Most automakers wax eloquent about the need for efficiency — all eco-boost this and green-blue-drive that. While the conversations sound commendable, it doesn’t take long to figure out the impetus comes not from a green-hearted longing for Mother Earth, but the dictates of Uncle Sam.
As U.S. fuel economy standards march toward new heights, automakers have scrambled to put their greenest efforts forward. BMW has temporarily shelved its fuel cell technology in favor of the upcoming i-Series electric cars, a business Nissan flogs through the Leaf EV, while GM counters with its Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid platform. For Chrysler and its Jeep and Ram trucks and SUVs, the answer appears to be diesels — baptised by marketing-speak into models like this, the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel
The reason? Fiat already makes some of the best small diesel engines on the planet. Their 1.5-L turbos found in the Panda already zip more Italians around on a daily basis than dark roast espresso shots. With no real hybrid platform to fall back on, Fiat has elected to bestow Jeep with its diesel know-how (although the 500e provides a solid EV platform should Fiat ever choose to expand their realm of zero-emission vehicles outside of California).
The logical move was to import the same EcoDiesel engine that’s been available in European Grand Cherokees since 2010: a 3-liter, six-cylinder unit developed by Fiat subsidiary VM Motori. A couple pokes and prods bring it up to NAFTA standards and voila! — Jeep has its own efficiency superstar, boasting a best-in-class 30 mpg highway rating. The same engine was also transplanted into the burly Ram 1500, giving the resurging truck brand its alternative fuel option.
But while the 240-hp EcoDiesel meets its limitations on the massive 4,800-lb Ram 1500, the engine’s 420 lb.-ft. of torque proves more than sufficient for the Grand Cherokee. Weighing about 600 lbs. less than the Ram pickup, the motor compliments the SUV well. Zooming the crests of those same Malibu hills that highlighted the 1500’s underpowered performance offers the Grand Cherokee plenty of opportunities to shine. The high torque grants the Grand Cherokee surplus power to quickly pass tourists absorbed by the picturesque hills and multi-million dollar mansions — even when going uphill.
Although the EcoDiesel will be available on all trims of the fourth-generation Grand Cherokee, it will likely see its highest pickup rate in the high-end Summit line. Priced $4,500 more than the available 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, and $300 more than the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, Jeep considers the EcoDiesel the Grand Cherokee's premium engine. For drivers as interested in the free-range freedom of their chicken breast as the range of their everyday driver, the diesel option will be even more attractive: the 2014 Grand Cherokee will boast a 730-mile range with a single tank. That’s more than enough juice to get you from New York to Detroit in just one fill-up, with plenty left over for a Lancaster County stop for some organic fowl.
On top of the new engine, the Grand Cherokee also gains a crisp-shifting, eight-speed transmission. While the entire Grand Cherokee range has been updated, the premium Summit line gets the most advancement for 2014, with all new bright work sparkling up its fascia — including a new chrome 7-slot grill, mesh design and candy cane highlights on the chin spoiler. Throw in other niceties such as Summit-exclusive LED adaptive headlamps, 20-inch polished multi-spoke wheels, Alcantara headliner and a 19-speaker Harman Kardon sound system and you have a decidedly updated SUV — albeit one whose sticker surpasses $52,000, even before considering an EcoDiesel power source.
Jeep predicts up to 20 percent of its Grand Cherokees will be EcoDiesels, and expects to sell more diesel SUVs than all its German competitors combined. With the best-selling full-size SUV in the world, it's betting that technology already accepted in far-flung locales will finally be accepted stateside — and if it's not, Jeep will have to scramble for something else.