Road Test

ROAD TEST: The $70,000 Jeep Grand Cherokee Diesel

The Grand Cherokee Overland's big price tag brings a host of premium amenities

2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland

The Grand Cherokee has been Jeep’s premium headliner for about 25 years, at least from a market and price perspective. Those who might doubt that Jeep is a premium brand need only to look at its high asking prices for confirmation.

A base no-option Grand Cherokee Laredo rings in at $39,995, while similarly sized five-seat competitors from Ford and Nissan are priced at six or seven thousand less.

For an even more shocking figure, check out the as-tested price on my 2015 tester: just a hair under $70,000! Even crazier, its Overland trim is just the third of four trim levels; the range-topping Summit adds a few grand more onto that figure.

So, adjust your expectations about the Grand Cherokee’s competition accordingly.

That big price tag does bring with it a host of premium accoutrements, like the pretty LED details on the exterior, the DRLs and foglights up front and the big taillights in back. Plus chrome-capped mirrors and other shiny details that help break up the angular shapes. Overall, it’s a handsome package in a field of showy competition.

Diesel grunt and challenge

More bucks can be attributed to the optional 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V-6 engine, which adds $4,995 to the bottom line. That engine, which comes from Italian firm VM Motori, produces a healthy 240 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque.

All that torque comes on strong very early, but given the notoriously narrow powerband typical of diesel engines, the eight-speed automatic transmission helps keep it in that small window more easily. Acceleration from a stop isn’t rapid by any stretch, but short bursts while passing really show off the engine’s characteristic grunt.

The transmission also aids improved fuel economy, and its Energuide ratings of 11.2 L/100 km in the city and 8.4 L/100 km on the highway highlight that efficiency.

During its week in my hands, it proved as thrifty as advertised, coming in at about 8.8 L/100 km combined, including a late-summer road trip down to the Fundy coast in New Brunswick. The other benefit is the near 1,100 km range provided by the 93-litre fuel tank.

One big challenge to driving the Ecodiesel, however, came when putting fuel in. Some smaller stations have extra-large nozzles on the diesel pumps, for big rigs, which are too large to put past the filler flap on the Grand Cherokee.

Jeep has included an adapter spout to make this easier, but we learned about it the hard way after having the stinky fuel come pouring down the side during one fueling attempt.

The adapter is located under the cargo floor next to the spare tire, which meant having to pull out all our coolers and bags onto the ground to get access. Luckily, we also had some hand wipes to make sure there weren’t any fumes coming back into the cabin after we replaced the funnel when finished.

Capable on-road as well as off

As a package, the Grand Cherokee proved more than capable for road-trip duty. Part of the reason behind the quite considerable mass of nearly 2,500 kilograms comes from acres of sound-deadening material that makes the clattery diesel nearly impossible to hear from inside the cabin.

All Grand Cherokees are more than able when the terrain turns nasty, and this Overland tester even more so. As part of an optional $500 package, it had more-and-beefier skid-plates, including over the fuel tank, transfer case, and suspension bits.

It also came with special Michelin off-road focused tires in P265/60R18 on 18-inch wheels. Regular Overlands get 20-inchers with a smoky grey finish and more on-road-oriented rubber.

All of that extra protection was wasted during my time with the Jeep. The worst I threw at it was a rutted and water-holed dirt road, on which it was very secure. I just left the driver-selectable four-wheel-drive system in automatic and had no issues. 

The suspension that soaked up divots and larger whoops were more than a match for the two-lane roads that dominate the area. In this guise, the GC is not especially sporting; if speed and handling are your primary concern, sign up for the hilariously mind-bending SRT version instead.

Rear-seat amenities

Another aspect appreciated by the whole family was the optional rear-seat entertainment system. The unit itself sits in the front console and can even play Blu-ray discs. There are two screens built into the front headrests. The nine-speaker audio system is plenty powerful to match what’s happening on screen.

The only complaint comes from it being challenging to get a DVD started from the front seat. The front 8.1-inch Uconnect screen locks out the movie while moving, and relying on younger kids to understand how to use the fiddly remote control is a crapshoot. Or having to contort one's body from the front seat in order to do it for them.

Rear-seat riders enjoy a decent amount of leg- and knee-room, and the back row is also heated. There are secondary HVAC controls and a plug for device charging.

My biggest complaint comes from the high belt line and all-black interior choice, which meant a slightly claustrophobic experience. It also meant our booster-seat-using daughter wasn’t able to spot much wildlife during the drive.

Mixed marks for interior

The heated and cooled front seats generate fewer complaints. Both driver and passenger seats offer good support for long drives, although the small driver's dead pedal forced some slightly awkward leg positions.

The steering wheel itself is a good size, although some of the buttons on its face are small and awkward to use. And for a vehicle with a $70,000 asking price, a few of the choices made for plastic surfaces and treatments feel and look a tad cheap.

The upgraded Uconnect system with navigation was a real toss-up. I found it to be reasonably intuitive and easy to use while on the move. But my wife felt the complete opposite. She had to spend more time looking at the screen and away from the road than with other systems.

One aspect I appreciated was being able to access the heated/cooled seat and heated steering wheel controls early in the system’s boot time.

Cargo area is generous at just over 1,000 litres with the rear seats up and nearly double that with them down. And unlike the smaller and newer Cherokee, the space itself is free from any weird intrusions from the rear suspension bits.

The competitive landscape

Given the price tag, big German players like the Mercedes-Benz GLE 350d at $63,000 and BMW X5 35i at $65,500 would be close in size, but arguably more prestigious, if perhaps not as off-road capable.

Moving down to near-luxe brands like Lincoln or Volvo, their prices for comparable models drop even farther. But regardless of the price, it's likely that Jeep’s solid brand image will allow it to continue selling more loaded Grand Cherokees than Lincoln will its MKX or Volvo its XC60.

Jeep also sells more Grand Cherokees than such perennial Canadian luxury favourites as the Audi Q5 and Lexus RX. What percentage of those are in Overland and Summit guise would be interesting to know.

The Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland is a handsome, rugged, reasonably efficient SUV that really could go anywhere we wanted, with our major complaints being tied to some tricky controls, poorly placed accessories and some interior materials not being at home in a high-end SUV.

SPECIFICATIONS:

Model: 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland

Price: $60,645 base; $50,490 as tested $69,980

Engine: 3.0-litre DOHC V-6, turbodiesel, 240 horsepower, 420 lb-ft. of torque

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Fuel Consumption (city/highway): 11.2 / 8.4 L/100 km

Length: 4822 mm

Width: 2154 mm

Wheelbase: 2915 mm

Mass: 2446 kg

Competitors: Acura RDX, Audi Q5, BMW X3, Cadillac SRX, Ford Edge, Infiniti QX 70, Lexus RX, Lincoln MKX, Mercedes-Benz GLE, Nissan Murano, Porsche Macan, Volkswagen Touareg, Volvo XC60.

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