green-suv-of-the-year

Jeep’s impressive Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel, the model that just drove away with Green Car Journal’s 2015 Green SUV of the Year award at the 2015 Washington Auto Show, is one SUV that’s sure easy to like. At least that’s what we kept thinking during a recent 500 mile trip in a Grand Cherokee Limited test vehicle.

While not a small vehicle by any means, the Grand Cherokee is easy to maneuver and, for a 4×4, offers a surprisingly accommodating ride. Plus, the EcoDiesel variant is very efficient as far as full-size SUVs go, delivering fuel economy that tracked well with its 22 mpg city/30 mpg highway EPA ratings. Long-time SUV drivers will surely share that this is amazingly efficient for a full-size, full capability Sport Utility Vehicle.

jeep-grand-cherokee-front-leadThose considering a Jeep Grand Cherokee have a mind-boggling number of choices in models, powertrains, and option packages, with the base model starting at $30,000 and uplevel trim packages ranging up to $64,500. Our Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel test vehicle offered a base price of $36,395 but landed closer to $50,000 with the added Luxury Group, Adventure Group, and Unconnect packages, the latter offering desired electronics like premium navigation, HD radio, and SiriusXM Traffic.

On-board electronics is a big deal in most models these days and the Grand Cherokee is no exception. Electronics is well-looked-after with standard fare like remote start, 7-inch multi-view display, rear back-up camera and back-up assist, ready alert braking, tire pressure monitoring, and integrated voice command with Bluetooth.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee AltitudeThe Luxury Group package in our test vehicle upgrades the display to an 8.4-inch touch screen and also adds features like self-leveling Bi-Xenon HID headlamps and automatic high-beam headlight control, rain-sensitive windshield wipers, and Napa leather ventilated seats.

While buyers have other V-6 and V-8 gasoline engine choices, those wanting the best fuel economy combined with maximum towing capacity will naturally opt for the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6. Rated at 240 horsepower and 420 lb-ft torque, this powerhouse-of-an-engine is sufficient to tow 7,400 pounds and delivers welcome performance.

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In addition to the Grand Cherokee Limited we drove, the 50-state diesel is also available in Overland and Summit versions. With full-time four-wheel-drive like our test vehicle, the model’s EPA numbers are 22 mpg city/30 mpg highway/25 mpg combined fuel economy – high numbers for a large vehicle with this level of functionality. Another positive is the EcoDiesel’s range of up to 730 miles between fill-ups. We completed our considerable road trip without fueling up, a welcome experience.

The Jeep Grand Cherokee’s diesel engine is supplied by Italy’s VM Motori and was developed in collaboration with Fiat Powertrain Technologies. While VM Motori has had many owners – Detroit Diesel, DaimlerChrysler, Penske, etc. – it is now a 50-50 joint venture between GM and Fiat. Over the years, virtually every auto manufacturer has used VM Motori diesel engines at one time or another.

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Fiat’s MultiJet II common-rail injection, water-cooled exhaust-gas recirculation Selective Catalyst Reduction (SCR), and 16.5:1 compression ratio enable the 24-valve, dual-overhead-cam engine to meet stringent Tier II, Bin 5 and ULEV II emissions rules. It is designed to use Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD) and is approved for B20 (20 percent biodiesel/80 percent petrodiesel). Other features include a water-cooled, variable-geometry turbocharger, 60-degree cylinder banks, chain-driven camshafts, and low-voltage ceramic glow plugs for quicker cold-weather starts.

There is an Eco Mode to maximize economy by controlling items like transmission shift schedule, idle speed, and interactive deceleration fuel shut off, the latter cutting fuel feed when coasting. Eco Mode is automatically engaged at startup. A button on the center stack can be used to disengage Eco Model when more sporty performance is desired. While engaged, Eco Mode directs the Jeep’s Quadra-Lift air suspension system to lower the vehicle at speeds above 55 mph, providing for better aerodynamic efficiency. On 4WD models in 4H, Eco Mode also alters the front-to-rear torque split to increase fuel economy.

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The model’s Selec-SpeedControl feature, which includes both Hill Ascent Control and Hill Descent Control, assists when ascending steep grades. Hill Descent Control helps monitor throttle, speed, and braking when traveling down a hill, while Hill Start Assist keeps brakes applied after removing your foot from the brake, allowing time to accelerate without rollback.

The 4×4 version gets Quadra-Trac II that offers all-speed traction control. An electronic limited-slip differential transfers up to 100 percent torque to the wheels when needed to lend year-round traction on wet or dry surfaces. As is the case with 4WD vehicles, shifting into low-range provides rock-crawling prowess.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit

We returned from our journey impressed not only with this vehicle’s functionality in carrying people and cargo, but its ability to do so in comfort and style. Plus, of course, there’s the Grand Cherokee’s all-important efficiency and impressively long driving range between fill-ups.

Those who need a full-size SUV that can handle any mission with complete confidence, while doing so in ways that require far less fuel than one would reasonably expect, should consider placing the Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel on their short list. Its efficiency, capabilities, and general do-everything attitude earned it Green Car Journal’s 2015 Green SUV of the Year for these, and many other, very good reasons.