Every morning at 4:00 am, I’m woken by an automotive alarm clock. It’s the sound of my neighbor beginning his daily commute, firing-up his 6.7-liter Turbo Diesel Dodge Ram. The oil burner nestling in the pickup’s snout embodies all the characteristics that American car buyers of a certain age associate with Rudolph Diesel’s powerplant. It’s loud, dirty and smelly. Its rattle makes the vehicle vibrate like a cheap motel bed. Is in any wonder Jeep’s website doesn’t go out of its way to advertise the diesel option in its Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland? Yes and no.
This low-key approach to the diesel propulsion extends to the vehicle itself. The only physical indication that my tester didn’t snack on Regular Unleaded: the subtle 3.0L Diesel badge on the Overland’s lower right tailgate. Otherwise, the oil burning Grand Cherokee looks the same as its gas-powered equivalent— which is, of course, no bad thing.
The tweaked fourth gen Grand Cherokee (codename WK) remains a potent design. The front end combines Jeep’s near-trademark seven-slotted grill with a hood cut back around the headlights the way a woman’s brow stretches back from her eyes after a facelift. In the keepin’-it-real category, a high crotched rear-end to enable departure from steep angled grades.
The Overland, named after the Indiana-born automaker of the same name, is Jeep’s highest spec Grand Cherokee (short of the bonkers SRT8). Externally, it’s differentiated from its more plebian siblings by tasteful platinum accents. Taken as a whole, the Cherokee still looks tight and right, ready to take you out of sight.
Inside, the Overland gets Jeep’s white glove treatment. The seats are adorned with two-tone leather and embossed by an Overland logo. Burled vavona wood frames the radio console, gearshift selector, side doors and the top third of the leather wrapped steering wheel. Sadly, every other dashboard surface is plied with the same low rent molded plastics that afflict every other Chrysler product.
Toys abound. The dual-zone climate control uses a Predator-style infra-red sensor to measure front seat passengers’ body temperature. Rain sensitive wipers deal with moisture issues, while Mafiosi will appreciate a remote start function that works from 300 feet. The Overland’s standard-fit Boston Acoustics audio system is loud enough to ward off wildlife from twice that distance. And speaking of noise…
Kick over the Grand Cherokee Overland’s [optional] 3.0-liter common rail diesel and the engine sounds like… a diesel. That said, it sounds like my neighbor’s truck a quarter of a mile away. And by the time you accelerate to 35 mph, the oil burner is inaudible over the air conditioning fan– on low. A diesel digression…
Although the Jeep’s V6 diesel is NOT a BlueTec, it is foundational to Mercedes’ diesel emissions treatment system. That process injects an additive called AdBlue into the engine’s exhaust, which reacts with nitrogen oxides. Nitrogen and water emissions then pass through an SCR-Kat catalytic converter to trap particulates. Should Mercedes agree to supply engines to Jeep subsequent to the Chrysler amputation, BlueTec might be in Grand Cherokee’s future in a year or two.
Meanwhile, the Overland’s turbo diesel provides the kind of low down grunt that sends off-road junkies into spasms of delight. We’re talking 379 ft.-lbs. of torque all the way from 1600rpm to 2800rpm. Though the mill only produced 215hp, the massive low rev torque pushes you down the highway like the invisible hand of god when you give it the gas, eh, diesel. Jump on the accelerator from a standstill and the traction control struggles spastically to keep the P245/65R17 Goodyear Fortera’s from shredding.
But all is not rosy with the new diesel. The Overland’s pogo stick suspension is so mushy I’m convinced Jeep invited Dodge engineers to tune it. The super-soft springy suspension is atypical of any other late model Grand Cherokees I’ve ever driven. Equally out of character: the Overland’s heavy, numb steering, which makes piloting the vehicle through traffic as much fun as hefting a garbage truck through a slalom course.
Last week, driving my family over the high plains of New Mexico across northern Arizona and into southern Utah, I stopped every 340 miles to refuel my V6 Liberty’s 20.5-gallon fuel tank. With its 22-gallon fuel tank, the Grand Cherokee diesel can cruise more than 450 highway miles per fill-up (estimated 20/25mpg). Road trip pit stops are more about emptying bladders than wallets.
So are SUV driving Americans ready to accept diesel power? We’ll find out, but it won’t be the Overland that wins the hearts of the driving public. The CRD option adds $2,010 to the Overland’s price tag, raising the price of admission to the oil burning club to a total of $42,285 (as tested). Never mind noise, smell or rattle, premium pricing and sloppy handling makes the Overland a glow plug non-starter.