Diesel means a higher price but you can feel the difference
By: Jil McIntosh
Once the blue-collar fuel of pickup trucks and tractor-trailers, diesel has moved upscale. It’s still not as popular in cars here as it is in Europe, but several manufacturers are now putting diesel engines into their premium SUVs on this side of the pond.
The latest is Jeep, which now offers a 3.0-L diesel engine in its Grand Cherokee.
Why opt for diesel, especially when it is generally more expensive than gasoline? It’s primarily about performance — diesel engines produce power as soon as you put your foot down. In the Grand Cherokee’s case, that gives you smooth and impressive acceleration, as well as the grunt to tow up to 3,265 kg (7,200 lbs.) or to get over the rockiest off-road terrain.
But I don’t expect too many owners to actually take it out into the roughest stuff. With brands like Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW firmly in its sights, Jeep has made the diesel available only in the upper Overland and Summit trim lines. While the base V6 Laredo trim starts at $40,495, the least-expensive diesel model is $64,740.
I can’t see it carving a huge swath out of the German sales, brand names being what they are. But the Grand Cherokee has always enjoyed the fierce loyalty of upper-end buyers within the brand, and I can see this becoming the urban warrior of choice for many of them.
It certainly looks the part. Everything in my Overland tester looked top-notch. It included standard heated and ventilated seats, navigation, leather-wrapped dash, suede-style headliner and a power-adjustable heated steering wheel. I’d confidently put the looks and feel of this interior up against anything, including the Porsche Cayenne. It’s that good.
The 3.0-L diesel comes from Fiat parent company VM Motori in Italy, and is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. It’s among the torquier engines in the diesel SUV segment, although it’s noisier and rougher than its competitors: call it go-anywhere charm. I don’t like the fiddly electronic shifter, though, which you tap up or down to select the gears. Let’s see Chrysler’s much better dial shifter here, please.
That 4×4 go-anywhere is aided by an air suspension that’s standard equipment on the Overland and Summit models, which can lower this Jeep for easier entry, or lift it in the air to get over nasty terrain. A console-mounted dial lets you switch between optimal settings to tackle sand, snow, mud or rocks, along with four-wheel low gearing.
My tester was further optioned with a package that added underbody skid plates, more aggressive tires and Selec-Speed, an off-road, low-speed cruise control that maintains its momentum going up and down hills. All of that also earned it a “Trail Rated” off-road badge, which the company puts on models that meet its standards for traction, water fording, ground clearance and suspension articulation. Every Jeep I’ve driven with that rating has been able to handle off-road extremely well, but the company never divulges exactly what the standards are that must be met.
That off-road ability doesn’t compromise the on-road manners. The ride is smooth, steering response is quick and everything feels balanced and stable. It’s a fair-sized vehicle but it doesn’t feel big, especially when you need passing power on the highway and that diesel kicks in to get you moving.
My Jeep had a $1,495 safety technology package, which includes a forward collision warning that’ll hit the brakes if you ignore the fact that you’re about to drive into something; blind spot monitors with cross-traffic detection; and adaptive cruise control that will come to a complete stop if the car ahead does. Should the driver in front start moving within a couple of seconds, the Jeep will obediently follow along.
I dislike adaptive cruise control, as well as the Overland’s standard rain-sensing wipers, and so I was glad to see that I could override both of them to select regular cruise and plain intermittent wipers. Most vehicles give you one or the other, but not both.
I’ve driven the Grand Cherokee with its standard 3.6-L V6 and its optional 5.7-L V8 (as well as the ridiculous-but-fun 475-horsepower 6.4-L V8 in the SRT version), and found them both to be excellent choices.
So should you go diesel? The Ministry of Natural Resources says that if gas and diesel are priced the same, you’ll on average driving amounts save $1,239 a year over the 5.7-L V8. The problem is you’ve spent $4,995 swapping out the V8 for the diesel. Meanwhile, the gasoline V6 will only consume an estimated $578 more in fuel, but it’s a $7,145 difference for what’s under the hood. You also have to periodically add diesel exhaust fluid (DEF), which is automatically injected into the exhaust system and is required to meet federal emissions standards, although a tank of it normally lasts until it’s time to get the oil changed.
So ultimately it comes down to whether you want a diesel engine or not. On the down side, it’s expensive; on the plus side, there’s more grunt than you’ll ever need, and you get a diesel badge that’s the hottest ticket in premium SUVs these days. Sometimes, “I want it” is all the justification you need.
2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel
Price: $64,740 to $69,740. As-tested, $68,580
Engine: 3.0-L V6 Diesel
Power: 240 horsepower, 420 torque
Fuel consumption: City 11.2, hwy 8.4, as-tested 12.5
Competition: Audi Q7 TDI, BMW X5 xDrive35d, Mercedes-Benz ML350 BlueTec, Porsche Cayenne Diesel, Volkswagen Touareg TDI
What’s best: Gorgeous interior, true off-road capability
What’s worst: Pricey engine is noisier than competitors
What’s interesting: It can send all of its power to one wheel if necessary for traction