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Published: 04/21/2014 - by Mike Monticello, Road Test Editor
The 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee is a midsize SUV that does a little of everything. Its well-trimmed cabin is comfy for five, and it's one of the few remaining vehicles that can truly handle both off-road trails and daily commutes.
Haven't driven a Grand Cherokee in a while? Then you'll probably be surprised when you slide behind its grippy leather-wrapped wheel. Recent improvements in interior accommodations and driving refinement have made it one of our favorite midsize SUVs.
Unfortunately, the GC's rugged-yet-suave nature comes at a price. It's on the expensive side for the class.
What Is It?
The 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit is the top of four available trim levels including Laredo, Limited and Overland. All are available with either rear- or four-wheel drive. For 2014 all Grand Cherokees get revised exterior styling and a new climate and audio control layout.
As with all Grand Cherokees, the Summit comes standard with a 3.6-liter V6, but both a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 and 5.7-liter Hemi V8 are optional. All engines come mated to a new eight-speed automatic transmission.
How Is It Equipped?
With a starting price of $52,190, our Grand Cherokee Summit 4x4 test vehicle came standard with Quadra-Trac II 4WD, the Selec-Terrain system, Quadra-Lift air suspension, heated front and second-row seats (front seats with ventilation), a navigation system with an 8.4-inch touchscreen, a 19-speaker audio system, Bluetooth, a heated steering wheel, paddle shifters, a back-up camera, front and rear parking sonar, blind-spot and rear cross-path detection and forward collision warning with crash mitigation.
Our tester also had the Ecodiesel V6, a $5,000 option that brings with it a high-current battery, the top Quadra-Drive II 4WD system, an electronic limited-slip rear differential and heavy-duty brakes, for a total price of $57,190.
Wallet not quite that fat? The base Grand Cherokee Laredo, with rear-wheel drive and a gasoline V6, starts at $30,190.
All Grand Cherokees come standard with a 3.6-liter V6 that makes 290 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. Optional are a $3,195 5.7-liter V8 (known as the "Hemi") with 360 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque as well as the new 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 (known as the "Ecodiesel") that puts out 240 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque.
How Does It Drive?
We were expecting great things from the Grand Cherokee Summit's standard Quadra-Lift air suspension system. Although it soaks up big bumps with ease, it struggles with smaller, sharper ripples and allows significant vibrations into the cabin. Standard 20-inch wheels don't help ride quality. On the plus side, the air suspension system is height-adjustable for loading or off-roading.
During instrumented testing, our test-driver hustled the Grand Cherokee Ecodiesel to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds (7.5 seconds with a foot of rollout as on a drag strip), which is quicker than the GC gasoline V6 and about equal to the 2014 Toyota 4Runner. The eight-speed automatic shifts slowly, but its action is nearly imperceptible. Due to the diesel engine's low-revving nature, full-throttle upshifts come around 3,500 rpm.
Panic stops from 60 mph require 121 feet and are accompanied by plenty of nosedive and squirm because of the Jeep's abundant suspension travel. This is an average stopping distance for the class.
The steering is light and there's a decided lack of feel through the wheel. The big Jeep leans considerably through corners and has fairly low on-road limits, but it remains a stable, controllable machine. Our test driver managed only 58.4 mph through our slalom course and the big Jeep only mustered 0.74g of lateral grip around the skid pad.
On the highway the Grand Cherokee Ecodiesel is remarkably quiet, to the point you can barely detect it's a diesel. The bit of clatter it does exhibit makes it louder at idle than rival gasoline engines, but it's far from obnoxious. And in Edmunds sound testing, the Ecodiesel proved considerably quieter at full throttle (67.7 dB) than rivals. That's partially because the diesel simply doesn't rev as high, but also due to the excellent sound-deadening, including dual-pane front glass. Wind noise on the highway is virtually absent.
How Good Is It Off-Road?
Despite the fact that our top-trim Summit model included the most capable of the three 4WD systems (Quadra-Drive II) as well as standard height-adjustable air suspension, it's the only trim level that isn't Trail Rated. Its unique (and low) front fascia can't be removed for rock-crawling maneuvers as it can on the other GC models.
That said, the height-adjustable air suspension system somewhat makes up for the lack of a Trail Rating. The Quadra-Drive II 4WD system and its low-range transfer case is about as serious as they come, giving the Grand Cherokee billy goat-like scree-slope climbing abilities, with absolutely incredible traction. Also strangely unavailable on the Summit model is the optional Selec-Speed Control feature, which includes hill ascent and descent control to manage speed on steep climbs and descents using the paddle shifters.
How Safe Is It?
In federal government tests, NHTSA gave the 2014 Grand Cherokee five stars (out of a possible five) for both frontal- and side-impact crash protection. Further, GC 4WD models get an overall rating of five stars, but 2WD versions rate only four stars overall due to a lower rollover rating. In private testing, the IIHS gave the Grand Cherokee a "Good" rating, the highest possible.
