We're all suitably bowled over by the chest-hair enhancing Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8, with its compression-ratio gulping 6.4-liter Hemi V8 booming out 465 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque. Love it all, but we have trouble seeing anyone on Earth actually realizing its promised 13 percent improvement in fuel efficiency, much less its pie-in-sky 450-mile range. Give us a break, Jeep. Tell us anything, but don't tell us to embrace this new raging V8 as the ecologists' super SUV. It has Track mode, for the love of Pete. Say hello to $5+ fun every 10 or so miles when the SRT8 is driven as Jeep's engineers have clearly intended. Then we dare you to tow anything and afford it. We're by no means damning the utterly awesome SRT8, just saying...
One other recent improvement for Jeep in time for its 70th anniversary – beyond this latest Grand Cherokee lineup that continues to shine – is the nearly 100-percent better (and now nearly competitive) Compass. Then, in the near future, the Patriot and Compass will likely – and rightly – merge into one model, there will be a new entry-level "B SUV" and we suspect the Liberty will return to its proper name, Cherokee. Top all of this off with the promised rebirth of the legendary Grand Wagoneer three-row down the road, and it's all looking right on track.
So, where's the common-rail direct-injected turbo diesel?
The Europeans have just been shown their next-generation Jeep turbo diesels and we had a chance to sample these latest and greatest oil-burners at the Fiat Auto proving grounds in Balocco, Italy. We grabbed the ones we like the most: the Grand Cherokee 4x4 Laredo with 3.0-liter CRD V6 and gnarly-yet-comfortable Wrangler Unlimited Sahara with 2.8-liter four-cylinder CRD and wondrous six-speed manual. Word has it that the Grand Cherokee CRD is set to hit the States by late 2013. The Wrangler in Trail-Rated Rubicon guise with a 3.0 CRD V6 and six-speed manual is many off-roaders' dream chariot, but there is currently no talk of this happy-hour cocktail coming our way or even ever exiting from Jeep's Toledo, Ohio plant. That'd be a pity.
Continue reading First Drive: Jeep Grand Cherokee and Wrangler Unlimited diesels...
Photos copyright ©2011 Matt Davis / AOL
Apart from a limited run of Jeep Liberty CRD sales in the first decade of this new century, a few Grand Cherokees that snuck out the door in 2008, and a sort of forgotten run of models in the mid-1980s that tried running a 2.1-liter TD from Renault, there has never been a diesel-powered factory Jeep model sold for widespread use on American roads and trails by regular consumers. Plenty of determined enthusiasts have converted their CJs/Wranglers and other models over the years for tough duty on the Rubicon Trail, at Moab and elsewhere, but there's never been a widely offered "dirty" Jeep.
If you read true Jeep enthusiast outlets, a hardcore diesel Wrangler or Grand Cherokee has been one of the leading wish-list items, well... forever. And who can blame them? The fuel economy these days is markedly greater on turbocharged inline-four or V6 CRDs (i.e. common-rail diesels) while generally maintaining the same towing capacity of the biggest Hemi V8s. And talk about crawl-torque heaven!
The other enlightening upside here is that these new-generation turbo CRDs aren't dirty. They'll get very down and dirty, but birds, bees and trees will love them to bits. The last-generation 2.8-liter turbocharged CRD from VM Motori in Italy used on that former Liberty remains a good engine, but this new generation has been designed to be 50-state compatible. And the previous 3.0-liter offered in Europe and supplied by Mercedes-Benz is now also a VM Motori mill that feels remarkably better suited to the Jeep equation. VM Motori, by the way, is today owned 50 percent by Fiat Powertrain Technologies and 50 percent by General Motors. Fascinating situation going on there, eh?
Of course, the not inconsequential issues of urea-based "We put the 'p' in diesel!" exhaust treatment systems as well as the still mystifyingly weak overall acceptance of diesels in America must be faced head-on. Joe Veltri, Vice President of Product Planning for the Chrysler Group side of Fiat-Chrysler, as well as newly appointed overseer of the Jeep brand and image in Europe, reiterated these basic concerns for us during our test day in Italy. "We can see," says Veltri, "the hardcore Wrangler demand for diesel as well as the economic and environmental benefits of diesel for the Grand Cherokee crowd, but the two challenges in the U.S. remain incorporating urea additives and acceptance." Our response? Clean turbo diesels are likely no more of a niche than the mondo SRT8, and they cost much less to develop. Further, Jeep's CARB and CAFE ratings ought to significantly improve with the inclusion of these amazing workhorses to the fleet.
And then just think of the image boost. Nothing gooses an already romantic niche-image brand like a very specialized niche that caters to the always brand-faithful ambassador "ultras" within its buying audience. We've apparently got the Grand Cherokee CRD coming, albeit (naturally) automatic-tranny only. We want both this and the Wrangler CRD with manual sixes in the worst possible way.
