(Photos by Dave Nutting) – Last week, I had an epic road trip with Lohnes and Nutting to visit Trick Flow and Lingenfelter Performance Engineering. It was my first time on the road with these guys. With the exception of the jokes, the gas and the bizarre hazing rituals, it was probably the best trip I’ve ever been on. Part of the success was due the fact that we were hauling ass from New England to the Midwest in a 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland, equipped with Jeep’s new 3.0-liter, diesel-fired V-6.
As if to italicize just how important the auto manufacturers think diesel is to the future of driving in the next decade, Lohnes and Nutting showed up at my house at 2:45 in the morning with a diesel-powered VW Touareg, and there was a diesel-powered BMW 3 Series sedan on the way to my driveway the next week. The OEMs aren’t screwing around: just about every one of them is looking for ways to boost their CAFE ratings, and diesel – along with hybrid technology and full-on electric power – is how they’re going to get their quick fix. Whether it works for consumers or not? Well, we’ll get into that analysis in a minute.
[box_dark]The Touareg was a happy coincidence and you’ll see some comparisons between this Jeep and the VW below. Craig is certainly right, the diesel movement has absolutely reached our shores. There is good and bad in that. We’ll talk about both below. – Lohnes[/box_dark]
The 2014 Grand Cherokee Overland itself is a phenomenal vehicle. So good, in fact, that over the last four winters, it’s managed to be awarded the New England Motor Press Association’s “Official Winter Vehicle of New England” four consecutive times. Since the redesign in 2008, the Grand Cherokee has proven itself again and again as the premium sport utility vehicle in its class. Are there faster SUVs out there? Sure. But there isn’t one that manages to deliver all the comfort, convenience, power and technology of the Grand Cherokee at this price. Anything remotely close from Land Rover, Toyota or BMW is going to shatter the Grand Cherokee 4×4’s $32,190 opening bid.
We didn’t get the bare bones Laredo, mind you. Jeep sent along the more rugged Overland trim, which is standard with almost every piece of equipment you can throw at a Grand Cherokee. It racks the price tag up to $46,195 at the base level, which seems staggeringly expensive, but when you start to look at what competitive vehicles cost, it’s justifiable. The Toyota 4Runner Limited gets you up to $43,655. The Land Rover LR4 starts at $50,595, and the six-cylinder BMW X5 xDrive35i starts at $55,100. All of a sudden, the Grand Cherokee Overland starts looking like a bargain.
[box_dark]Driving this point home even further, the Touareg I cruised to Chez Craig didn’t have so much as a freaking USB plug to charge your phone with and carried a $58,500 sticker. Pound for pound, the price definitely stands up, especially when compared to other “luxury” SUVs in the class. – Lohnes[/box_dark]
Three dudes packing camera equipment and enough socks and underpants for four days really begins to eat up cargo space. Nutting brought every piece of gear he owns, including the Polaroid One Step he got for his First Communion, so space was at a premium. Nevertheless, the Grand Cherokee swallowed all our crap with plenty of room to spare.
The thing that’s always impressive about the Grand Cherokee is how good it is on the road, combined with how incredible it can be off the road. We spent about 1,750 miles in the Grand Cherokee over four days. There wasn’t one moment when any of us complained about it being loud, uncomfortable, or ill-handling. You could jump in this thing and tear across the country without thinking twice about it.
[box_dark]My droning muffler addled brain is always shocked when you can get in something, roll at 80 and have a conversation that doesn’t sound like you are trying to communicate with a bridge team at a local retirement home. The NVH engineers that worked on the Grand Cherokee deserve every penny they are paid. The thing is vault like with regard to sound. The downside is that we could hear Nutting when he wanted to talk from the back seat, so dialing in a little road noise would be better for us next time. Kthanksbye.- Lohnes[/box_dark]
Granted, you could probably say about a lot of minivans and SUVs, too. What you couldn’t say about a lot of those vehicles, though, is that you could select the Quadra-Drive II’s 4WD Low mode and tackle just about anything the nation has to offer when the pavement disappears.
Quadra-Drive II is part of a $1,095 Off-Road Adventure package that also downsizes the Overland’s standard 20-inch wheels and tires to 18-inches. That’s a plus for off-road driving, but our only complaint was the P265/60R18 all-season tires in some surprisingly thick mud we encountered. Those skins are great on the highway, but passenger tires simply aren’t meant to be used when the mud gets thick. If you’re driving one of these and anticipate a little off-road action, a better set of tires is a requirement. Thankfully, with the 18s, your options are wide open, without the stroke-inducing price of 20s.
Oh, you mean this mud? –
[box_dark]Two things here. First off is that the Grand does still have an actual low range, which the VW does not have. The Grand also has selectable modes for different terrain that tailor the traction control to the conditions, which is neat. So the mud is an interesting story because we were at the original Willys Overland factory in Toledo, Ohio and moving the Jeep into position for a couple of photos when we found ourselves in the quagmire. The passenger side was in pretty deep but we were able to power right out of it. We nearly got stuck 3 feet from asphalt. Whoops. The low profile, high performance rubber on the VW would have whimpered and spun and we’d still be waiting there had we been driving that.- Lohnes[/box_dark]
If we had one complaint about the Grand Cherokee’s option list, it was the $1,995 Advanced Technology Group. That package includes all kinds of “keep the moron driver out of trouble” equipment like Adaptive Cruise Control, Forward Collision Warning with Crash Mitigation, Advanced Brake Assist and Rear Cross Path Detection.
