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March 06, 2013

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee and Grand Cherokee SRT Take on the Texas Hills and the new Circuit of the Americas

Jeep-frontAustin, Texas: Jeep’s update of its 2014 Grand Cherokee model makes it new; there are new drivetrains, more luxury and a bevy of options for off-road prowess define it and its sizzling sibling- the high-performance, lap-of-luxury 2014 Grand Cherokee SRT. One of the original mid-sized luxury SUVs to come to market in 1992, the newest version seats five and is an authentic competitor to VW, Land Rover, BMW, and other high-end sport utes. It’s priced from $28,795 to $50,995; the Grand Cherokee Limited with Jeep’s new EcoDiesel V6 is the lowest priced diesel SUV in the market at $40, 295, says Chrysler.

The exterior strikes a nice visual balance between refinement and ruggedness, with a grille that has been redesigned to give more luxo character overall, with distinguishing trim around each of the signature vertical slots. Slimmer headlamps and a shorter upper grille put a check in the “more refined” category, while 17-inch all-season tires (standard on base Laredo models) and a beefy lower grille have “rugged” cred – plus, depending on the trim level, tires get as big as 20 inches. The rear has new, larger tail lamps with smart LED lighting, a larger, more aerodynamic rear spoiler, and a re-sculpted tailgate. Dual exhaust tips are standard on all Limited, Overland and Summit models. Front and rear LED lighting, including bi-xenon high-intensity discharge (HID) headlamps on higher end models, make Grand Cherokee grandly bright on the road.

Inside, passengers sit in a roomy and comfortable space dominated by technology features. The updated center stack has either a 5-inch or 8.4-inch touchscreen, depending on the trim level, with climate and audio controls easy to reach and use. A leather-wrapped shifter is a punctuated stake in the ground below the stack. The new, leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel has paddle shifters and sits in front of a curved information display with details on temperature, gas mileage, speed, trip mileage and more. The standard audio system is a six-speaker set-up with AM/FM/CD/MP3/Sirius XM; dual-zone climate control is included on all models, as are two 12-volt power outlets. Of note, we appreciated a tasteful collection of new color schemes and trim materials that add quality and panache. Standard upholstery is fabric, with a variety of leather trims available depending on the trim level. Base Grand Cherokee models have manual driver and front passenger seat adjustments and a fold-flat front passenger seat, as well as overhead and console storage, plus tie-downs to secure goods and gear in the rear cargo compartment. Under the hood, the newest Grand is powered by the same Pentastar 3.6-liter V6 motor that delivers 290 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque. EPA fuel economy estimates are up however, and are rated at 17/25 mpg city/highway for the front-wheel drive version and 17/24 mpg city/highway with four-wheel drive. Two optional motors can be ordered: a 240-hp., 3.0-liter V6 EcoDiesel that grinds out 420 lb.-ft. of torque. A 5.7-liter V8 is rated at 360 hp. and 390 lb.-ft. of torque and delivers an expected 14/22 mpg city/highway (14/20 with 4X4) and the V6 is more efficient, with EPA estimates coming in at 22/30 mpg city/highway for two-wheel-drive and 22/28 mpg city/highway for all-wheel drive models. Also on board is an improved, lower crawl ratio of 44.1:1, a 46 percent improvement from previous models. All engines are matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission with manual control through the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. We were impressed by the Grand’s on-road ride which feels more refined and responsive.

Jeep-off road-1Four-wheel drive is available on all Grand Cherokees, with choice of two transfer cases: Quadra Trac I is a full-time 4X4 and optional for V6 models; Quadra-Trac II has low, neutral and full-time active 4X4 settings for V6 and V8 motors at the higher end of the SUV’s trim spectrum. In addition, Quadra-Drive II (not to be confused with Quadra-Trac II) is an option for higher-end models, set up with either the V8 or EcoDiesel engine, which is an advanced traction management system that instantly detects tire slip and sends torque to wheels with traction. The Grand Cherokee also earns chops for off-road readiness through a couple of big-deal suspension and handling systems. Quadra-Lift – optional on mid-range and standard on higher end GC’s- is Jeep’s air suspension system with ride height settings from 8.7 inches to 11.3 inches of ground clearance, as well as the option to drop the vehicle 0.6 inches closer to the ground for easier parking and better aerodynamics. A new ECO mode allows a lowered ride height at speed. For true off-roaders: the SUV rates an impressive 35.8-degree approach angle, a 29.6-degree departure angle and 23.5-degree break-over angle with Quadra-Lift and the front air dam removed.

If three motors, eight transmission gears and two suspension systems aren’t enough variety, drivers also can also opt for Jeep’s Selec-Terrain traction control masterplan that manages with 12 different powertrain, braking and suspension systems, including throttle control, transmission shift, transfer case, hill-descent control and speed control. There are settings for off-road terrain that accommodates rocks, mud, sand, and snow, for instance, and the system lets the vehicle speed up and slow down without having to brake or throttle in a graduated fashion that aids with steep slopes or compromised traction surfaces. As we drove the new model over an off-road course in the Hill Country of Texas, we appreciated its lower crawl ratio and the Selec-Speed Control that allows you to dial in speeds of 1, 2, or 3 miles per hour, with a simple click of the paddle shifter, when ascending steep terrain-it’s a first in the industry! For models without Selec-Terrain, Grand Cherokees come standard with traction control, ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist. Short- and long-arm independent front and rear multilink suspension components support the chassis, with twin tube shocks (rear ones load-level for towing), a front stabilizer bar in front and a separate toe link in the rear rounding out the system. Trailer towing is up to 7400 pounds (with the EcoDiesel motor and two-wheel drive).

