published Saturday, June 8th, 2013

New Jeep Grand Cherokee smooth and refined

The new 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee has an upgraded transmission and a host of cosmetic upgrades. 
Staff photo by Mark Kennedy
The new 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee has an upgraded transmission and a host of cosmetic upgrades. Staff photo by Mark Kennedy

FAST FACTS

* Model: Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4X2

* Exterior color: Brilliant Black Crystal Pearl Coat

* Interior color: New Zealand Black and Light Forest

* Engine: 3.6 liter, V-6

* Horsepower: 290

* Transmission: eight-speed automatic

* Fuel economy: 25 mpg highway, 17 mpg city

* Dealer: Moss Motors, South Pittsburg, Tenn.

* Price (as tested): $37,980

Jeep always has tried to keep its midsize Grand Cherokee at the top of the hill by offering upscale interiors and a menu of engine options.

Jeep has checked those boxes and more with the new-for-2014 Grand Cherokee, which includes a silky new eight-speed transmission for better fuel economy, a well-furnished interior and an engine lineup that includes an optional six-cylinder diesel (absent since 2009).

If you've been plugged into the news lately, you may know that some pre-2005 Jeep Grand Cherokees have had crash-related fire issues according to the government, although the company claims they're safe. In any case, those fuel-tank problems were long-ago engineered out of the Grand Cherokee, so modern buyers can judge the vehicle without safety concerns.

STYLING AND FEATURES

Our 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee test car from Moss Motors in South Pittsburg, Tenn., in Limited trim, is a good example of how far your dollar stretches in the Grand Cherokee line. With a bottom-line sticker price of only $37,980, the Grand Cherokee feels like a screaming bargain.

Our test SUV comes with a strong, 3.6-liter V-6 engine and two-wheel drive, which is all most suburbanites need. Other options are a 6.4-liter V-8 for heavy hauling and a brand-new 3.0-liter V-6 diesel, which is said to get up to 28 mpg highway. Expect the diesels to hit stores later this summer.

The Grand Cherokee's sheet metal is handsomely sculpted with U-shaped wheel wells, chrome trim and Jeep's traditional seven-slot front facia design. Eighteen-inch polished aluminum wheels are shod with Michelin Latitude crossover tires.

Inside, the Grand Cherokee surrounds the driver and passengers in opulent leather seat surfaces set off by a tasteful two-tone color scheme. In the case of our tester the colors are New Zealand Black and Light Forest. Translation: black and tan.

It's easy to find a comfortable driving position in the Grand Cherokee, and elevated seating gives you a commanding view of the road. Our Limited came with standard heated seats, front and rear, a power lift-gate, back-up camera and LED tail lamps. An 8.4-inch touch screen controls the Grand Cherokee's infotainment functions.

It's the details that set the Grand Cherokee apart from more pedestrian midsize SUVs. For example the stitching on the leather seats is superb, and the expensive-feeling shifter would be at home in a Land Rover.

PERFORMANCE AND DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

While the Grand Cherokee has rugged aspirations, it's also right at home in a Wal-Mart parking lot. During a short test drive in South Pittsburg, our Brilliant Black tester proved to be a comfortable cruiser with a soft, compliant ride.

Our car has an optional towing group, a package that includes an engine oil cooler, full size spare and a Class IV tow hitch. If you'll be pulling a boat or RV, you'll want this option.

With a standard V-6, our Grand Cherokee tester has plenty of power. Wait for the diesel option later this summer if fuel economy and long-term engine durability are your top concerns.

All the new Grand Cherokees come with a new eight-speed transmission, which boosts gas mileage in the V-6 to 25 mpg highway, 17 mpg city.

BOTTOM LINE

The Grand Cherokee has the trappings of a luxury SUV, but the sticker price of a mainstream product. Our Limited trim tester seems to occupy the sweet spot on the price ladder, and would make a good choice for any mom on a mission.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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