One of the best things about technology is how it’s no longer necessary for auto writers to lug around giant paper brochures and press kits at auto shows. Five years ago, I would completely fill a backpack with tchotchkes and printed each day of an auto show. That evening, I’d empty my bag, and I’d fill it halfway again the second day. Upon returning home, I’d pore through the materials one last time, then recycle them. I saved years worth of USB thumb drives until a few months ago, when I purged those though.
Imagine my surprise, then, when the press kit for the 2014 Jeeps (Grand Cherokee and Liberty) was a giant metal first aid kit-looking hinged box. At the very first manufacturer press conference of the day. Oh, and the Grand Cherokee SRT had its own hard-bound book. Together, they weighed about as much as a standard laptop computer. I put them in my bag and checked the bag at the coat check until I headed back to the hotel. Fortunately, most of the others gave only USB drives or small amounts of printed material. Some pointed journalists to their webs`ites, which is probably the smart way to handle things in today’s world. (Mercedes-Benz offered printed materials and a CD-ROM. Unfortunately, I left my CD drive at home, but fortunately, they had USB drives available upon request – not to mention a media website!
Back to the Jeeps, though. The big news for 2014 is really in the transmission world. The Grand Cherokee gets 8-speed automatics across the lineup. Chrysler had been installing 8-speeds thus far only in the Pentastar V6-powered applications (Charger, 300, RAM pickup), but with the 2014 Grand Cherokee, even the SRT model gets the three extra ratios. The RAM gets a dial-based gearshift, but I prefer the Grand Cherokee’s lever, even if it’s not the most intuitive thing ever.
Obviously we haven’t driven the 2014 Grand Cherokee, but the 2012-2013 5-speed automatic was a sore point in an otherwise very good vehicle. That its fuel economy and performance both improve thanks to the new gearbox is a nice bonus. Just as in Chrysler’s large sedans, the gearshift is a small electronic gearshift on the center console, and of course, there are paddle shifters. The new transmission knocks a full second off the SRT model’s zero to sixty time, and includes trick programming like rev-matching downshifts. There’s also a cool drag racing-style “Christmas tree” button to activate the SRT model’s launch control feature. We can imagine that it takes off like the proverbial “scalded dog” when kicked.
There are fuel economy improvements across the Grand Cherokee lineup, but none so dramatic as the new 3.0 liter EcoDiesel V6, which is rated at 30 MPG highway (and which produces 240 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque). With the Grand Cherokee’s 24 gallon fuel tank, the new diesel model boasts a bladder-bursting 730 mile highway range. The Pentastar V6 is rated at a healthy 25 MPG highway, and the 5.7 liter HEMI brings up the rear with 21 MPG, in both RWD and 4×4 configurations.
Other improvements across the Grand Cherokee lineup include new steering wheels, a new center stack with the latest version of UConnect (including a large 8.4 inch color LCD touchscreen, similar to what’s in the Dart and Charger/300), a new front fascia with smaller headlamps and a larger lower opening, new LED taillamps, and a new rear hatch design that ditches the separately-opening window “to improve visibility.” (And, of course, to save Chrysler some money). The interior, already very good, is much better thanks to a few improved materials and more modern technology that old Chrysler couldn’t afford to add during the dark days.
Meanwhile, the Compass – which, you’ll recall, used to be embarrassingly ugly, but reformed itself into a mini Grand Cherokee, gets a new six-speed automatic to replace its unrefined CVT. The Patriot gets the same transmission as an option with its 2.4 liter four cylinder. Even with the improvements, the Fiat-based replacement for these two relics of the Daimler-era starvation-level product-development budgets can’t come soon enough.
Overall, the changes to the Grand Cherokee should make this solid, credible offering – perhaps one of Chrysler’s three best vehicles – even more compelling to buyers.