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Let's get something out the way first. The Jeep Grand Cherokee is not green. Now that we can agree on that, why is it being reviewed here on ABG? Because it's the first chance we've had to to spend an extended period with one of the new wave of diesel-powered vehicles that are coming to the US market. While not every blogger on this site agrees that diesels are a good thing, the fact is they do get significantly better fuel economy than gasoline-fueled equivalents. While some of you may argue about the energy density of gasoline vs. diesel fuel and the number of miles you get per pound of fuel we don't typically by our fuel by the pound in the US. We buy by the gallon and in virtually all cases the cost per mile and CO2 emissions per mile are both less for diesel than gasoline. Having justified why we even bothered to test this Jeep, let's go past the jump to find out what Chrysler's latest salvo in the diesel wars is like to live with.
Pretty much every major car-maker is developing vehicles that rely on energy sources other than gasoline. In the short-term, these are largely falling into two camps, hybrids and diesels, with European-based carmakers tending to focus more on diesel first because these have long been popular in their home markets. Ford and GM have followed their Japanese counterparts with a focus on hybrids first for light duty vehicles. All of these companies are working on the other types as well, and in the next few years we will probably see each in vehicles from most manufacturers.
Chrysler, by virtue of their relationship to Mercedes-Benz, has definitely been on the diesel bandwagon, with a couple of tentative first steps from Jeep, not to mention the long-running Cummins diesels in the big Ram pickups. Most of the Chrysler models that are sold in Europe have been available with a diesel engine of some kind for many years now and the Liberty was sold in the US with a VM Motori diesel for a couple of years earlier this decade. The Liberty CRD proved much more popular than expected and now a new Jeep diesel is available. Last spring Jeep unveiled the Grand Cherokee CRD at the New York Auto Show. As one of the first examples of the new wave of diesel powered light-duty vehicles, ABG has been anxiously awaiting the arrival of the new Jeep diesel in our garage.
First things first, the Grand Cherokee is a true Jeep. This is no crossover poseur. The Grand Cherokee is a pure-blood Jeep 4x4 that's capable of clambering over those huge boulders on the Rubicon Trail that you see in the commercials and that only a tiny percentage of actual owners ever attempt. Here at ABG we don't really have much interest in finding out what it takes to pierce a skid plate so we'll take it at face value that the Grand Cherokee is deserving of the vaunted Trail Rated badge on the fender. Achieving that off-road capability does mean that the Grand Cherokee doesn't make some of the compromises to everyday livability that modern cross-overs like the Ford Edge and Toyota Highlander do. You know things like space between the floor and roof for passengers.
Like all modern non-Wrangler Jeeps since the mid-eighties Cherokee, this latest example is a unit-body design rather than a body on frame design. This provides improved rigidity and used to mean the Jeeps were lighter than much of their competition. The seemingly inexorable fattening of modern vehicles means this latest Cherokee has now ballooned to almost 4,700 lbs in spite of its relatively modest linear dimensions. More on that in a bit. Achieving the Trail Rated designation requires that the suspension needs a lot of room to allow the wheels to articulate over obstacles. Because of the live rear axle the rear floor is relatively high in order to clear that mobile rear differential.
The bottom line is that the Jeep sacrifices interior volume to get a badge on the fender that will mean little more than bragging rights to most drivers. The test vehicle was equipped with the Quadra-Drive II full-time four wheel drive system. This system uses electronically controlled differentials at the transfer case and rear axle to distribute drive torque to the wheels with the most traction. For those inclined to go rock crawling, there is also a low range in the transfer case for maneuvering at low speeds. All of this hardware makes the Cherokee incredibly capable off-road but also helps pack on the pounds.
Another thing that contributes to the obesity problem is all the safety equipment. The Grand Cherokee comes standard with lots of air bags (including side curtains), stability and four wheel traction control, roll mitigation and on and on.
Driving the Grand Cherokee was actually a pretty decent experience at least from a dynamic perspective. You might expect a vehicle with the off-road capabilities of this Jeep to have a bouncy ride on the road but the Grand Cherokee is anything but. The chassis team responsible for the Avenger would do well to spend some time consulting with the Jeep team. The suspension did a great job of absorbing what passes for pavement around here and was particularly impressive on washboard gravel roads. The worst aspect of the Avenger was the damping and here in particular the Jeep shines. Body motions were well controlled and never felt floaty and roll was kept to a minimum. The steering was nicely weighted but numb and in spite of the 4,700 weight it never felt ponderous which was quite a contrast to the Saturn Outlook I drove a few months ago. While the Outlook felt like it was carrying all 5,000 of its pounds, the Jeep felt a good 500 pounds lighter than it was.