We’ve been experiencing horrible weather here in the Northeast, and our date of departure was no exception. We hit heavy rain and nasty fog on the way through Connecticut and New York, and about 50 percent of the time we crossed under an overpass, the Forward Collision Warning lit up like a pinball machine, warning us to brake for an impending crash, to the point that I was a little worried the Advance Brake Assist and Crash Mitigation was going to actually apply the brakes, thinking it was seeing a ten-wheeler parked in our lane. On the other hand, the Cross Path Detection worked perfectly, and actually stopped us from backing out as a fast-moving truck was darting through the parking lot.
The elephant in the room here is the Italian 3.0-liter V-6 diesel under the hood. It’s the thing that continues to make the Grand Cherokee a winner in things like NEMPA’s Official Winter Vehicle competition, and we’re excited to see what it’s capable of when Jeep delivers a Wrangler with diesel power.
Here’s the good news: It’s a fantastic engine. Without ratting myself out to the point where I get a ticket in the mail from the Ohio State Police, we hauled the mail out to Indiana. There were probably only a half dozen times we were under 75 miles an hour, and we weren’t exactly hypermiling, punching a gaping hole in the air the whole way, and laying on the throttle when we needed to. The eight speed German transmission hardly ever came out of high gear, and we averaged an amazing 26.5 miles per gallon for the entire trip.
[box_dark]The engine makes 240hp and 420 lb/t of torque so at no point was anyone freaking out about the blistering acceleration but there is plenty of power for passing and the great amount of torque does make driving the Jeep pretty fun. Laying on the pedal hard results in a different sensation than the typical “surge and shift” of a gas engine. Instead of that typical feeling the Jeep just pulls in a very linear fashion. The eight speed transmission is really, really good and it allows the engine to work rather than jumping all over the place. The mileage was stupendous for the way we drove the Jeep….trust us….Craig may have been a little more conservative on our average speed than he’d care to admit in that last paragraph. – Lohnes[/box_dark]
The question you have to ask, though, is whether ordering the diesel is really worth it. In order to get it, you have to start by choosing the Overland, which gets you up to $47,190 with four-wheel drive – and let’s not kid ourselves, Jeep probably sells about 11 of these in 4X2 configuration. Then, you’re in for a staggering $4,500 for the ECODiesel.
When you start thinking about what this will actually cost you week after week, diesel makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. On our trip into the Heartland, diesel averaged about $0.90 more per gallon than regular gasoline. We also dumped $30 worth of pig piss in the UREA-DEF tank. If you run out of this stuff, the truck simply won’t start until you refill it. Figure on refilling that tank every time you change the oil.
[box_dark]An admitted frustration here. We got the warning light and dumped a jug of the stuff in the DEF tank, assuming we were good for the duration of our ride. The next day we got the warning light again and just went whole hog and dumped a couple of gallons in. We were fine for the remainder of our drive. Will a regular consumer understand this system and keep up with it? Frankly they have no choice. If you fail to heed the warnings, you’ll be marooned. – Lohnes[/box_dark]
Economically, diesel simply does not make sense. In the Grand Cherokee, you’re in the hole for almost $20,000 before you’ve even filled the tank the first time. Then, every tank of fuel is going to cost more. Compared with the 5.7-liter V-8, the diesel gets 8.2 miles per gallon better. According to the fuel mileage calculator at FuelEconomy.gov, that amounts to about a $5,000 fuel savings over the course of five years. You’d have to drive the Grand Cherokee for 20 years to break even on what you had to invest in the equipment, though.
Then there’s the convenience. At BangShift, I’m writing for people who are more than willing to do stuff for themselves. But most of the schmucks who drive cars in America can’t be bothered to even check their oil, let alone change it. Any bit of inconvenience is going to wave the American consumer off into what they’re comfortable with. Over the four days driving the diesel, we ended up at uncovered diesel pumps alongside 18-wheelers, realized that diesel fuel nozzles sometimes come in sizes that don’t fit passenger cars, and ended up schlepping a 20-pound, 2.5-gallon jug of exhaust fluid out to the truck to fill the tank.
Here’s the other weird thing about UREA-DEF: The stuff comes in a container that looks like Granny Clampett brewed it up in her bathtub, and it’s different every place you get it. You’re not buying this stuff from Mobil or Pennzoil. It’s some outfit like “Zeke’s Deezel Whiz.” Sometimes it comes by the gallon; sometimes it comes in 2.5-gallon jugs. Is this the right stuff to dump into your $54,780 Grand Cherokee? You got me, pal, because I have absolutely no clue.
None of this is an indictment of the Grand Cherokee, which is a wonderful vehicle no matter which engine you choose.
Rather, it’s a question about whether the infrastructure for diesel is there yet for the American consumer. We killed diesel for 35 years in the 1970s because it wasn’t anywhere near ready for prime time. I hope we’re not going to do that again.
SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE GREAT PHOTOS FROM DAVE NUTTING AND STAY TUNED FOR A COMPARO BETWEEN THE JEEP AND THE 2014 DIESEL VW TOUAREG!