To most North American consumers, diesel is an exotic powertrain option, full of promise when it comes to torque and efficiency. It rarely delivers on the promise.
Based on our impressions of the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, the same 3.0L V6 fitted to the Jeep Grand Cherokee seemed to be extremely promising – especially now that gas prices have spiked to record highs. But something was lost in the transition from truck to SUV.
The most jarring difference is the lack of smoothness that won us over in the Ram. The same engine that is nearly silent and effortlessly smooth in the Ram seems to have a much more audible, agricultural note, with inferior NVH characteristics. Somehow, the leisure-oriented SUV ends up feeling more like the work vehicle.
Diesel die-hards may shrug this off as panty-waist behavior from someone not used to compression ignition engines, but convincing customers to spend the extra $4,500 is going to be a tough sell for anyone who didn’t buy a diesel Grand Cherokee last time around. Especially when they hit the remote start only to be greeted with a school-bus soundtrack on cold starts.
That’s not to say that there are only drawbacks with the diesel. There is prodigious torque on tap (420 lb-ft, and 240 horsepower), and all that power is a great match for the silky smooth 8-speed ZF gearbox. Even compared to the 5.7L Hemi, passing is effortless at speed, while highway cruising tends to downplay the drivetrain noise. Only the woosh of the turbo is heard when you summon the prodigious twist of the VM Motori V6.
The rest of the car, like all Grand Cherokees, is superb. The steering has more feel than many passenger cars, while the air suspension gives superb ride characteristics on any road. I am on record as being UConnect’s biggest fan, and I can think of no better car to cover long distances in. Except for a gasoline powered Grand Cherokee.
Even though the EcoDiesel returned about 27 mpg (and that’s cruising at 75 mph with the A/C on – the EPA rates it at 28 mpg highway), I would find it hard to justify buying anything beyond the Pentastar V6/8-speed combo, similar to what Jack’s father bought.
If you are doing serious towing, or covering enough miles to justify the added cost of the diesel engine (and the higher resale value of the diesel should also help), then perhaps it makes sense. For myself, and many other consumers, the V6, V8 – hell, even the SRT – models will make more sense, given how quickly the higher trim level Summit models with the EcoDiesel can breach the $60k barrier.
As far as I’m concerned, the Grand Cherokee is still the best SUV on sale at any price. It has just the right mix of luxury, performance and discretion to be appropriate in any environment. The driving experience is more in line with premium European offerings than anything built by America or Japan. And given all this, I had high hopes for the diesel, and it did deliver on the promise of V8-like power with much better fuel economy. But I’m not sure it’s the all-purpose solution that many people were expecting. For me, that would be a nicely equipped Laredo with the gasoline V6.