G. Chambers Williams

Grand Cherokee leads Jeep’s lineup with five-passenger family crossover

Jeep rolled out its all-new Grand Cherokee to rave reviews for model year 2011, then last year made even more tweaks to it, creating the best five-passenger midsize family crossover the brand has ever produced.

With last year’s changes, this unibody sport utility maintains its Jeep persona, but is now more luxurious, fuel-efficient, and trail-capable than ever.

Also with last year’s changes came a new clean-diesel engine option for the Grand Cherokee: a 3.0-liter V-6 that cranks out 240 horsepower and 420 foot-pounds of torque, and gets up to 30 mpg on the highway. With all of that torque, it also is capable of towing trailers weighing up to 7,400 pounds.

Now standard on the Grand Cherokee is an eight-speed automatic transmission, which is standard on the diesel model as well as the gasoline engines available in the Grand Cherokee: the 3.6-liter V-6 and two Hemi V-8s, the 5.7-liter in regular models and 6.4-liter in the track-oriented SRT version.

Prices for the 2015 Grand Cherokee regular models begin at $29,995 (plus $995 freight) for the base two-wheel-drive Laredo, and range as high as $51,995 for the ultra-luxurious Summit version with four-wheel drive. In between are the Limited, starting at $35,065; the Altitude, beginning at $35,800; the Overland, at $43,595, and the Summit two-wheel drive, at $48,995. The SRT is $62,995.

On lower-end models – Laredo, Summit and Limited – four-wheel drive is $2,000 extra, while on Overland and Summit models, it adds $3,000.

The diesel engine is not offered on the Laredo model. It starts with the Limited trim level, and adds $4,500 to the price of whichever model it’s on. The rear-drive diesel Limited is the least expensive, at $41,960.

With its typical diesel low-end torque, this engine gave us plenty of power on twisty roads, even on uphill sections, and it was surprisingly quiet for a diesel. There was some diesel noise at low speeds, but it wasn’t noticeable at highway speeds.

EPA ratings for the diesel are 22 mpg city/30 mpg highway for the two-wheel-drive models, and 21/28 for the four-wheel drives. That compares with 17/25 for the Pentastar V-6 rear-drive and 17/24 for the four-wheel drive. That engine produces 290 horsepower and 260 foot-pounds of torque.

The 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 has a cylinder-deactivation mode that cuts it down to four cylinders during level highway cruising for improved fuel economy. Output is 360 horsepower and 390 foot-pounds of torque, and EPA ratings are 14 city/22 highway (two-wheel drive) and 14/20 (four-wheel drive). It costs $3,295 to add to the Limited.

With the diesel two-wheel drive, highway range is up to 730 miles on a tank of fuel. To keep the diesel’s exhaust clean enough to meet U.S. air standards, it has an eight-gallon urea tank that lasts for about 8,000 miles. Dash warnings let the driver know when the tank needs refilling, and the engine won’t run if the urea runs out.

The ultimate in Grand Cherokee luxury comes with the Summit model, added just last year, which features a chrome-on-chrome grille, 20-inch wheels, dual rectangular exhaust outlets, LED taillights, and an interior that includes Natura-Plus leather.

There are heated/ventilated/memory front seats; wood trim interior accents are available in black or “Jeep brown.” The Summit also comes with premium suede-like front side pillars and headliner, and a 19-speaker, 825-watt Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system with a 12-channel amplifier and three sub-woofers.

An Eco mode on the Grand Cherokee is designed to help increase fuel economy by optimizing transmission shift points, lowering the air suspension to a more-aerodynamic ride height (above 52 mph), and, with the V-8, turning on cylinder deactivation. The Eco mode is automatic, but can be turned off by pushing a button in the center instrument stack.

All models come with new headlights, LED daytime running lights, and a variety of safety and security features. Optional technologies include Front Park Assist, Forward Collision Warning with Crash Mitigation and Adaptive Cruise Control.

Also available is the Uconnect system, with an 8.4-inch touch-screen radio with climate and infotainment controls. There is also a seven-inch multi-view instrument cluster in the dash above the steering wheel.

The standard steering-wheel paddle shifters allow for manual shifting of the transmission.

There are three available four-wheel-drive systems: Quadra-Trac I, Quadra-Trac II and Quadra-Drive II, along the optional Quadra-Lift air suspension and Selec-Terrain traction-management system.