While the Jeep's suspension was first class, the same cannot be said for the interior. When Alex recently reviewed the Rolls-Royce Phantom on Autoblog his description upon getting into the vehicle was "so this is what 'no expense spared' looks like." Unfortunately the Jeep is more like, "this is what ALL expense spared feels like." Reviewers have been carping about Chrysler interiors for years and rightly so. The ergonomics of the Grand Cherokee worked well and everything fell readily to hand. The problem is when you hands or eyes fall on the plastic it looks like it belongs in a $10,000 econo-box not a $45,000 SUV. The plastics were hard and molded in an unattractive shade of gray.
The Jeep that Chrysler supplied was a 2007 model Limited that was equipped with an in-dash satellite navigation system. Surprisingly when I first tried it use it, the screen proved to be unresponsive. As it turned out the pre-2008 models didn't have a touch screen but instead relied on a little joystick to the right of the screen to navigate the menus and enter addresses. This proved to be a very clumsy interface indeed and fortunately the '08 models have a touch screen interface. The newer models also get an auxiliary audio input for the stereo so you can plug in your MP3 player.
Driving down the road the Jeep was actually quite quiet with minimal wind noise even with the tall ride height. A bit more of the traditional diesel clatter was evident than in the Chrysler 300 we sampled last summer but it was by no means annoying. With the radio on at moderate volume the engine didn't really intrude at all. As for the soot and smell, well there was none to speak of. Aside from the low-grade plastics the most annoying thing about the Grand Cherokee interior was the the enormous A-pillars. The pillars have grab handles integrated into them, but they made no real difference. The combination of the wide pillars and mirrors at the base of them made for some really huge blind spots.
The seats and the steering wheel were all covered in a gray leather and the fronts were fairly comfortable. The driver seat had an assortment of power adjustments and a manual adjuster for the lumbar support. The relatively constricted space between floor and ceiling and between the axles means that this SUV doesn't have as much rear seat room as some of its competitors. The rear seat cushion isn't as high off the floor as most crossovers and if you want a third row of seats you have to move up to the larger and decidedly homlier Commander.
The Jeep has similar exterior dimensions to the VW Touareg with about 500 lbs less mass. Compared to an Outlook, the Jeep has a 10-inch shorter wheelbase and 14 fewer inches between the bumpers. The lack of a third row seat means the Jeep has about twice as much space in the back as the Outlook but folding that extra seat opens more space. In the cargo area of the Jeep there is a shallow covered compartment that can be use to stow small items out of sight. Flipping that cover provides a plastic tray where you can keep wet or muddy items after your outdoor adventures.
Of course the primary reason we even had the Jeep in the AutoblogGreen Garage was the power-plant under the hood. As mentioned, the Jeep we had to test was a Limited model with the full-time four wheel drive system and it was running on off-road tires. So this rock-climber was in no way optimized for maximum fuel economy. The EPA rates the 376 lb-ft diesel at 17/22 mpg city/highway while the 375 lb-ft 5.7L Hemi V-8 is rated at 13/18 mpg. Both the gas and diesel engines have the same 7200 lb towing capacity which is more than double that of the Outlook's 3500lbs. During a week with the Jeep, the average came out out to 19.3 mpg, which while not terribly impressive in the grand scheme of things, is a big jump over a gas engine and given the capabilities of this SUV is pretty decent. It's about 2 mpg better than the Outlook but about the same as a Ford Taurus X that went through the Autoblog garage earlier this year.
The base price of the Limited 4x4 is $37,645 and our tester came in at a whopping $45,560 including destination. Is it worth it? Well it depends on what you want out of a vehicle. If you want some serious off-road capability while sealing out the elements better than a Wrangler, it would be hard to beat a Grand Cherokee. It's relatively modest dimensions make maneuvering easier than a Hummer H2 and it gets much better fuel economy combined with impressive towing capacity. However if you need people hauling ability, you can certainly find superior choices including the Taurus X which gets equal fuel economy. Alternatively the upcoming Chevy Tahoe/GMC Yukon hybrids should get even better fuel economy, more room, a better interior and almost equal towing capacity. Personally, I'd like to see Chrysler make the Bluetec version of this V-6 available in the Dodge Magnum, which has similar volume, less weight and is a car. The Chrysler 300 diesel in Europe reportedly gets about 30 mpg combined and that would be a right impressive combination for someone who needs to haul around a few kids in comfort, get groceries and make the trip to the big-box store.