What’s the one knock against big SUVs? Fuel economy.
By TOM STRONGMAN
Jeep has an answer for that with the Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel. This 3.0-liter V-6 is capable of delivering 28 miles per gallon on the highway in the four-wheel-drive model and 30 mpg for two-wheel drive. On the highway it can travel 730 miles on a tank of fuel. In addition to better fuel economy, diesels deliver prodigious torque that is ideal for towing.
The diesel engine comes from Italy’s VM Motori. It has 240 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque at a low 2,000 rpm. It is available in two-wheel or four-wheel drive on the Laredo, Limited and Summit models.
The downside? Few manufacturers offer diesels, diesel fuel is not available at every station and diesel costs more. Plus, diesel requires a DEF, or diesel exhaust fluid, to be replenished every 10,000 miles. This substance is basically urea, and it is injected into the system to improve emissions. A small tank resides near the gas tank and it needs to be topped up with oil changes.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, regular gasoline recently averaged $3.28 per gallon while diesel was $3.94 per gallon, or roughly 20 percent higher. The diesel’s city fuel economy is roughly 50 percent better, going from 14 mpg for the Hemi V-8 to 21 for the diesel. If the fuel cost is 20 percent higher and the mileage 50 percent greater, then the diesel owner comes out slightly ahead. The diesel is a $5,000 option, but it’s only $3,000 more than a Grand Cherokee Summit with a Hemi.
Choosing a diesel is about more than just cost. The strong, low-range torque is pleasing because throttle response is nearly instantaneous. Both the diesel and the Hemi can tow 7,400 pounds. The diesel produces 420 pound-feet of torque versus the Hemi’s 390 pound-feet of torque, but the diesel delivers its maximum at 2,000 rpm rather than the Hemi’s 4,750 rpm. That means more pulling power at lower rpm.
The Jeep’s diesel clatters slightly for a few seconds on first startup but is nice and quiet on the highway.
The Grand Cherokee Summit’s interior is like a luxury sedan. Soft leather, suede trim on the A pillars and items such as a heated steering wheel, heated front and back seats, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, panoramic sunroof and a large, 8.4-inch touchscreen display in the center of the dash are all standard. The dark brown leather interior was both handsome and inviting.
The Grand Cherokee has three four-wheel-drive systems, plus Quadra-Lift air suspension and a Selec-Terrain traction management system that lets the driver choose sand, mud, auto, rock and snow settings for the all-wheel drive. It can raise the vehicle 1.3 inches or 2.6 inches for added ground clearance during off-road driving. Park mode lowers the vehicle 1.6 inches, and aero mode lowers the vehicle 0.6 inches at highway speeds for better fuel economy.
The base price of the test car was $51,195. The only option was the diesel engine with the Quadra-Drive II four-wheel-drive system. The sticker price was $57,190.
Three years or 36,000 miles, with a 5-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
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