Quadra-Trac I provides full-time four-wheel drive with no driver input required, but does not offer low-range gearing for serious off-road driving.

The Quadra-Trac II system includes a two-speed transfer case with low-range gearing. This system also can automatically send all of the available torque to the axle that has the best traction.

For serious off-road driving, the best choice is Quadra-Drive II, with a rear electronic limited-slip differential. This system has low-range gearing, as well.

The Quadra-Lift air suspension has five height settings: normal, off-road 1, off-road 2, park and aero. Off-road 1 raises the vehicle as much as 1.3 inches above normal, for 10 inches of ground clearance; off-road 2 raises it 2.6 inches, for a total clearance of 11.3 inches.

Grand Cherokee’s Selec-Terrain traction control has sand, mud, snow, rock and automatic settings. It includes hill-ascent and -descent control for steep grades, especially when driving off road.

A transmission Sport mode re-sets the transmission shift points for more-sporty performance.

Overland and Summit models come with bi-xenon high-intensity discharge headlights, which are optional on the Limited.

There is a new three-spoke, leather-wrapped steering wheel, which has wood trim on Overland and Summit models. Laredo and Limited models have dark wood interior trim. Cloth seats are standard on the Laredo; the rest of the models come with leather.

Standard safety features include electronic stability control with electronic roll mitigation; four-wheel antilock disc brakes; and roof-mounted side-curtain air bags and seat-mounted side air bags for both rows. Optional are blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-path detection.

Uconnect, similar to the General Motors OnStar system, uses the Sprint cellular network to connect the vehicle with emergency personnel with a push of the “911” button on the rearview mirror. It also has voice-texting capability.

There is 36.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat. It includes a storage compartment with a rechargeable flashlight, and there are grocery-bag hooks on both sides. A power tailgate is available on all models; standard on higher-level trims.

Our Limited two-wheel-drive tester had the diesel engine, as well as the $3,000 Luxury Group, which brought leather seats and other amenities, for a total sticker price of $45,955, including freight and options.

The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at chambers@star-telegram.com.

2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee

The package: Full-size, five-door, five-passenger, V-6 gasoline- or diesel- or V-8 gasoline-powered, rear- or four-wheel-drive unibody sport utility vehicle.

Highlights: Substantial changes were made for 2014, including exterior design tweaks, interior upgrades, a new eight-speed automatic transmission, an optional V-6 clean-diesel engine, and lots of available new technology.

Negatives: Can get quite pricey; diesel engine available only on higher trim levels; no third-row seat available for extra passenger capacity.

Engines: 3.6-liter V-6 (gasoline); 3.0-liter V-6 (diesel); 5.7-liter V-8 (gasoline); 6.4-liter V-8 (gasoline, SRT).

Power/torque: 290 HP./260 foot-pounds (3.6-liter); 240 HP./420 foot-pounds (diesel); 360 HP./390 foot-pounds (5.7-liter); 470 HP./465 foot-pounds (6.4-liter, SRT only).

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic.

Length: 189.8 inches.

Curb weight: 4,545-5,374 pounds.

Cargo volume: 36.3 cubic feet (behind rear seat); 68.3 cubic feet (rear seat folded).

Towing capacity: 6,200-7,400 pounds.

Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.

Fuel capacity/type: 24.6 gallons/unleaded regular (gasoline engines), except SRT, premium unleaded (recommended but not required); ultra-low-sulfur diesel (diesel engine).

EPA fuel economy: 17mpg city/25 highway (3.6, 2WD), 17/24 (3.6, 4WD); 22/30 (diesel, 2WD), 21/28 (diesel, 4WD); 14/22 (5.7, 2WD), 14/20 (5.7, 4WD); 13/19 (SRT).

Major competitors: Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Traverse/GMC Acadia/Buick Enclave; Land Rover LR2, Range Rover Sport, Lexus GX 460, Nissan Pathfinder, Infiniti JX, Honda Pilot, Acura MDX, Lincoln MKX.

Base price range: $29,995-$51,995 (SRT, $62,995), plus $995 freight.

Prices as tested: $4,955, including freight and options (2WD Limited with diesel and Luxury Group II).

On the Road rating: 8.7 (of a possible 10).

Prices shown are manufacturer’s suggested retail; actual selling price