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Refinement and capability have always been Grand Cherokee hallmarks. As the model has evolved over the years, it has grown even more plush, all the while retaining most of its off-road prowess. Like just about any off-road-ready vehicle of its kind, it's not likely to actually leave pavement for long, but buyers pay few penalties for the Grand Cherokee's superior abilities.
For 2014, the Grand Cherokee received a turbodiesel engine option, giving it great highway fuel economy and huge cruising range. Changes for the 2015 model year focus on refinements for the top Summit model, as well as a new monochrome Summit California Edition exterior package.
Today's Jeep Grand Cherokee is quite a handsome ute, although we're not in love with the grille update that was visited upon it for 2014. It's an understated version of the brand's seven-slot grille, and a bit too plain in a segment where flash is generally welcomed. The regularity of its SUV shape has been de-blanded in back with LED taillamps, so there's less in common with the X5 and Touareg, and more with the 1992 original. The cabin is richly furnished, with marvelous textures and materials on the pricey models, and great layout and design even on the basic Laredo. It underscores one of the real strengths of Chrysler since time immemorial--the way it can finish a cockpit, given the right budget and time constraints.
Interior space is quite good, and if anything, fit and finish has gotten better. Multiple color schemes and interesting trim options, like open-pore wood, push the Grand Cherokee ever higher into luxury-vehicle terrain, though it doesn't have the third-row seating or funky-flexible interior of some bigger crossovers. It also lacks features like GM's center-front airbag or Ford's rear-seat belt airbags, but it does have hill ascent control, which maintains steady throttle while the Grand Cherokee scrabbles up surfaces a Flex or an Enclave can only dream about.
Three engines are available in the standard Grand Cherokee. Base models use a 3.6-liter V-6, which makes 290 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, with a 25-mpg highway rating. Then there's the 5.7-liter HEMI V-8, which puts out 360 hp and manages 21 mpg on the highway. The most efficient and torque-rich option is the Ecodiesel 3.0-liter V-6, with 420 lb-ft of torque, which achieves up to 30 mpg on the highway and stretches range to 730 miles and offers best-in-class towing of 7,400 pounds. All three engines are backed by an eight-speed automatic, which has a hand in the solid fuel-economy numbers.
The Grand Cherokee also offers an available air suspension, which can improve highway mileage further by lowering at speed.
The on-road-performance-oriented Grand Cherokee SRT features a 6.4-liter HEMI V-8 that now makes 475 hp and a 0-60 mph time of about 4.8 seconds. With launch control and a sporty 70-percent torque split to the rear in Track mode, it's one of the best-handling SUVs we've driven.
The Grand Cherokee still has a fluid feel on pavement, but it's also vastly talented off-road. The most advanced versions can still clamber over boulders and logs with ease, and the new automatic enables a lower crawl ratio that suits the Ecodiesel especially well. The Quadra-Lift air suspension continues, as do the three four-wheel drive systems—Quadra-Trac I, Quadra-Trac II, and Quadra-Drive II—as well as the Selec-Terrain management system, which automatically caters the powertrain settings for the terrain (Sand, Mud, Auto, Snow, and Rock).
On the infotainment front, the Grand Cherokee stays in front with a choice of Uconnect screens (five-inch or 8.4-inch) and the system's cleaner, simpler interface. Piped-in 3G data adds cloud-based services like voice-to-text and natural-language navigation via voice commands. And the Summit edition includes every feature imaginable, including a 19-speaker, 825-watt Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system, including 12-channel amplifier and three subwoofers. At that level, the only option is a Blu-Ray DVD entertainment system--and we'd take iPads and WiFi connectivity in any case.
Changes for 2015 include the SRT engine's output bump, as well as a Red Vapor package available for the SRT model. The Summit also gets some enhancements, including an Argentine Tan leather option, a new California Edition exterior package, and acoustic glass. Both the Summit and SRT get active noise cancellation that plays through the harman/kardon stereo.