2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland

Jeep appears to have nailed it this time. After two decades of assembling its Grand Cherokee sport utility vehicle, the American automaker has finally delivered a world-class off-roader capable of taking on everything in its segment – and more – with a high likelihood of coming out on top.

And if you drove last year's model, it's time to climb behind the wheel again as Jeep has significantly updated the SUV for 2014 with a bold new exterior appearance, an upgraded interior with enhanced electronics and a new transmission that completely transforms the way it drives.

We recently spent a full week with a dark blue 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 4x4, a well-optioned model fitted with the standard gasoline-fed V6. While it didn't have the punch of the range-topping V8-powered SRT8, or the fuel-sipping economy of its new EcoDiesel sibling, the high-volume variant left us quite impressed.

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Without question, the 2014 is significantly improved over its predecessor.

Slightly more than 20 years ago, Jeep launched its all-new Grand Cherokee for the 1993 model year. The current chassis is its fourth-generation iteration (known as the WK2 to brand purists), which made its debut at the 2009 New York Auto Show, but it didn't go on sale until the following summer as a 2011 model. Three short years later, Jeep has introduced the revised 2014 model with a slew of significant upgrades.

Jeep is offering its 2014 Grand Cherokee in no fewer than six different models (listed in order of increasing base price): Laredo, Laredo E, Limited, Overland, Summit and SRT. Depending on the model, there are three engine choices (3.6-liter V6, 5.7-liter V8 and the new turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 diesel) and several powertrain choices (4x2 and three different 4x4 systems). While the aforementioned diesel and high-performance SRT models capture most of the spotlight, the standard gasoline-powered V6 models comprise the bulk of sales – more than justifying this review.

As indicated, Jeep made several improvements to the Grand Cherokee for the new model year. Mechanically speaking, a smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission replaces the outgoing five-speed gearbox and the four-wheel-drive system has been improved with new modes. Cosmetically, the front fascia has been redesigned and there are new taillamps, a larger liftgate spoiler and more wheel choices. Jeep didn't leave the interior alone either, as the 2014 models are fitted with a new steering wheel with paddle shifters, revised instrument cluster, redesigned center stack with the company's larger 8.4-inch infotainment touchscreen, upgraded Uconnect Access and other enhanced interior materials. Without question, the 2014 is significantly improved over its 2013 predecessor.

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The Overland in standard configuration is fitted with a very high level of equipment.

Our particular 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 4x4, painted in True Blue Pearl over two-tone Vesuvio Indigo Blue and Jeep Brown interior upholstery, started with a base price of $45,995. Few would blame the owners who add absolutely no options, as the Overland in standard configuration is equipped with a very high level of equipment that includes leather upholstery, heated and ventilated power-operated eight-way driver and front passenger seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, Chrysler's Uconnect system with an 8.4-inch touchscreen, 506-watt audio package, heated steering wheel, power liftgate, bi-xenon headlamps and more. Even so, our tester was upgraded with the Customer Preferred 23P package ($1,695), which included adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, advanced brake assist, blind spot and rear cross path detection. The bottom line on our SUV's window sticker, including the mandatory $995 destination charge, was $48,685.

Like most late model Grand Cherokees on the road today, our vehicle featured Chrysler's 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, rated at 290 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. New for 2014 is a standard ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic that provides not only improved fuel economy and better acceleration, but a new lower crawl ratio of 44:1 to aid off-road prowess when equipped with the two-speed transfer case (Jeep's Quadra-Trac II is standard on the Overland). The EPA rates the SUV at 17 miles per gallon city and 24 mpg highway, which is a slight improvement over last year's 16 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. The engine is also E85 compatible, but burning the ethanol fuel blend delivers reduced economy.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland

The 2014 Grand Cherokee starts off strong even before the engine is started.

Underpinning the Grand Cherokee is an independent suspension mounted to a steel unibody chassis shared with the current-generation Mercedes-Benz M-Class (consider it a gift from the earlier DaimlerChrysler days). The front features upper and lower control arms while the rear is fitted with a multi-link design. Twin-tube, gas-charged shock and coil springs round out the package. The Quadra-lift air suspension, with four drive heights and a low Park mode to ease ingress/egress (4.1 inches of total travel), is standard on the Overland. The steering is electrically assisted, and the Grand Cherokee requires just 37.1 feet to turn curb-to-curb. Our Overland was equipped with 20-inch cast aluminum wheels, wrapped in 265/50R20 Goodyear Fortera HL all-season tires.

First impressions mean quite a bit in the automotive world, especially when emotion sells more vehicles than any pushy salesman. In that regard, the 2014 Grand Cherokee starts off strong even before the engine is started.

The exterior refresh is attractive, as it maintains the Jeep's obligatory aggressive and capable appearance while losing some of the shiny chrome in the process. Headlights are now sleeker and more detailed, and the lower fascia receives the same attention. The alterations to the back of the vehicle are less obvious, but Jeep has repositioned some of the flashy trim and cleaned up its overall appearance.

