Thursday, April 16, 2009

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Grand Cherokee has plenty of pull

Updated: April 15, 2009 4:15 PM

It’s no secret that sales of mid- and full-size SUVs are taking a hit these days.

However, there still is a market for bigger SUVs like the 2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee Special Limited tested here – some consumers like the feeling of safety they get in a larger SUV and the idea of sitting up high to get a better view of the road is cited by many as a reason for buying a big vehicle.

Meanwhile, there are others who need a big pickup or SUV with pulling power to haul their boat or travel trailer.

Not many vehicles do it better than the Jeep Grand Cherokee, particularly with the 3.0-litre turbo diesel engine offered in my test vehicle.

It has 215 horsepower and can pull up to 3,266 kilograms, the best in its class. Meanwhile, fuel economy is decent with fuel ratings of 12 litres per 100 kilometres in the city and 9L/100km on the highway.

You may not be able to attain those numbers, but you should be able to get up to 30 per cent better fuel economy with diesel than a comparable gasoline engine.

The common rail diesel engine available on the Grand Cherokee dates back to the days of the Daimler Chrysler partnership.

Earlier this year, Chrysler Canada president Reid Bigland noted that 75 per cent of Grand Cherokees sold in Canada have the diesel engine. That number has dropped somewhat to about 66 per cent, but it’s interesting that fully two-thirds of all Grand Cherokees sold are the diesel variety.

Diesels make up a much smaller percentage of sales south of the border for some reason. Canadians seem to get the fact that diesel is a great alternative to hybrid and other “new” technologies.

If you haven’t driven a diesel lately you’re in for a surprise. There’s no longer the smell and clouds of black smoke to alert the public to the fact you’re driving a diesel. And once it’s warmed up, the diesel engine is not much noisier than the gasoline variety.

The availability of diesel fuel could be an issue in some areas, but once you learn the stations that carry it, it’s not a big deal.

Mated with a five-speed automatic transmission, the diesel Grand Cherokee has loads of pulling power and the off-road capability that Jeeps are known for.

It has full-time four-wheel drive with the Quadra-Drive II unit along with hill start assist and hill descent control, which can be activated with the flick of a switch.

Add to that electronic stability control with brake assist and electronic rollover mitigation and four-wheel disc brakes with electronic brake force distribution along with driver and front passenger multistage airbags and advanced side curtain airbags and you have the safety features that rank the Grand Cherokee as one of the safest sport-utility vehicles on the market.

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For those who use it to pull a trailer, another safety feature is the trailer sway damping, which comes with the optional towing package.

Like most Jeeps, the Grand Cherokee is Trail Rated, meaning it can tackle just about any type of terrain thrown its way, yet it is smooth, quiet and comfortable on the highway.

Thanks to the gobs of torque available, acceleration is brisk, although there is a bit of turbo lag evident.

Peak torque of 376 lb/ft comes between at the low end, between 1600 and 2800 rpm.

The interior is pleasant and well thought out, but as with many Chrysler products these days, features too many hard plastic surfaces, particularly for a vehicle that starts at north of the $50K mark. However, all instruments and switches are conveniently placed and the cabin is relatively quiet except at idle or hard acceleration thanks to extra insulation as part of the turbo diesel package.

While this is a heavy vehicle (2,147 kg/4,733 lb), the Grand Cherokee feels relatively agile even in tight city driving conditions and the steering is light despite the girth of the vehicle.

The Grand Cherokee is strictly a five seater with no third row seating. Cargo volume is 1,940L (68.5 cu ft) with the second row seat folded and 997L (34.5 cu ft) with the rear seat up.

From a base of $52,595 my tester topped out at $61,570 with the addition of the Special Limited package ($2,750), which included door sill scuff pads, Quardra-Drive 4WD, limited slip differential front and rear, trailer towing package, leather seating and a host of other features,

The 3.0-litre diesel engine is a $2,500 option, while high intensity headlamps with automatic headlamp leveling system was $800 and AM/FM/CD/DVD/HDD/MP3 with Nav Radio was $975 and 18-inch aluminum chrome clad wheels were $500.

That’s a lot of coin for any vehicle, but if the diesel option makes sense to you, the Grand Cherokee sits in a class by itself with its decent fuel economy and the power to pull a boat or travel trailer with ease.

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