On the road, the Italian 3.0-liter V6 CRD in the Grand Cherokee Laredo 4x4 from the Jefferson North plant in Detroit is as smooth as butter. The 237 horsepower is, of course, fine. But it's the 406 pound-feet of torque between 1,800 and 2,800 rpm that gets our juices flowing. For one thing, the 3.0 CRD can accelerate a Grand Cherokee 4x4 to 60 mph in just 8.0 seconds, which is darned close to the estimated time for the 5.7-liter V8. It also has the same 7,700-plus pound towing capacity. EPA numbers would need to be run certainly, but by our conversion, the 3.0 CRD should be capable of 22 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. That's a far cry from the 16/22 mpg estimated from Chrysler's new 3.6-liter V6 Pentastar engine with the 4x4 setup. These numbers put the CRD's potential total range from a full 24.7-gallon tank at right around 800 miles. Yikes.
And, as we've already stated, this powertrain is hugely refined. Having a 1:1 fourth gear and 0.83:1 fifth gear with the five-speed W5A580 automatic and 3.07:1 final drive ratio might seem lazy, but this gearbox is about ideal for those wanting to cruise America's highways. Besides, the engine's redline is at just 4,600 rpm and 85-mph cruising (face it, you do it regularly) hangs around 1,500 rpm. That's quiet, folks, and the second-generation JTDm diesel management from Fiat Powertrain creates greater efficiencies while also hushing things even more so.
Riding on 18x8-inch aluminum wheels and Kumho rubber in both Laredo and Limited trims, the Grand Cherokee CRD took to the off-road circuit easily with its Quadra-Drive II transfer case, 2.72:1 low ratio and electronic limited-slip differential. But it's that turbo diesel finesse in these sorts of conditions that really sparkles. The whole operation could only have been made better with the company's NSG 370 six-speed manual, but the auto box does a commendable job all the same. Out here, the tidy 3.6 turns lock-to-lock of the steering came in very handy.
We repeated pretty much everything we'd done in the Grand Cherokee CRD while driving the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 2.8-liter CRD in Sahara trim. Yes, we know that only the original Wrangler will do if we pretend to be extreme off-road renegades, but we prefer the added versatility of the Unlimited body style. Besides, the short-wheelbase original is simply not well suited to everyday driving, particularly over longer distances. The added 20.6 inches of wheelbase make the lauded Dana front and rear axles just more usable on the road for families of humans.
You can bad-mouth the 197 horsepower from the longitudinally mounted VM Motori 2.8-liter CRD all you like, but the variable turbine geometry turbo-induced 302 lb-ft of torque between 2,600 and 3,200 rpm with the manual (339 lb-ft @ 1,600-2,600 rpm with five-speed auto) is what matters. She's definitely louder than the Grand Cherokee's 3.0-liter setup, but this a Jeep Wrangler, so the added clamor is appropriate. Expected, even. In fact, the glorious diesel grunt while playing throttle at lower revs from a start-off or crawling over rocks is an entirely better experience versus the comparatively dull and underachieving 3.8-liter gasoline V6.
Still, going down the road with any Wrangler is like swimming for speed in a wedding gown. We logged our asphalt time, and nothing about the experience's comportment surprised us, though we appreciated the added cushioning of the Sahara trim seating and the body-color "Freedom Top" is pretty slick. In addition, the overall characteristics of the CRD are far better even over the road than the old gas-powered 3.8-liter V6 that's comparatively anchor-like.
It would have been foolish to hit the off-road area without a 4.10:1 Rubicon rear axle ratio on a standard Wrangler body, so we did so right after trying the standard Wrangler family 3.21:1 of our Unlimited. We're here to tell you, Jeep is really cheating the United States' off-road scene by not letting us have the 2.8 CRD. We could have toyed around and practiced out there with the playful and tough diesel powertrain all day. The six-speed manual with the standard tree-climbing Rock-Trac reduction gears of the Rubicon trim is better than anything on Earth when mated to the CRD. The optional 18-inch 255/70 R18 113S Bridgestone Dueler tires respond spectacularly well to this power and torque treatment, too.
Regarding price concerns, the federalized Grand Cherokee 3.0 CRD in the second half of 2013 should start at around $36,000 in 4x2 Laredo trim, $39,000 as a 4x4. A Wrangler CRD would most likely begin at $26,000 and go up as far as $31,000. Think $29,500 to $34,500 for the Wrangler Unlimited in diesel trim.
And, get this: If we convert that European liters/100km number to U.S. figures, the Wrangler CRD achieves 28.3 mpg city and 36.2 mpg highway with the manual tranny and 3.21 axle or 25.3/32.7 with 3.73 axle, the heavier Unlimited model getting only marginally less. Those numbers are positively stratospheric compared with the gas V6's 15/19 ratings, and while they would need to be EPA certified, we're certain they'll stay fairly high up there. Range from the 22.5-gallon tank sits just below 800 miles with the two-door Wrangler and around 730 miles for the Unlimited. Isn't it bizarre that we can't get our own Toledo-built Jeeps with their most efficient and off-road-gobbling factory trim?
Wake up, Auburn Hills. Wake up, federal government. Stop the irony and give us what works best.
Photos copyright ©2011 Matt Davis / AOL