When I was a kid, I knew the Mitchells across the street had money because they owned a bright red Jeep Cherokee, and it was awesome. We had sedans, which was perfectly fine for our family of four, but once my brother was born we were forced to go the minivan route, crushing my dreams of the ultimate American SUV ending up in our driveway. Years later I saw the other side of the coin; I was trying to help my friend sell his Wrangler, a shining standard of cool in the high school parking lot, when the engine seized up, costing more to fix than it was worth. This checkered past meant some serious intrigue was in store for a six-week test of the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel ($40,600+), with its torquey fuel efficient engine, proven off-road capabilities, fantastic creature comforts and aggressive styling. Was it more likely to end up in the Mitchell’s driveway or dead on the side of the road?
OTHER GREAT ROAD TRIP STORIES: Road Trip Essentials | Road Trip Style: Alfa Romeo Spider | 10 Best Road Trip Cars
When the Overland Edition EcoDiesel ($51,000) arrived, I was instantly struck by the bold and powerful front fascia; plus it was a diesel, which instantly adds street cred. Everyone knows the SRT looks badass but this thing — chrome accents, chrome front tow hooks and menacing daytime running LEDs — created a presence ready to rival even those more desirable Cayennes, Rovers and G-Wagons, despite its oddly named “Cashmere Pearl” paint job. The planted stance created by its air ride suspension (lowering the car 1.6 inches) and muscular beltline added to the imposing, solid appearance that struck a balance between “let’s run to the store” and “let’s run to the Amazon”.
Engine: 3.0 V6 Diesel
Torque: 420 lb-ft
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Towing Capcity: 7400 lbs
Mileage: 28 City / 30 Hwy
Driving Range: 730 miles
Miles Driven: 1,381
Average MPG: 28
Trips to Target: 11
Times filled up: 1 (came with a full tank)
The interior was eye catching too, plush yet practical. The blue and brown interior trim had contrast stitching and contrast piping on the leather seats; wood and leather wrapped the heated steering wheel; there were dark open-pore wood accents, panoramic sunroof and a couple digital displays. Was this a Jeep?
First impressions quickly turned into the challenge of the daily grind. The first few weeks were full of daily duties: errands to Target, Trader Joe’s, the gym, grabbing some grub. The car was easy to park, had loads of cargo space and lowered 1.6 inches upon entry and exit. Then things started ramping up: production shoots with an Aston Martin Vanquish Volante, Jag XFR-S and Audi SQ5 showcased the Cherokee EcoDiesel’s smooth air ride suspension for those tricky car-to-car shots, and the Selec-Terrain system allowed me to choose multiple traction modes on the fly in order to access our backwoods locations. The huge trunk with automatic lift gate and grocery bag hooks throughout swallowed the mountain bike , our gaggle of production equipment, two coolers and a duffle bag . Multiple USB outlets kept phones and GoPros charged, while the 110-volt plug behind the center console charged Canon batteries.
My final scheduled production shoot was 381 miles north of LA in San Francisco and then down to Monterey, a total of about 800 miles round-trip. Thanks to the Jeep’s V6 EcoDiesel engine with a range of about 700 miles, I hadn’t added a drop of fuel to the tank for the first three weeks around town but needed to fill up before embarking on my five-hour trip. The impressive range and inexpensive price of diesel compared to premium are a major plus, but the task of finding diesel isn’t always as simple as locating the green sign. At one point I found myself feeling a bit like Rick Moranis’s offspring in Honey I Shrunk the Kids as I sat in line between smoke-puffing semi-trucks waiting for a pump at a highway truck stop. After I finally got my turn and prepaid, I realized the pump nozzle wouldn’t fit my consumer-grade Jeep fuel tank. Evidently, the lane I was in, though unmarked as such, was only for the big boys. I got back on the road, looked for another diesel gas station and actually had trouble finding one. Luckily, I still had plenty of range, but it was a slice of the diesel experience I hadn’t anticipated.
The Jeep was right at home cruising at 80 mph, its suspension smoothing out any and all bumps along the way and making long stretches of freeway riding comfortable. The diesel engine gave tons of torque (420 lb-ft) for off-the-line explosion, but admittedly, the 240 hp V6 felt a little underpowered when trying to pass at highway speeds. Once the car hit 55 mph it lowered 1.6 inches, increasing aerodynamics and helping highway fuel economy creep into the low 30s. The 8.4-inch screen that houses the U-Connect system was clear and responsive, though the infotainment system itself was annoying; the navigation screen froze once and simply went black another time, leaving me in the hands of my iPhone’s maps to get home. You can download apps like Pandora or Aha Radio to the system, which should be cool, but in the case of the wi-fi, you pay $10 a day or $35 a month — which is as much as I pay for wi-fi at home.
I ended my six weeks with the Grand Cherokee right where I started: impressed. Whether I was at party in the Hollywood hills parked next to G-Wagens, Cayennes, or Range Rovers, road tripping it to Northern California or just running around town, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in this SUV. It might not be as sexy as the aforementioned family haulers, but when you are saving for your kid’s college (or just kindergarten), practicality and purposeful design for around $50,000 become sexy as hell. Smart folks, those Mitchells.