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All of the touch surfaces feel substantial and of high quality, solving that common complaint.

While the contrasting dark blue and chocolate interior would not be our first choice, the white piping on the seats and wood on the dashboard provided an upscale appearance. All of the touch surfaces feel substantial and of high quality, solving that common complaint. The front seats are comfortable, with nice bolsters, long lower cushions and good lumbar support, and the driving position fit your editor's six-foot two-inch frame well. A bright and very legible multi-configurable instrument panel is easy to see, even through polarized glasses, and the Garmin-based Uconnect navigation was intuitive for all who used it (although we didn't like how many of the seat heat/cooling functions required more than a few actions to access). To ease connectivity, the driver and front passenger are offered an AUX, USB, SD and 12-volt DC power outlet in a panel at the bottom of the center stack.

Second row passengers were equally as content, with acceptable leg, knee and toe room; large tinted windows; and plenty of power to charge their own personal electronics (Jeep has put twin USB ports and a 115-volt outlet on the rear of the center console, exclusively for their use). When the center armrest is raised, the cushion beneath it is flat to make a comfortable fifth seating position.

A lack of a third row (Dodge will sell you a Durango for that role) means there are no bulky hide-away cushions to prevent the 60:40 split second row from folding, thus creating a flat and expansive cargo area. The front passenger seat folds flat to increase cargo space, too. There are also four metal rails, and steel tie-downs, to help secure larger loads and grocery bag hooks to keep the little things from rolling around (another 12-volt DC outlet is in the rear cargo hold).

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The gear selector requires a slight learning curve, and it cannot be rushed without drawing profanities.

The push-button stop/start is carried over from last year. The more significant news is the new electronic shift lever replacing its gated predecessor on the center console. Seemingly lifted right out of the current-generation Audi A8 sedan – they are virtually identical as both share the same ZF eight speed transmission – the stubby T-handle only requires a nudge to engage the gear. In practice, the gear selector requires a slight learning curve, and it cannot be rushed without drawing profanities, but it works well after a bit of familiarity.

Our initial positive impressions of the exterior and interior are complemented by the Grand Cherokee's new driving dynamics.

The V6 will never match the brawn of the SRT's V8 (or even the Hemi), and nobody should expect it to, but the new lower first gear allows the volume model to leap off the line with newfound energy. The Jeep weighs 4,984 pounds, which is about average in this segment, but a happy marriage between the six-cylinder Pentastar and the ZF eight-speed transmission (it reportedly has 90 different shift algorithms from which to choose) means the SUV will hit 60 miles per hour in about seven seconds flat. On the road, the power seemed to fall off at higher speeds, but it was more than adequate for most passing maneuvers. According to Jeep, our test car will tow 6,200 pounds (those seeking more pulling capability should look at the diesel or SRT, as those are both rated to pull 7,200-plus pounds).

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The SUV excels on the open road, especially at speed.

Once at speed, extensive soundproofing and thick door seals kept wind noise to a minimum. Unlike the beastly SRT8, docked points for road noise in our recent review, the narrower all-season rubber on this four-door never howled on the open road. While it likely doesn't help lower cabin noise, the air suspension automatically lowers the vehicle at highways speeds to improve the vehicle's overall aerodynamics and aid fuel economy (the Grand Cherokee earns a drag coefficient of 0.37).

Tuned for on- and off-road travel, the ride was on the firm side yet its damping response aligned with our expectations - softer than the SRT8, but still maintained a sporty edge. Its European-bred chassis is stiff and responded well to steering requests. Even so, we found ourselves skipping the tight mountain curves where the Jeep began to feel a bit awkward, and taking the highway routes to make good use of the excellent radar-based adaptive cruise control. The SUV excels on the open road, especially at speed.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland

It appears that Jeep has finally delivered one of the best overall vehicles in the midsize SUV segment.

Sadly, and despite setting a day aside for it, we never had the chance to take the Grand Cherokee off the pavement and try its Select-Terrain system (our planned trip to an off-road park was pushed off the schedule when another automaker was late with a vehicle delivery). Based on previous experience, the new revisions will only improve its competence after the concrete ends.

As you have likely concluded, we really enjoyed our time with the improved Grand Cherokee. It appears that Jeep has finally delivered one of the best overall vehicles in the midsize SUV segment. In base form, the $31,000 Laredo version competes exceptionally well against the Nissan Pathfinder, Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander and Ford Explorer – we'd likely choose it over all four if a third row of seating weren't required, and especially if off-road excursions were on our extended menu.

Yet more impressive than beating a typical mid-priced soft-roader is the Overland's ability to be a worthy lower-cost alternative to the widely praised BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz M-Class. The American beats both in content, equals them in ride quality and is more capable on rough terrain. Thanks to a host of new cosmetic and mechanical upgrades for 2014, the Grand Cherokee has emerged as America's new midsize SUV standard of excellence.