Cars

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee improves on perfection

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When the USS Constitution was completed in 1794, it is possible that a single idea ran through ship designer Joshua Humphreys’ mind, “Oh drat, how do I top this?!” Fear of failure may be at the heart of any great undertaking, but once success is achieved, living up to those expectations can driveaman to distraction.

Which explains why I feel for the designers of the 2014 Jeep Cherokee. From the ashes of the automotive bailout arose the attractive and capable 2010 Jeep Cherokee. It became the standard-bearer of the American automaker’s revival, and as the popularity and awards came, the folks at Jeep must have been asking themselves how they could surpass that achievement.

The 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee answers that question with visual updates, new technology, a new diesel engine, and a heap of reasons to call this the best SUV in the world.

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To find out how messing with a good thing has paid off, Chrysler flew us down to Austin,TX.The brisket was good. The four-wheeling was better.

I reiterate. I would hate to be a Jeep designer following the 2010 Grand Cherokee. It is arguably the best a JCG could look, so while the 2014’s front design is different, I’d be hard-pressed to call it a drastic improvement. The largest visual difference are LED headlights. That said, Jeep is still more attractive than the majority of the SUV market.

In the cabin is where Jeep has gone above and beyond its predecessor. Though the main layout remains the same, the improvements in display technologies have made competitors like the Honda Pilot or Ford Explorer drab by comparison. The two most apparent updates are theTFT digital gauge cluster and the latest Uconnect 8.4-inch available touch screen.

While the latter is optional, the former is standard on every trim of the Grand Cherokee. It is a customizable digital panel right in the center of the instrument panel, and it is operated by a directional pad on the revised multifunction steering wheel.

Also new are the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters, which operate the Grand Cherokee’s latest transmission, an eight-speed ZF automatic. With the new transmission comes a new engine, and it is one for which Jeep fans have been pining, the 3.0-liter diesel turbocharged V6. It makes 240 horsepower and a stupendous 420 pound feet of torque, allowing it to tow up to 7,400-pounds and return 22/30 mpg numbers with RWD. The 4X4 still yields an impressive 21/28.

Still available are the 290-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 and the 360-horsepower 5.7-liter V8. The new transmission helps both models achieve improved fuel economy numbers, with theV6 getting as much as 25 mpg highway, while the V8 does 14/22 with RWD.

To select RWD would be to give up a bewildering level of off-road capability, especially with the available Quadra-Drive II 4X4 system. The adjustable air suspension is combined with front and rear electronic locking differentials to create an off-road monster that would make a Range Rover leak a bit of diff fluid.

Quadra-Trac II is operated via the terrain selection dial in the center console. It has Mud, Sand, Snow, Rock, and Auto modes. To get a feel for this system, the folks from Jeep took us on a trail that would make any Jeep owner smile. The mix of sand and rock put the Grand Cherokee through a ballet of bedrock.

The system comes with a descent and crawl control, which is essentially cruise control for off-roading. You pick the speed, take your foot off both pedals, and point in the direction you would like to go. The ascent and descent control modulates power and braking among all four wheels while maintaining a rate of speed as controlled by the steering wheel paddle shifters. Tip “+” to raise the speed one kilometer. Frankly, it did things that vehicles this plush and comfortable should not be able to do.

So what does will all this luxury, capability, and efficiency cost the buyer? A base RWD Laredo trim has an MSRP of $28,795. The luxurious Overland costs $42,995, while the Range Rover-rivaling Summit comes in at $47,995. Those up-rated trims feature dualpanel sunroofs, rear seat DVD players, and even Wi-Fi hot spot capabilities.

The 8.4 Uconnect system is a clinic on how to do user interface, and the robust functionality of the voice control system is among the best on the market. The diesel engine, which we’re convinced will be available in the Wrangler in the coming year(s), will set you back an extra $4,500. Though expensive, the notion of 30 mpg and 420 pound-feet is hard to pass up.

So yes, Jeep was able to outdo itself with the 2014 Grand Cherokee. Consider that before the War of 1812, the Constitution was heavily refitted. Like Old Ironsides, Jeep has taken a rugged, dependable hull and equipped it with an armament of efficiency and technology to defeat any adversary from lands abroad.

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