Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

I’m asked on a weekly basis which crossover SUV is the best. There’s no single answer to that question – though the Jeep Grand Cherokee is typically at or near the top of my list of recommendations, because few, if any, of my standard-issue SUV complaints tend to show themselves when I drive it.

Grand Cherokee locks nicely onto its line at speed, and handles highway cruising, quite literally, like a big sedan.

Running the available 3.0L turbodiesel V6, there’s a heap of torque, performance at or near V8 levels, and measured-by-hand fuel mileage on par with a mid-sized family sedan. So, none of the usual complaints about mileage. Mind you, the diesel engine is a pricey option, so do your math.

Highway handling feels nicely set up. Steering is tuned finely against the Grand Cherokee’s size and the viscosity of its suspension, so it feels natural and obedient, not lurchy and startled by highway-speed steering inputs like many crossovers which see a quick steering system overwhelming a soft suspension. Grand Cherokee locks nicely onto its line at speed, and handles highway cruising, quite literally, like a big sedan.

Parking is a cinch here too. There’s a camera system, but moreso, test drivers will appreciate the extra-tight turning circle, with a wheel that just keeps going and going while aiming for a tight parking space. The Grand Cherokee turns sharp, so you can park easily without looking like a doofus. That’s not abundantly common in this segment.

And here’s the big thing: the ride quality and feeling of durability on really rough stuff, for numerous reasons, is exemplary. Have you ever driven a sports ute with 20 or 22-inch wheels down a washboardy gravel road? If so, your teeth likely rattled out of your face and landed on your lap.

Even in Grand Cherokee’s top-line Overland guise, reasonably sized 18-inch wheels wrapped in plenty of tire sidewall provide an extra layer of softness to the ride. Thicker tires mean more sidewall, and more cushioning. The air suspension works to the same effect, seeing the Grand Cherokee’s body sit on its wheels with an air pocket in between. In effect, you’ve got two layers of softness between you and the road.

Because of the chubby tires, air suspension, and a frame structure designed with rough trails in mind rather than morphed from a car platform, Grand Cherokee is one of just a few machines in its class that doesn’t feel like it’s coming apart beneath you when you drive on seriously nasty stuff. The feeling of toughness and durability is refreshing in comparison to numerous competitors which boast rough-surface NVH characteristics on par with pushing a shopping cart full of empty cans down a gravel road.

Driving a machine like this is, after all, all about confidence, and there’s little confidence if it feels like you’ll be replacing suspension parts every time you drive to camp.

So, where the overall feel to the thing is concerned, shoppers testing the market’s offerings should find Grand Cherokee to feel nicely dialed in. Few utes feel so well set up, in so many different scenarios.

Planning on some actual off-road work? Forget fixed suspension, minivan-levels of ground clearance and one-mode all-wheel drive systems, here. Grand Cherokee has an off-road control panel on its centre console for calibration of its various systems into modes for tackling specific surfaces, including Mud, Sand, Rocks and more. Need more ground clearance? The Quadra Lift air suspension lifts up a few inches at the touch of a button. Low range is available at a button press too, multiplying the diesel engine’s mountain of torque whenever required for hauling your bateau out of the lake, or inching down a steep hill with ease.

Your writer even drove the tester down a lengthy, rocky and very steep trail from a mountain lookout with nothing more than some steering inputs, as the Downhill Assist Control system maintains a slower-than-walking speed for you. No pedals required, and no frazzled driver at the bottom of the hill. I could have had a cup of coffee. And, unlike some models, the Grand Cherokee’s DAC system stays with you for a while, rather than overheating and signing off after a few minutes of downhill-assisting.

That Trail Rated badge on the fender is no empty threat: the Grand Cherokee will go places.

Elsewhere, look for adequate space for four adults, a decent cargo hold, and a full-sized spare tire, which means suffering a flat while towing a trailer to the cottage won’t instantly end your trip. The tester’s interior got the Overland-specific brown and blue seats with creamy white piping for a sophisticated look, and as it tends to be with Chrysler’s latest infotainment technology, the central command interface is about the fastest-acting, most intuitive and most logical of its kind on the market. This touchscreen interface feels designed for folks who hate touchscreen interfaces, and proves highly responsive and easy to navigate as you tap and flick through its various functions and menus with ease. It’s refreshingly quick to react: and as you get faster using it, the responsiveness is right there with you.

The powerplant is worth noting. The diesel engine fires up with no more than a second or so of glow-plug delay in extreme cold, feels refined and smooth at any combination of RPM and throttle load, and puts a heap of low-end thrust on perpetual standby at the tips of the driver’s toes. Shifts from the eight-speed automatic come almost invisibly, and with measured-by-hand mileage landing at 10.4 L/100 km, my mileage was on par with a Mitsubishi Outlander or Toyota RAV4. Notably, the driver computer fuel economy rating was bang-on with my measured-by-hand figures, which is rare.

Mind you, you do pay for that fuel-saving stuff. The tester, loaded with thousands worth of TV screens, interfaces, gadgets and the $5,000 diesel engine came in towards $70,000.

On one hand, that’s a bit of a deal: a comparably-equipped, diesel-powered BMW X5 or Mercedes ML will cost thousands more dollars and go fewer places. On the other hand, top-spec Grand Cherokees pull off that price more with feature content than an exquisite interior and premium-brand styling goodies. While the cabin is a nice place to be, it doesn’t pull off that sort of pricetag on its own.

Grand Cherokee’s diesel engine, further, is an option only on the Overland or Summit model grades, the least-expensive of which starts in the high fifties. If you want the diesel, you’re in it for no less than about $62,000. Requests for a base-model unit with diesel power are included in your writer’s nightly prayers.

Ultimately, with actual capability, a fantastic diesel engine and about the best central touchscreen interface in the market, Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel will appeal strongly to the shopper after high efficiency, high capability and high tech. It’s a ride nicely set up to tackle serious conditions and seriously bad roads and terrain with minimal compromise while you’re cruising around town, or on the highway.

If your priorities in a new sport ute include real off-road capability, thrifty fuel bills and a polished and nicely calibrated feel in virtually any situation, and if you can digest the price tag for a diesel-powered model, be sure to consider this one a priority test drive.

3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 3 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 5 years/100,000 km 24-hour roadside assistance

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Model Tested 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 4x4
Base Price $59,245
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,695
Price as Tested $70,375
Optional Equipment
Metallic Paint ($195), Advanced Tech Group ($1,495), Rear DVD Centre ($2,150), Off Road Package ($500), Diesel Engine ($4,995)