Jeep has been around since 1941 — it says so on the steering and headlamp housing.
Originally designed to move people and supplies in difficult situations, the brand has been redesigned and refined to become the most-awarded SUV ever.
It's grown in the number of models it produces, as well, beyond the original off-road model that's now called the Wrangler.
The top Jeep model is now the Grand Cherokee, which got a complete redesign for 2011 and a partial makeover for 2014.
It represents the brand's legendary capabilities, craftsmanship, and driving dynamics, but adds best-in-class fuel economy and driving range. There are several powertrain options, including three four-wheel-drive systems, and lots of advanced, user-friendly technology and safety features.
Also new for 2014, in response to customer demand, the Grand Cherokee now offers a clean-diesel 3.0-liter V-6, available on the Limited, Overland and new Summit trim levels. It's estimated to deliver 22 mpg city/30 highway in two-wheel-drive models, and 21/28 in four-by-fours.
For 2014, Grand Cherokee base prices begin at $28,795 for the Laredo two-wheel drive, and range as high as $63,195 for the high-performance SRT four-wheel drive.
A new, more-fuel-efficient eight-speed automatic gearbox is standard on all Grand Cherokee trims. The base engine is a gasoline-fueled 3.6-liter V-6 with 290 horsepower.
The optional 5.7-liter V-8, with 360 horsepower, has best-in-class towing capability of 7,400 pounds, and also features a 10 percent increase in fuel economy — 14/22 on four-by-two models, and 14/20 mpg on four-by-fours.
SRT models come with the exclusive 6.4-liter Hemi V-8, with 470 horsepower and 465 foot-pounds of torque.
Jeep also offers more than 100 Mopar accessories, ranging in scope from pet-friendly to off-road.
For this report, I tested an Overland four-wheel drive with the V-6. With the new eight-speed transmission, the Grand Cherokee accelerates quicker and shifts more smoothly, elevating the vehicle to the luxury level.
Its Quadra-Lift air suspension features five height adjustments to improve ride performance and fuel economy on- and off-road.
“Normal” provides 8.7 inches of ground clearance for more aerodynamic on-road driving. “Off-road 1” adds 1.3 inches for clearing rocks or logs. “Off-road 2” adds an additional 2.6 inches, for a total of 11.3 inches clearance (for bigger rocks, logs, or ruts). “Park” lowers the vehicle 1.6 inches from “Normal” for ease in entering and exiting. That is especially useful for short women.
The new EcoMode also helps the Grand Cherokee optimize fuel economy by altering the transmission's shift schedule, and, in V-8 models, deactivating half of the cylinders during highway cruising.
When the vehicle is operating in EcoMode, it lowers itself to “Aero Ride Height” to maximize aerodynamics for even better fuel efficiency. EcoMode is automatic on vehicle start-up, with a button on the center stack to allow the driver to disengage if more-spirited performance is desired.
The three available four-wheel-drive systems include Quadra-Trac I, Quadra-Trac II and Quadra-Drive II. Quadra-Trac I delivers full-time four-wheel drive without switches or levers for smooth operation in a variety of road conditions. Q-T II senses tire slippage and sends as much as 100 percent of available torque to the axle with the most traction. Q-D II similarly detects slippage, and in some cases proactively distributes torque to limit or eliminate slippage.
Grand Cherokee's Selec-Terrain traction-management system with Selec-Speed is standard with Q-T II and Q-D II, delivering Trail Rated performance. The Trail Rated badge, included on my vehicle, signifies that the vehicle is designed to perform in a variety of challenging off-road conditions, identified by five key consumer-oriented performance categories: traction, ground clearance, maneuverability, articulation and water fording.
My Grand Cherokee Overland had the Off-Road Adventure II package, which included 18-inch polished-aluminum wheels with all-season on-/off-road tires; front suspension skid plate, fuel-tank skid plate, transfer-case skid plate, underbody skid plate; electronic limited-slip rear differential; hill-descent control; and Selec-Speed control.
An Advanced Technology group included advanced brake assist, blind-spot and rear-cross-path detection, and adaptive cruise control and forward-collision warning with crash mitigation.
All 2014 Grand Cherokees have a shorter upper grille with slimmer headlamps. The lower front fascia is slightly elevated with more-pronounced fog lights sitting higher in the design. The Grand Cherokee also sports new premium bi-xenon headlamps with signature LED daytime running lights.
In the rear, the Grand Cherokee has new, larger LED taillights; a larger, more-aerodynamic rear spoiler; a re-sculpted power tailgate for greater rear visibility; a more-pronounced Jeep badge between the taillights; model-specific lower rear fascia; and dual exhaust tips on Limited, Overland and Summit models.
These changes don't compromise the vehicle's ground clearance at the lower edge. Of course, the Grand Cherokee retains the classic seven-slot grille and trapezoidal wheel arches.
My Overland was more than just a pretty face, with lots of advanced, user-friendly technology, safety features, and towing/hauling capability.
A seven-inch configurable multi-view cluster display directly in front of the driver showed navigation instructions, vehicle and audio information, and more.
The center stack featured an 8.4-inch touch screen for Uconnect access and navigation, with integrated climate and infotainment controls. Easily identifiable audio and climate-control knobs and buttons were also located below the screen for those of us who prefer old-school controls.
Uconnect allows the driver to interact with all that technology, including texting, using powerful cloud-based voice recognition.
Manual entry of navigation information was easy and intuitive. Uconnect automatically connects the vehicle with emergency personnel with a push of the “9-1-1” button on the rearview mirror.
Standard safety features include front-row active head restraints, full-length side-curtain air bags, and seat-mounted side thorax air bags.
Electronic roll mitigation reacts and applies brakes during extreme situations; Selec-Speed control and hill-start assist work with trailer-sway control for enhanced off-road and towing capabilities.
My Overland was capable of towing 7,200 pounds with an integrated wiring harness and hitch receiver.
It could carry up to 68.3 cubic feet of cargo with the second row of seats folded flat. The cargo area behind the second row holds 36.3 cubic feet of groceries, luggage, DIY supplies and such, with bag hooks on both sides and a removable/rechargeable flashlight included. The spare-tire compartment includes removable dual storage bins for muddy gear, tools, or valuables.
My vehicle was comfortable, roomy and luxurious, with Natura leather seating. There is a leather-wrapped steering wheel with wood sections on Overland and Summit models; leather-wrapped shifter knob; stitched-leather door panels, instrument panel and dash with open-pore wood trim; and foot-well and door-pocket ambient lighting.
Overland and Summit models also include the CommandView dual-pane sunroof with a power sunshade. The rear seatbacks also recline 12 degrees.
All five seating positions in my Overland were heated, and the front seats were also cooled. The driver's seat had memory positions for the radio, the seat and the heated outside mirrors.
Also included were automatic headlights with auto-leveling and high beams; bright door handles, roof rails and exhaust tips; chrome body side molding, front tow hooks and exterior mirrors; sunscreen glass; rain-sensing wipers; rear window washer/wiper; universal garage/gate opener; and a back-up camera.