The Grand Cherokee Summit comes standard with a blind-sport monitoring system that aids drivers when changing lanes. It also comes with a forward collision system that not only warns of an impending crash, but will automatically brake if the driver is not reacting quickly enough. Another standard feature, called Rear Cross Path detection, signals a warning if other vehicles are crossing behind the GC.
Also standard is a back-up camera as well as front and rear parking assist, which give audible warnings to the driver if they are about to bump into something when parking.
What Kind of Fuel Economy Does It Deliver?
Spending an extra $5,000 for the Ecodiesel engine gets you three important things: A high-for-the-class trailer tow rating of 7,200 pounds (7,400 for the 2WD model), right-now low-end torque (which is terrific for off-roading) along with a 24 mpg combined (21 city/28 highway) EPA rating for the 4x4 model. On our standardized Edmunds test loop, the Grand Cherokee Summit 4x4 Ecodiesel returned a commendable 27.4 mpg in a mix of city, mountain and highway driving. Overall during its stay with us, the GC Ecodiesel averaged 22.3 mpg over 1,145 miles.
Don't care for a diesel? The two-wheel-drive Grand Cherokee with the base gasoline V6 is rated by the EPA at 20 mpg combined (17 city/25 highway), while the Grand Cherokee 4x4 with the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 is rated at 16 mpg combined (14 city/20 highway).
How Does It Rate in Terms of Interior Comfort?
At more than $50,000, buyers should expect one of the best interiors in the business. Luckily, the new Grand Cherokee provides just that, especially in top-spec Summit form. Fit and finish has been improved for the 2014 model year, and bits like the "open-pore" real wood trim are tops in the industry, let alone the class.
The high-perched front seats are wide and overstuffed with padding yet still surprisingly firm, but plenty comfy for long days. Both front seats are eight-way adjustable (driver seat with power operation) and both have standard four-way lumbar as well as heating and cooling. The Jeep has well-padded armrests throughout. The rear seatbacks recline via an easy-to-access lever, and those outboard seats are heated. Even the middle rear seat is livable for adults, at least over moderate distances. Despite the high seating position, there's still generous headroom up front. The rear seat, as well, has excellent foot and knee room, along with plenty of headroom.
Improvements to the GC's interior for 2014 include materials and controls at the top of the class. The UConnect infotainment system remains solid but the use of its screen as a climate control interface is tedious, with some adjustments requiring three or four button pushes.
But overall this is a great interior. It has a terrific-feeling new steering wheel and solid, substantial controls, such as the large, grippy knobs for stereo volume, tuning and fan speed. Other than the center stack bin's flimsy door, the materials are fantastic: tight yet supple leather, stunning wood trim, the leather and wood steering wheel and a beautiful suede headliner.
What Are Its Closest Competitors?
The Grand Cherokee's closest competitor, the Toyota 4Runner, shares the Jeep's off-road aptitude, but it doesn't offer a V8 or diesel option, and its interior simply isn't as nice. The price tag on the Jeep, however, typically exceeds that of the 4Runner or popular crossover SUVs like the Ford Explorer or Honda Pilot. The Explorer and Pilot are nowhere near as useful off-road, though.
Another similar competitor, the Volkswagen Touareg, offers a similarly high-end cabin and a diesel engine option. But the VW is tuned more for on-road performance than off-road action. Like the Touareg, the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee feels as if it belongs in a higher class, and if you need or simply want all of its capabilities, the folks over at Jeep are figuring that you won't mind paying a little more for it.
Why Should You Consider This Car?
If truly capable off-road ability is among your no-compromise purchase requirements, then the Grand Cherokee should be on your list. If you live in Northern climes and you absolutely positively want to make sure you never get stuck in a 2-foot snowdrift, the 4x4 Grand Cherokee is a capable and sophisticated solution.
There's also the flexibility of three engine choices. We have a soft spot for the new Ecodiesel. Not only does it return exceptional mileage, but the torque is remarkable, and perfect for off-roading or snowy slow going.
And then there's the cabin. You don't need to check off the high-end Summit option to revel in the luxuriousness and superb fit and finish of the 2014 Grand Cherokee. All models feel classy.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
Compared to many SUVs, the Grand Cherokee is no pretender. It can handle just about anything you throw at it. But if you spend much time in urban environs, the Summit model and its standard air suspension will beat you up. The utility of being able to raise and lower the ride height isn't adequate compensation.
Plus, if you do care about off-roading, the Summit isn't the best choice. Not only is the front airdam not removable as on lower trim levels, but we're not sold on the merits of the air suspension for off-roading anyway (although the self-leveling will be welcomed by people who tow). Our guess is true off-roaders will prefer coil-spring suspension with the addition of bigger tires.
If it were our money, we'd order a Grand Cherokee Limited 4x4, opt for the Ecodiesel but stick with the standard suspension. That would be a nice rig.
If you don't care about off-roading or if your eyes glaze over when someone says "two-speed transfer case," you'd probably be better served by more conservative, less expensive SUVs like the Explorer or Pilot. Or the Touareg if you want a Grand Cherokee-comparable interior. With a high load floor and only average cargo capacity, this Jeep isn't as family-friendly as most crossover competitors.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.