Diesel technology has advanced in the last 20 years: Diesel cars are common in Europe, and are slowly being introduced here. Such is the case with the 2007 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4X4 CRD, which now comes with an available diesel engine option.
Our test vehicle had a base price of $37,645 ($47,215 as tested). The Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4X4 Diesel comes with a 3-year/36,000 mile warranty and EPA estimates of 19 mpg city/23 mpg highway.
First Glance: Different, but Similar
While the performance characteristics of a diesel engine would seem to make it a perfect powerplant for a mid-sized SUV, you'd be hard-pressed to find oneÜuntil now. Jeep has recently combined the Grand Cherokee with a 3.0 liter turbo diesel engine sourced from Mercedes-Benz, and has now made it available as an optional power plant on the Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo, Limited and Overland models.
To the untrained eye, my test vehicle looked like a standard, nicely-equipped 2007 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4x4. Beefy 245/65R17 all-terrain tires are wrapped around 17" machined aluminum wheels, while the mineral gray exterior color helped give the vehicle a business-like look.
The diesel markings are there, however, if you look hard enough for them. The right rear bumper is stamped with a "3.0L Diesel" badge. Popping the hood reveals a large plastic cowling imprinted with 3.0 CRD (for common rail diesel) covering the engine, but you'll have to open the panel to the gas receptacle to be greeted by the most definitive sign yet this isn't a regular vehicle: a bright-green gas cap that shouts "Ultra Low-Sulfur Diesel Fuel Only". (It's an important point to remember, as filling this vehicle with regular gasoline could leave you with a fouled, dead engine and a hefty repair bill.)
So what does the addition of a diesel engine do to the already capable mid-size SUV? I had a good week with the Grand Cherokee CRD, and it became clear that Jeep is on to something.
In the Driver's Seat: Luxury Offroading?
This particular vehicle came loaded with options, featuring lots of leather-trimmed seating surfaces, power doors, power locks, a trip computer and a navigation system with rear-view backup camera. It also included a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, lots of cup holders and other amenities.
Seating in the first and second rows was comfortable, but the space behind the second row was a bit cramped. The Grand Cherokee is a mid-size SUV, so you may want to look at the Jeep Commander if you need more space. A healthy complement of safety features is also included, from easily accessible LATCH system anchors in the second row to side-curtain airbags, electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes.
My test vehicle was opulently furnished, but the real focus of this review is on what makes this vehicle special: the 3.0 liter diesel engine that powers the Quadra-Drive 4WD system.
Once I settled into the leather driver's seat and turned the key, the diesel nature of the vehicle become apparent -- albeit barely. The engine started smoothly, with just a hint of clattering from the engine at idle. Once I stepped on the gas, the engine noise was once again remarkably sedate. Only during the aforementioned starting and under full throttle did the engine sound like a stereotypical diesel motor. The neighbor that drives a Jetta TDI or a few truckers at the local greasy spoon may notice the familiar sounds of a diesel engine, but I can guarantee that the vast majority of people who hear this engine will assume it runs on gasoline.
On the Road: A Refined Diesel
The magical engine is actually a Mercedes-developed power plant, and is already used with good effect in the Mercedes E350 Bluetec. There are some differences between the engine used in the Jeep and the one that powers the E-class, so the Grand Cherokee CRD isn't available in all 50 states yet. Chrysler has indicated that updates and improvements to the engine should make it legal in all 50 states within a few years.
The new engine is designed to use a new ultra low sulfur diesel fuel (ULSD) that has been refined to contain much less sulfur than conventional diesel, resulting in a cleaner burning (and more environmentally friendly) vehicle fuel. ULSD is gradually being phased in across the United States, so you'll need to keep an eye out for the special ULSD label. Check out About.com Alternate Fuels for more on low-sulfur diesel fuel.
Journey's End: A Winning Combination
From a value perspective, the diesel is harder to justify. As a close to $4000 option, it will take you many years (and many long road trips) to come close to recouping your investment in fuel costs.
This leads to a bigger question about where Jeep is headed as a brand. The Jeep Compass is venturing into $15,000 FWD commuter car territory on the low-end, while the Grand Cherokee Limited CRD is pushing into Escalade territory on the other. Jeep has always had an impressive ability to see its owners through the most arduous terrain. From my perspective it seems now that the brand itself is a bit off course, perhaps mired to the figurative rims in a marketer's jungle filled with wayward focus groups and misguided market research.
Value and branding concerns aside, it's hard to find fault with two things that seem tailor-made made for each other. At the risk of making a horrible analogy, let me put it this way: The refined chocolate of a Mercedes-derived diesel engine has landed squarely in the midst of the chunky peanut butter that is the Jeep Grand Cherokee, resulting in some impressive, clean-burning, diesel-powered SUV goodness.