Philip Reed, Senior Consumer Advice Editor
If you're shopping for a diesel SUV, the 2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited CRD is one of only four available and it's the cheapest of the bunch. But price is only one of many important considerations when shopping the diesel SUV market, as we learned after a week behind the wheel of the Jeep.
Anyone buying this vehicle to save money on fuel might need to reconsider their assumptions. Due to the volatility of diesel prices (they can even rise above those of premium gas), the meager improvement in fuel economy provided by the $1,655-Quick Order Package 22H's 215-horsepower 3.0-liter V6 turbodiesel engine could take 15 years to pay for itself when compared to the standard 4.7-liter gas V8. Furthermore, while this Jeep stickers at $41,055, the diesel will not be to everyone's liking; at idle, you feel like you're in a bus stuck in city traffic.
Still, this version of the 2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee does come with an extra-big 22-gallon fuel tank which, along with near-20 mpg fuel economy, means a cruising range of about 400 miles. Toss in Jeep's off-road pedigree and a surprisingly comfortable highway ride and this Cherokee will hit the mark for a limited number of buyers.
This V6 CRD (common-rail diesel) engine provides 215 hp and 376 pound-feet of torque that's fully available at a superlow 1,600 rpm. In testing, we found this was enough to launch our four-wheel-drive Grand Cherokee Limited from zero to 60 mph in a surprisingly fleet 7.8 seconds. Midrange passing maneuvers were a breeze until about 65 mph, when the acceleration began to wane. The EPA estimates mileage at 17 mpg city and 22 mpg highway, and we averaged 19.3 mpg over about 900 miles of driving. For those interested in towing, the diesel with its 7,400-pound towing capacity (about that of a gasoline V8) might be just the thing for pulling a horse trailer or camper.
The five-speed automatic was reluctant to downshift, and occasionally hard shifts were noticed while driving around town. A suspicious noise was heard between shifts in some cases, and once it was quite loud. But mostly it shifted smoothly and effectively managed the increased torque of the diesel engine.
The full-time four-wheel-drive option comes with a low-range transfer case that even allows the driver to select Neutral. This means it can be towed behind an RV without being put on a trailer. Antilock disc brakes with brake assist, hill start assist, hill descent control, as well as stability control and traction control are welcome safety features to manage off-road and bad-weather driving. In government-conducted crash tests, this Jeep earned five stars in all categories except for rollover, where it scored four stars. The Grand Cherokee comes standard with front and side curtain airbags.
While the antilock four-wheel disc brakes felt capable around town, the numbers at the test track told another story. With 120-to-130-foot stopping distances from 60 mph becoming common in this age of crossover vehicles, this Jeep took 140 feet to come to a complete stop. Furthermore, the front end dove dramatically during extreme braking. Repeated stops didn't lead to longer distances thanks to the ventilated front discs (solid discs in the rear). The Grand Cherokee Limited comes with 17-inch (P245/65R17 1055) Goodyear Fortera H/L all-terrain tires.
For around-town driving, this 4,691-pound (as tested) SUV seemed agile and comfortable. In tighter corners, the solid rear axle with leaf springs and stabilizer bars felt soft and led to swaying, although this design is preferable for off-roading. The steering feel was light and uncommunicative, which was probably designed to reduce steering shock while on extremely rocky back roads.
The diesel is loud at idle and louder at acceleration before smoothing out and being virtually unnoticeable at highway speeds. The cabin is well-insulated thanks to the extra insulation packed in as part of the Quick Options 22H Package along with a stronger battery. Road noise at 70 mph was muted, while wind noise was noticeable both to driver and passengers.
The front power seats with memory settings (for mirrors and radio, too) were comfortable and, thanks to a tilt-telescoping steering wheel and power-adjustable pedals, it was easy to find the right driving position. Some people might want a more aggressive lumbar control, though. The rear seats are a different story altogether. Limited front visibility might make children feel imprisoned back there, and the legroom is definitely tight. Cupholders in the rear pulled out awkwardly from under the seats and a plastic piece fell off our test vehicle. Interior materials had a nice grain texture but were slightly on the hard side.
Access to the rear cargo area is via either flip-up glass or the flip-down tailgate. Unlike on some competing vehicles, the liftgate is not automatic, and it feels heavy when you pull it down. There is plenty of room in the cargo area, with loops for tying down bundles. While the cargo space looks roomy, it doesn't measure up — cargo capacity is low for this class, with just 35 cubic feet behind the rear seat and 69 with the seats folded. A panel lifts up to reveal more storage space for flat items.
In recent years, the SUV and CUV (crossover vehicles) classes have become extremely competitive as the buying habits of Americans shift and allegiances change. To some degree, the Jeep is caught in a time warp and will rely on its roots to keep former owners loyal. However, there might not be enough sizzle here to attract new buyers given the stylish, new competition such as the Nissan Armada, the refined Honda Pilot or the popular Buick Enclave. None of these competitors have the diesel option, however, and none of them may be as serious about off-roading as the Jeep. Ultimately, there is nothing that exactly matches the Jeep.
Design/Fit and Finish
The exterior design of the Jeep offers a timeless appeal, and the green metallic color of our test vehicle suited it nicely. Inside, the dark khaki and light gray stone colors were tasteful and practical, but the interior design bordered on plain when compared to the styling of many other brands. In particular, the gauges seemed dated, yet somehow matched the diesel engine. The dual-zone automatic climate controls were simple and easy to use and allowed fine-tuning of interior temperatures. We didn't like the overabundance of plastic chrome borders on the center console and shifter because they caught the sunlight and reflected it into the driver's eyes.
The 2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited comes standard with Sirius Satellite Radio (a one-year subscription is included) and the MyGIG multimedia entertainment system. Audio controls are conveniently mounted on the steering wheel and the sound quality was impressive. The Limited model now comes with a rear camera as standard equipment, and, while the display was a bit blurry on our test car, this is an important safety feature for families with small children.
Who should consider this vehicle
While "doing the math" won't encourage the economically minded buyer to choose this diesel setup, we're betting that the mystique and off-road superiority might just carry the day for the 2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited CRD. Those heading into the wilds or towing a trailer might pony up the extra money for the diesel engine, even though it will take years to pay for itself.
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