The 2014 Grand Cherokee is available in five trim levels: Laredo, Laredo E, Limited, Overland and Summit. Laredo comes with automatic halogen headlamps and fog lamps, heated folding exterior mirrors, 17-inch off-road tires and aluminum wheels, automatic dual-zone climate control, AM/FM/CD/MP3/Sirius XM radio with six speakers and 5.1-inch touchscreen controls, two 12-volt power points, steering-wheel mounted controls and shift paddles, tilt/telescoping steering wheel and cloth seats. Laredo E adds roof rails and options like a power liftgate, Harmon Kardon navigation and power front sunroof, as well as power eight-way driver’s and four-way adjustable passenger seats. Limited adds dual chrome exhaust pipes and chrome exterior mirrors, 18-inch tires and wheels, a 115-volt power outlet and USB charging stations, heated front seats, power driver and passenger eight-way adjustable seats with lumbar adjustments, leather seats and heated steering wheel, HomeLink, rear park assist, theft deterrent system and tire pressure monitoring display. Limited models also have bright metal scuff plates and accents. Both Laredo/Laredo E and Limited models feature dark wood trim on the dash and doors, as well as brushed aluminum with a gold tint that accents doors and handles. Overland models include a power liftgate and dual-pane panoramic sunroof, automatic bi-xenon headlamps, approach lamps on exterior mirrors, 20-inch tires and painted wheels, rain-sensing windshield, nine-speaker stereo with Sirius XM travel and 8.4-inch touchscreen, premium leather seats with ventilated front seats, memory steering wheel with vehicle information, cargo net and rear cargo cover, and the Quadra-Lift suspension system (4x$ models). Grand Cherokee Overlands also have stitched-leather instrument panel and open-pore wood, including wood accents on the steering wheel. The rear-seat footwell and rear door-pocket have ambient lighting. The appropriately named Summit is at the top of the trim line, with all the bells and whistles of Overland plus front headlamp washers, high-end polished wheels and a nineteen-speaker, 825-watt high-performance Harman Kardon surround sound audio system. The Quadra-Drive II 4x4 system is also standard, as are front park assist, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring and rear cross path detection.

Sue at COTAGrand Cherokee SRT Sharing overall dimensions, a strong exterior profile and technology features with its Grand Cherokee stablemate, the SRT is a souped-up, more aggressive version of the full-size Jeep SUV. We drove it at Austin’s new 3.4-mile-long Circuit of the Americas track and we impressed by the capability of all of its performance features and by its gorgeous looks. On the outside, standard bi-xenon headlamps, SRT badging and black chrome exhaust tips define the high-performance look; the grille is black and glossy, while brake calipers are bright red. Standard tires are 20 inches, with polished aluminum wheels. A rear spoiler is integrated into the rear one-touch power liftgate, and performance badging abounds. Like higher-end Grand Cherokees, the SRT version has an 8.4-inch touchscreen for infotainment, including a 3G connection for sharing data about the vehicle (and driver) stats with other SRT owners. The system uses UConnect to stream music and access other Internet applications like the Bing search engine. 12-volt, 115-volt and USB power points are sprinkled throughout the interior, which also has a nine-speaker stereo system with AM/FM/CD/MP3 Sirius XM radio; the nineteen-speaker Harmon Kardon system in the Grand Cherokee Summit also can be ordered as an SRT option. A power tilt-and-telescoping, three-spoke, heated leather steering wheel looks and feels posh, as does a ventilated leather-wrapped shift knob. Plush leather-and-suede seats are heated both front and rear; driver and front passenger seats have eight-way power adjustments.

The muscular SUV has a powerplant that justifies the 180-mph speedometer: a 6.4-liter HEMI V8 making 470 hp. and 465 lb.-ft. of torque, with a 7,200-lb. towing capacity (Jeep notes this is a 44 percent improvement over the last model). The engine is matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission with a T-handle shifter for “Drive” and “Sport” settings. Full-time 4x4 is standard. The Grand Cherokee SRT’s “launch” is controlled by a button behind the T-handle shifter on the center console. Sort of like a supersonic boost button on a futuristic vehicle, the control delivers awesome straight-line acceleration and makes micro-adjustments to controls for suspension and handling at the same time – instantly. The button is part of the Selec-Track system, when the vehicle is in Track Mode, a setting where 70 percent of the engine’s torque is delivered to the rear wheels for a more pronounced rear-wheel-drive or performance-feel experience. In other words, it’s race track-ready. Selec-Track, it’s worth noting, has been updated with better computer software to manage Auto, Sport, Tow, Track and Snow settings; the torque split change in Track mode makes a major difference on the performance course, says Jeep. Like its more staid stablemates, the SRT rides on short- and long-arm (SLA) independent front suspension with coil springs, Bilstein adaptive damping suspension (ADS), upper- and lower-control arms (“A” arms), and a stabilizer bar. Rear multi-link and coil spring suspension also has Bilstein ADS, an aluminum lower control arm, independent upper links (tension and camber), a separate toe link and a stabilizer bar. Safety equipment includes traction and stability control, brake assist, front collision warning, blind spot monitoring, rear view camera, rain brake and hill start support, adaptive cruise control, security alarm and front and rear park assist. Front ventilated and rear solid discs with Brembo six-piston calipers in front and four-piston calipers in rear wheels, plus vented rotors at all four wheels give good brake: this big SUV needs only 116 feet to come to a full stop from 60 mph. All drivers can test that with the one-day track experience all SRT buyers get as part of the asking price. See if your test drive can be at the new COTA!

Sue Mead


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