If you're an SUV kind of guy or gal and your taste runs toward the Jeep Grand Cherokee with a dash of performance thrown in for good measure, you can get this upscale SUV with a lusty V-8 engine. More than one kind, in fact.
For 2009, Jeep offered two sizes of its Hemi power plant: a 5.7-litre version and a high-performance 6.1-litre hot rod.
If that's a little over the top for you, there is also a rather anemic gas-engined, 3.7-litre V-6.
But you can also get the Grand Cherokee - for the time being, anyway - with an equally robust turbo-diesel that, while it may not have the raw horsepower of the V-8 engines, delivers equal or better torque, with better fuel economy to boot.
The Grand Cherokee Turbo-Diesel utilizes a V-6 oil burner that is manufactured by Mercedes-Benz and has also been used in the Sprinter van and elsewhere in Mercedes' lineup. Arguably, it's the best thing that ever came out of Chrysler's ill-fated collaboration with the German manufacturer. Displacing 3.0 litres, it utilizes common-rail diesel technology and delivers 215 horsepower and 376 lb-ft of torque.
What is common-rail technology? In a nutshell, it's a high-pressure fuel-delivery system that provides equal fuel pressure for the diesel injectors, regardless of engine speed or load or fuel quality. An electronic engine control unit sets the fuel pressure, and it is consistent and uniform.
Many common-rail systems also have a pre-injection system that squirts a tiny amount of fuel into the cylinders before the power stroke. This technology is widely used throughout Europe. Among others, Volvo, Fiat, Opel, Cummins and Volkswagen employ common-rail diesel engines. Although various car manufacturers - both in Europe and Japan - have had a hand in its development, Bosch gets credit for refining the technology. Either way, the result is better fuel atomization and more efficient combustion.
Not to mention a smoother-running engine. Park the Grand Cherokee Turbo-Diesel alongside any North American diesel pickup and the difference is amazing. Where big diesel engines rattle and rumble (although they are better than they used to be), this unit is smooth and refined, with a discreet muted idle and a nice, linear power delivery.
Off the line, the Grand Cherokee Turbo-Diesel is surprisingly agile and it will enable you to tow up to 3,266 kilograms. Jeep has also done a pretty good job of sound deadening and, on the highway, this engine is virtually silent.
Aside from a one- or two-second wait while the system powers up in the mornings, it behaves like a gasoline-fuelled power plant and is about as undiesel-like as you can get. In short, you can forget about the negatives and shortcomings associated with diesel technology. About the only downside here is that diesel fuel is not as widely available as gasoline. But it is cheaper.
And let's not forget that this is a Jeep and offers a second-to-none off-road driving experience. Standard equipment includes Jeep's Quadra-Trac 4WD system and, for serious bush-bashing, Quadra-Drive and a range of off-road goodies, such as hill descent control, hill start assist, and underbody skid plates; 4WD high and low range is accessed through a floor console-mounted button of the on-demand variety. You can get into high range pretty much any time, but the vehicle must be slowed to a crawl for low range. A five-speed automatic is the only transmission choice. The Grand Cherokee is definitely an upscale SUV, but it's one that's designed to be put through its paces as well.
Inside, there is room for five adults and the rear seats fold down, 60/40 fashion. Depending upon the model, you can order heated front and rear seats, Sirius radio, a navigation system, a power sunroof and, my favourite, power-adjustable pedals.
Standard equipment also includes another Mercedes holdover: an ignition key that starts the vehicle as soon as you turn it, without the driver having to hold the key until the engine turns over. Not a big deal, but welcome, just the same.
That said, many of these goodies come in packages, where you can't get one without the other and, if I have a criticism here, it's that the various options and packages can be kind of bewildering.
Speaking of which, the turbo-diesel will run you some $3,665 more than the regular gas-engine models, but it comes with various goodies, such as leather interior and a power sunroof, giving it a base price of $44,390 before extras. On the other hand, the base V-6 Laredo Grand Cherokee starts at about $33,000, after various discounts and "consumer bonuses," but there are no such discounts in place for the turbo-diesel. Depending upon how much you drive, it could take some time to amortize the extra money spent on the diesel engine.
Last but hardly least, Chrysler recently introduced its 2010 version of the Grand Cherokee, and the turbo-diesel won't be part of the company's lineup. Indeed, the 2009 turbo-diesel is actually the 2008 model, carried over - and when it's gone, that's it. Get it while the getting's good.
2009 JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE TURBO-DIESEL
Type: Mid-size SUV
Base Price: $44,390; as tested, $50,530
Engine: 3.0-litre V-6 turbo-diesel
Horsepower/Torque: 215 hp/376 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 12.0 city/9.0 highway; diesel fuel
Alternatives: Toyota Highlander Hybrid, Mercedes ML320 BlueTec, GMC Yukon Hybrid, Chrysler Aspen Hybrid, Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid, BMW X5 35d
- Deceptively powerful, feels like a V8
- Excellent highway vehicle
- Good fuel economy, all things considered
- Diesel still isn't as readily available as gas
- This is not an inexpensive vehicle
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