Klaus Busse says that as the group of designers who were charged with changing the interior appearance of the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee started thinking about what they would do to elevate the inside that was generally dominated by gray, black and taupe, they started thinking about the fact that they were dealing with something more significant than the run-of-the-mill vehicle because, as he put it, “Jeep is one of the most iconic brands on the planet.” And maybe because they thought “planet” they thought “outdoors,” or maybe that had more than a little something to do with the generally outdoor nature of the go-anywhere, do-anything Jeep.
And, Busse says, they didn’t want to look at what other people have done. “You can’t create a trend by doing what’s already been done.”
“What does a brand stand for?” he asks, rhetorically. “What is the soul of a brand? What is the soul of a project?” And lest he begins to sound a bit metaphysical, Busse says, “The designer is a story teller.”
So what is the story that the designer will tell?
The inspiration for the material choices for the Grand Cherokee is the planet. Places on the planet that designers have seen. The Grand Canyon. Mt. Vesuvius. New Zealand. Morocco. Which led them to different color treatments. Like a copper-colored metallic trim. Busse points to a picture of the Grand Canyon and says, “You don’t see any chrome there.”
What’s more, he explains that if you base your design on man-made objects (think, for example, of the predilection to go down the road of “What would Apple do?”), “you will always be late.” (Of course, basing your pallet on something that’s some 70 million years old may make you au courant, assuming that some other people having already glommed onto the idea.)
Getting the Refresh Right
Mark Allen, head of Jeep Design: “Doing a refresh on a vehicle”—and, yes, the 2014 is a refresh of the model year 2011 Grand Cherokee—“is tricky. You don’t want to just add stuff to the vehicle.”
But what you do want to do is (1) improve what’s there and (2) underline the nature of the vehicle. So from a styling point of view, they (1) made it more upscale and (2) made it appear more rugged. The front fascia for all the models in the lineup is different. The rear fascia for the new top-end model, the appropriately named “Summit” (we’re overlooking the 2014 SRT Grand Cherokee for a moment, here), is changed, as well. As regards the front fascia, the upper grille is shorter in height and the headlamps—there are standard bi-xenon high-intensity discharge (HID) headlamps on the Overland and the Summit models (they are adaptive, motor-driven based on the position of the steering wheel, on the Summit); the HID lamps are optional on the Limited model—are slimmer than before and outlined with LED running lamps. There are also LED turn indicators. The lower fascia is higher, as are the foglamps.
Around back, LED lamps are also used. The lamps have a dispersed pattern so that it forms a ring of red, there are not individual lights visible when illuminated. The chrome piece that had run between the taillamps on the previous generation Grand Cherokee has been eliminated. The rear fascia of the Summit has dual rectangular exhausts and dark gray lower body cladding.
Refining the Functionality
Refinement is what Ray Durham, vehicle line executive—Rear-wheel-drive SUVs, and his team addressed in terms of the suspension and handling for the 2014 Grand Cherokee. For example, the Selec-Terrain traction control system—which provides settings for the powertrain, braking and suspension systems—previously had a Sport Mode on the controller, which is now accessed through the shift lever. A beneficial change for those who climb hills—and who then need to go back down—is found within the Selec-Speed Control, which now offers Hill-ascent Control. Essentially, this system allows the driver to set the ascent and descent speeds in 1 km/h increments (up to 3 km/h) via the shift paddles on the steering wheel so the driver can concentrate on steering. (The vehicle has a new crawl ratio, as well: 44.1:1, when the vehicle is equipped with a two-speed transfer case: it is a 46% improvement over the previous model’s crawl ratio.)
The Powertrain Differences
So while the outside and inside and underneath may be changed, refreshed, and refined, the powertrain story for the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee is something that is absolutely different.
Well, for the most part.
That is, the 2014 is available with the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 and the 5.7-liter V8 that are available in the 2013 model. Yet in both cases, the fuel economy numbers have been improved (2014 V6 4x2: 17 city/25 highway, 4x4: 17 city/24 highway vs. 2013: 17/23 mpg and 16/23 mpg, respectively; 2014 V8 4x2: 14 city/22 highway, 4x4: 14 city/20 highway vs. 2013: 14/20 mpg and 13/20 mpg, respectively).
But then there are the big changes. The transmission. The diesel.
