Since it was introduced for the 2011 model year, the latest generation Jeep Grand Cherokee has been a top seller thanks to a combination of high style, refinement and off-road capability. Fuel economy? Eh.
That changed for 2014 with the addition of an 8-speed automatic transmission that added a couple of MPG to the window stickers on gasoline-powered models, while a new diesel engine option just piled them on.
The Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel uses the same 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 available in the Ram 1500, where it delivers up to 28 mpg highway, best among light duty pickups. In the smaller, more aerodynamic Grand Cherokee the EPA says it’s good for 30 mpg in two-wheel-drive models, but without much effort I was able to get a solid 32 mpg in the 4x4, which is rated at 28 mpg.
The diesel’s top combined fuel economy of 25 mpg is also 20 percent higher than the six-cylinder gasoline engine and 50 percent better than the 5.7-liter Hemi V8. As with the latter, the diesel is available in Grand Cherokee Limited, Overland and Summit models starting at $41,690, and it isn’t short changed on features.
It’s a pure engine swap, and can be ordered with everything the gas-burners offer. That includes radar cruise control, an air suspension and Jeep’s top Quadra-Drive II 4x4 system, which comes with a low range transfer case, locking center differential, electronic limited slip rear differential and a terrain management system with settings for sand, mud, snow and rock, so pack a lunch…and maybe a tent.
Aside from a slight chugga-chugga idle, the engine is pretty much just as quiet as the others when it’s on the move, and delivers a surprisingly racy exhaust note when you stomp on that diesel pedal. Do that, and you’ll unleash 420 lb-ft of heavy-hauling torque. That’s 30 lb-ft more than the Hemi and well-suited to the Grand Cherokee’s 7,400-lb maximum tow rating.
It’s also impressive in the git up and go department. The Grand Cherokee weighs about 1,300 pounds less than the Ram 1500 where the diesel already does a nice job, and it never leaves you wanting here.
Unfortunately, while this engine has plenty going for it, you’ll pay plenty to get it. The diesel is a steep $4,500-$5000 premium over the V6, and costs $1,305 more than the V8, but you can recoup the latter at the pump in about a year. Sooner if you take a couple of long road trips.
Let me suggest one.
According to Google Maps, the most direct route between the off-road meccas of Moab, Utah, and California’s Rubicon trail covers 729 miles. The maximum range of the Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel is 730 miles between fill-ups.
As I said, pack a lunch.
2014 Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel
Base Price: $41,690
Type: 5-door, 5-passenger SUV
Engine: 3.0-liter 6-cylinder turbocharged diesel
Power: 240 hp, 420 lb-ft torque
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
MPG: 22 city, 30 hwy (2WD); 21 city, 28 hwy (4WD)
Gary Gastelu is FoxNews.com's Automotive Editor.