The 2014 Grand Cherokee is a subtle refresh, with money spent simply on what needed improvement, and the result is now one of the best vehicles Jeep has ever made.
I tested multiple trim levels and all four available engines, including the high-performance SRT Grand Cherokee.
As with the current Grand Cherokee, the 2014 model boasts three optional four-wheel-drive systems, an available adjustable air suspension and a traction management system. Quadra-Trac I provides full-time all-wheel drive; Quadra-Trac II adds a two-speed transfer case with a low range, and Quadra-Drive II builds on that by adding an electronic limited-slip differential. The Quadra- Lift air suspension raises the Grand Cherokee's ground clearance by 3.9 inches from its normal height to 11.3 inches for off-road use or down 0.6 inch for high-speed aerodynamic improvement. It can come down another full inch when parked to allow easier entry, exit and loading.
The Selec-Terrain system has five driver-selectable terrain modes that correspond to potential conditions: Sand, Mud, Auto, Snow or Rock. Each electronically activates the appropriate combination of 12 different powertrain, brake and suspension settings to optimize traction and ground clearance.
In normal driving, there's a fair degree of body roll, and the heavy truck tends to understeer through corners. The Grand Cherokee in its Normal mode is tuned more for a comfortable ride than for athletic moves. But Sport mode is now available across the lineup, engaged with a pull on the transmission handle. In Grand Cherokees equipped with the air suspension, Sport mode wakes up the truck and transforms it significantly, changing shift patterns, suspension settings and ride height to minimize body roll and create a more surefooted performance in fast twisties. In models without the air suspension, only the transmission behavior and throttle response change. Steering-wheel paddle shifters are also present. The Grand Cherokee exudes a quiet solidity regardless of trim level; even in our pre-production test vehicles, nothing squeaked, rattled or otherwise felt misassembled. If these early-build vehicles are an indication, quality should be top notch.
Off-road, the Grand Cherokee remains one of the most capable all-terrain-vehicles ever made — not that 99% of Grand Cherokee owners will ever experience this. The V-6 proved plenty powerful, and the selectable-mode four-wheel drive enabled me to drive up and down a 43-degree rock face, not to mention other terrain you would have trouble even walking over.
Available in the newest top-of-the-line trim level, called Summit, these options lend a high-quality look to an already impressive interior covered in stitched leather and open-pore wood trim. Another carryover from the Dart is the reconfigurable center gauge cluster with a 7-inch LCD display screen and fully digital speedometer, which displays far more information than the typical driver is likely to need.
SRT: The Wild Child
As much fun as the new Grand Cherokee is off-road, there's also a new SRT high-performance street version, arriving just one month after the more conventional versions hit the streets. The 2014 SRT Grand Cherokee (the "8" has been dropped from the name) is just plain wicked. Its styling is subtle with a blacked-out grille and smoked headlights and taillamps, optional black chrome wheels, a lower stance and wider wheels and tires. Its tuning makes it one of the most outrageous American performance vehicles on the market. Power comes from a 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 engine making 470 hp and 465 pounds-feet of torque, delivered through the eight-speed automatic to all four wheels. Jeep rates the SRT Grand Cherokee at 4.8 seconds from zero to 60 mph, but I discovered that this is a conservative figure: Using the SRT's onboard software and a special Launch button, I was able to consistently rip off 4.5-second zero-to-60 times, and SRT engineers say that they've been able to achieve 60 mph in 4.2 seconds under perfect conditions.
On public roads, SRT Grand Cherokee's presence and swagger are formidable. Its bulldog stance and fat tires combine with the absolutely primal bellow from its Hemi engine to make every routine errand an event. The suede-like sport seats are amazingly comfortable and grippy yet not rock solid and unyielding or too narrow and overbolstered like so many other high-performance vehicles. Wood trim is replaced by decent carbon fiber, and a special suite of SRT applications for the 8.4-inch touch-screen bring all sorts of special gauges, timers and g-force meters to the SUV to allow drivers to monitor and even wirelessly upload and share their achieved performance numbers. Jeep rented out the Circuit of The Americas Formula 1 track in Austin and brought a dozen SRT Grand Cherokees for journalists to flog, proving that the massive SUV can handle itself quite well should its owners want to use their truck both for towing a car to the track and racing the tow vehicle itself.
For many customers, the Jeep Grand Cherokee is a second vehicle to complement their much more expensive luxury car, meaning Jeep has to hold its SUV to a higher standard than some of its lesser models to maintain its cachet. With this latest 2014 Grand Cherokee, Jeep has successfully done exactly that.