The vehicle is fitted with a fully electronic eight-speed transmission from ZF (zf.com). A real benefit of this transmission is that because of the electronic control, it is able to calculate—based on an array of parameters, such as acceleration, grade changes, and temperature—the appropriate shift strategy, predicated on more than 40 individual shift maps. The previous Grand Cherokee had either a five- or six-speed transmission.
Then there is the 3.0-liter DOHC, V6 EcoDiesel. The engine provides 240 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque. What’s important to note is that torque number. The 3.6-liter V6 provides 260 lb-ft. The 5.7-liter V8 provides 390 lb-ft. Yet the EcoDiesel provides 420 lb-ft—at 2,000 rpm (compared to 4,800 and 4,250 rpm for the V6 and V8, respectively)—which is the sort of thing that is desirable in an SUV. What’s more, it provides the best fuel economy of the offerings, 22 city/30 highway mpg for 2WD versions and 21/28 mpg for 4WD versions.
The engine features an iron block and aluminum alloy heads. There is a common-rail fuel injection system that operates at 29,000 psi. Ray Durham explains that as part of the emissions controls there is a selective catalyst reduction (SCR) system that uses urea; the urea tank, 8 gallons, is sized such that its use is tied to the oil change interval.
If there is any question of whether there is a benefit to the Fiat ownership of Chrysler, consider this. The V6 and V8 engines are both produced at the Trenton South Engine Plant in Michigan. Trenton South has extensive experience in the production of spark-ignition engines. But compression-ignition engines. . .well, not really.
The 3.0-liter EcoDiesel is produced at VM Motori Cento. That’s in Ferrara, Italy. Given the proliferation of diesel engines in light-duty vehicles throughout Europe, diesels are pretty much to VM Motori Cento what gasoline engines are to Trenton South.
“We’ve been making unapologetic SRTs for 10 years,” says Ralph Gilles. Gilles is the president and CEO of SRT Brand and Motorsports. He also happens to be the senior vice president of Design for Chrysler Group.
So is it any surprise that the 2014 Grand Cherokee SRT has an amped up, more aggressive look, one that is in keeping with the 6.4-liter, 470-hp HEMI under its hood? Pointing to the front, Gilles notes the black graphics and the black headlight cans. He describes it as having “an absolutely menacing look.” The black is continued on the back, with a black surround for the taillamps.
An interesting aspect around back is the roof-integrated spoiler that was developed for the SRT version of the Grand Cherokee. It turns out that it worked so well in providing downforce, that they decided to use it across the board on all of the vehicles.
If the interiors of the other Grand Cherokees are inspired by nature, then the interior of the SRT version is inspired by a planet where the canyons are carved out of carbon fiber. The look is as serious as the HEMI is powerful; the standard color on the inside is black (called “Torque,” of course); the optional color is Sepia, or dark brown.
Klaus Busse notes that the Sepia interior includes the use of an artificial suede-like material, Dynamica, for the headliner and the pillars; he says that they’ve found this to be beneficial rather than Alcantara because of a “stretchability” that the Dynamica provides.
While the SRT version is similar in many ways to its more conventional brethren—for example, there is the same 8HP70 eight-speed automatic transmission (yes, the same transmission can handle the torque of both the diesel and the HEMI)—there are some differences, too.
For example, whereas the conventional versions have a Selec-Terrain system that allows the driver to set the desired on- and off-road conditions (Sand, Mud, Auto, Snow, Rock), the SRT has a Selec-Track system that has five selectable modes: Auto, Sport, Tow, Snow, and . . . Track. The Auto mode provides a smooth ride thanks to the Bilstein adaptive suspension. (Gilles admits that the previous generation Grand Cherokee SRT was a bit difficult to deal with as a daily driver due to a sport-tuned suspension that was sport tuned whether you were at a track or going to the grocery store.) The Track setting sends 70% of the torque to the rear wheels for purposes of actually driving on a track (or pretending as though you do—the SUV has a 0 to 60 mph time of 4.8 seconds—and this is a vehicle that weighs 5,150 lb).
The Grand Cherokee SRT—like the Laredo and the Limited, the Overland and the Summit—are produced at the Jefferson Avenue North Assembly Plant. That plant is in Detroit. Literally in Detroit. The plant was opened in 1992 to build the Grand Cherokee, and it has been building them ever since. The Dodge Durango, which shares the same platform, was added to the 3-million square-foot plant in 2010.
Which is to say that when it comes to the Grand Cherokee, “Imported from Detroit” is more than just a slogan.