The 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee, man card included: Motoramic Drives
When the current generation of the Jeep Grand Cherokee launched in 2010, the original press materials made reference to the car’s “Mercedes heritage.” An annoyed letter from Europe quickly iced that phrase, but while the statement may have been questionable from a trademark standpoint, it was certainly true from a technical one. When Daimler sold its Chrysler holdings, the Grand Cherokee was well into development.
So with the 2014 model, which celebrated its first drive last week in Austin, you now have an American brand, owned by an Italian corporation, which features residual German styling and engineering. Even in the contemporary car business, where nameplates change ownership more often than minor-league baseball teams do, that’s some significantly muddled DNA. Six years later, the GC is still supported by the same suspension and air suspension as the M Class. It’s a secret Mercedes.
But just like with human genetics, all that mixing actually makes the product better.
The Grand Cherokee delivers solid on-road performance, top-notch offroad capability, unspectacular but solid exterior styling, and a reasonable amount of comfort. Little about it feels cheap or out-of-place. However, it’s hard to present a complete summary judgment, because like a lot of contemporary vehicles, the Grand Cherokee comes with so many different packages, engines, and trim levels, that it’s actually several cars in one. Jeep even offers three different four-wheel drive systems.
At the very base, the “Laredo” trim with 4X2 capability and a V-6 engine sells for $28,975, putting it in the same league as higher end Subarus and Mazdas. All the way up the scale, the fully-tricked-out “Summit” version, with a V-8 and four-wheel drive goes for $50,995, which means it’s competing with low-end Range Rovers. Starting in the second quarter of the year, Jeep will be offering a 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6 engine, which would add between $4,500 to $5,000 to the price and making it even harder to pin down. You could drive a dozen Grand Cherokees and not get the exact same car twice.
Those salad-bar-like elements aside, this is a mid-life refresh, not a completely new car. Most significantly, the Grand Cherokee now features an eight-speed automatic transmission, and in every trim level except the Laredo, an 8.4-inch touchscreen display that’s of a piece with other contemporary shipboard computers. There are also significant upgrades to the interior styling, which ostensibly draws its inspiration from the Grand Canyon and other natural wonders. At the press launch, the Grand Cherokee’s lead interior designer said, with a bit of pretension, “We take our customers not into a dishwasher on wheels, but into a real vehicle that reflects their dreams and aspirations of travel.” Perhaps not surprisingly, he’s another leftover from the days when Mercedes owned the brand.