continue to expand. Chevy’s current Equinox — same story, as buyers continue to gravitate toward crossover wagons. By adding more technology inside — safety features, driving aids and entertainment options — while making modest changes to overall exterior designs, automakers are extracting more life from vehicles that used to be changed every four years.
The Grand Cherokee has become the benchmark vehicle in its segment. A midsize, five-passenger wagon stretching out to 190 inches long, the GC leads Ford’s Edge, the Nissan Murano, the Kia Sorento, Hyundai’s Santa Fe and Toyota’s Venza in the sales race. Chevy’s Equinox is close in size — a few inches shorter and a little narrower, plus Chevy markets the Equinox as a compact class entry.
When outfitted in Overland or Summit trim, the Grand Cherokee is well positioned to compete against another set of rivals: VW Touareg, BMW X5, Mercedes ML, Lexus RX, Lincoln MKX and Cadillac SRX. In addition, like the VW, BMW and Mercedes, the Jeep has a very capable diesel engine to create impressive power and smooth economy.
Sourced from Fiat’s European engine plants, the Jeep’s 3.0-liter V-6 EcoDiesel is also shared with the Ram 1500 Pickup. Teamed with an excellent eight-speed automatic transmission, the turbodiesel engine earns EPA estimates of 21/28/24 mpg in our Quadra-Drive II Full-time 4X4 equipped model, while spinning out 240 hp and 420 pound/feet of peak torque. The EcoDiesel can also pull 7,400 pounds of trailer — tops in the segment.
When mated to a rear-drive Grand Cherokee, the EcoDiesel earns a 30-mpg highway rating, also tops in the class. In over 1,100 miles of use, our Deep Cherry Red Summit Jeep returned a stellar 28 mpg, with almost 700 miles of range from each fill-up.
The Jeep traveled home from trundling around South Portland on a very hot day, pushing through summer traffic. It then hustled down to Bar Harbor, went back home, went back to Ellsworth to load up with the in-laws, and we then headed to Aurora to survey the family farm’s blueberry harvest. Turning east, we went out Route 9 to beyond Beddington to the Shadagee Road, where we plied the glacial terrain and rural dirt roads to the blueberry barrens of Washington County to witness the end of the mechanical harvest, with the giant machines pacing in their staggered pattern on blue fields for as far as the eye can see. On to Machias for dinner, back to Ellsworth, passing every vehicle that impeded progress, back to Beech Hill Pond, and still no refueling. Finally, 19 gallons were pumped into the tank and the actual mileage was over 28 mpg for over 530 miles of mixed use, in a new truck that barely had 2,500 miles on the odometer.
The mileage number is notable — and with diesel selling for virtually the same price as regular right now — impressive for frugality’s sake. Yet, perhaps the most impressive part of the diesel engine’s performance is how smooth, quiet, and strong it runs. With so much torque under your right foot, only modest throttle applications are necessary. Select your cruising speed, set the steering wheel buttons for the Adaptive Laser Cruise Control (it automatically manages braking, accelerating, and distance spacing between vehicles ahead) and the Jeep’s tachometer never wavers from your selected speed. Long grade ahead, no problem — the Jeep never downshifted and the tachometer needle never moved as the diesel truck motored over the Etna hills on the highway with no change in speed.
It is no longer a stretch to think that the Grand Cherokee can compete against the likes of the luxury class entries such as BMW or Mercedes crossover wagons, or the Land Rover Range Rover for that matter. The Jeep’s interior is richly detailed with supple leather swathed all over the seats, finely patterned stitching highlighting the bolsters, the dash panels and the door trim, plus appropriate levels of wood and aluminum accents to burnish the interior treatment. With heated and cooled seats up front, heated seats in the rear, the Jeep’s glove-leather surfaces are among the finest in the industry.
On the console, Jeep takes a shot right across the Range Rover’s bow, with an adjustable air suspension that raises the chassis over 2 inches for rock-crawling, while lowering the wagon for easy access and wind-cheating aerodynamics. There is a five-mode select knob for sand, mud, snow, etc. conditions, as well as buttons for low-range four-wheel drive and downhill descent assist. Riding on 20-inch wheels, the Jeep makes a big statement.
The entire off-roading prowess is augmented by forward collision warning, blind spot detection, lane change warning, park-sense assistance, knee airbags and a plethora of the usual Jeep interior aids in premium Summit trim. Keyless ignition is included, as is remote starting, while the expected U-Connect system, Bluetooth, navigation, and heated steering wheel are all part of the convenience components. Adaptive headlamps, power liftgate, LED lighting all around, plus rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlamps, and power folding mirrors when you park, are included too.
Grand Cherokee pricing starts around $30,000 for base Laredo models. Summit trim zings that number up to $51,995 before adding the EcoDiesel powertrain (essentially a $5,000 option) while our loaded tester stickered for $58,985. Summit trim is also available with the standard 3.6-liter gas V-6, (290 hp), the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, (360 hp) the SRT Hemi V-8, (470) plus buyers can order the new Hellcat-engined SRT Grand Cherokee starting this fall — with a full 707 hp.
Take that Mercedes, BMW and Land Rover.