Jeep’s EcoDiesel Grand Cherokee: A Clean Vehicle That Loves Mud

Micah Wright /Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright /Autos Cheat Sheet

With all this talk of dirty diesel engines and massive recalls dominating the news cycle, we’re thrilled to put a diesel in the spotlight for all the right reasons, because when it comes to the 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4×4 EcoDiesel, it ticks all the right boxes while keeping any issues to a minimum. Even reviews from fellow critic, Road & Track (who drove it for a long-term feature), loved the EcoDiesel from start to finish, finding zero reasons to gripe about it — aside from the pricy powertrain.

The idea of a diesel Jeep intrigued me ever since I first heard about this version coming to market a few years back. And with one of the first stories I ever covered at Autos Cheat Sheet being the release of an EcoDiesel version of the Wrangler, let’s just say the chance to get my hands on a modern oil-burning Jeep has been high on my list for a while.

So in a stroke of extreme good luck, I recently had the chance to take a hardcore, optioned-out Limited version on some rugged, mud-filled paths. Since these trails were dicey enough to warrant a team of spotters, action shots were a little tough to come by. But after emerging on the other end, I couldn’t wait to get some photos to do it justice, because not only was I impressed by what the Grand Cherokee could do, I was left wondering if there was anything out there this $55,000 SUV couldn’t take.

Micah Wright /Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright /Autos Cheat Sheet

Starting off, the guttural noises emanating from the Cherokee’s 3.0-liter turbo-diesel V6 took a little getting used to, but once the trails presented themselves, thoughts of what was powering this torquey SUV were replaced by the need to concentrate on the increasing amount of mud and trees. Fording mud-filled creeks, cresting steep embankments, and descending slippery slopes, my trusty, Deep Cherry Red Grand Cherokee trekked on flawlessly, not once complaining or flailing on the test course.

There wasn’t a moment where I thought the Grand Cherokee would be stopped by the obstacles in it’s way, and confidence in the SUV you’re off-roading is a feeling that’s pretty damn hard to beat. Jeep has long been a favorite of off-roaders, and even though the model I was testing may have been a hair on the swanky side, it had all of the options one could ever want in a mud-slinger.

With its $2,495 Adventure Package featuring a tricky all-wheel drive set-up, a specialized electronic rear limited slip differential, tow hooks, load leveling rear suspension, and every imaginable skid plate, this Jeep was one of the most capable stock 4×4 SUVs I’ve ever encountered.

Micah Wright /Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright /Autos Cheat Sheet

While it may be all-American on paper, the Jeep’s EcoDiesel heart is courtesy of VM Motori Cento in Ferrara, Italy. Sporting a compacted graphite iron block and all aluminum twin-cam heads, the mill is a solid V6 that offers near-instant torque. Rocking common-rail injection, a 15.5:1 compression ratio, and ceramic glow plugs that heat up at in record time, the engine has been well-received by critics, but remains criminally overlooked by buyers. Joined to a ZF-designed eight-speed automatic transmission, this cherry red ruffian comes alive both on and off-road, and shifting in any environment is seamless, to say the least.

Okay, so 240 horsepower isn’t great. But it’s respectable enough, and with a ground-churning 420 pound-feet of torque backing it up, chances are you won’t feel like you’re missing much. Toting the same towing capacities as Hemi-equipped V8 models at 7,200 pounds when in four-wheel drive trim, this Jeep scampered up muddy embankments all afternoon, all without a moment of wheel-slip to be felt.

But don’t let it’s off-roading prowess fool you into thinking that this version of the Grand Cherokee is a pig at the pump. With an EPA-rated 21/28 mile-per-gallon average, this Jeep has the ability to give drivers a tank range that tops a whopping 730 miles.

Micah Wright /Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright /Autos Cheat Sheet

But I didn’t have time to run the tank down to fumes, and with the sun slinking slowly toward the horizon, I hastily setup my camera to cover the interior — truly one of the best aspects of this Jeep in my opinion.

Sliding into these cushy, perforated, vented leather seats is about as rewarding as kicking back in your granddad’s favorite Lay-Z-Boy chair, with a medley of off-road and interior-oriented switches, and a 506-watt amp with a sub and nine speakers serving as your surround sound system. An 8.4-inch touchscreen display rests in place of a massive flat-screen up front, and every single seat in this thing held my six-foot frame without issue or constraint. It’s a fantastic cabin, and being knee-deep in mud while enjoying all of these refinements is one of the most oddly rewarding experiences one can enjoy in a motorized vehicle.

No one ever said being fuel conscious would be cheap. The VM diesel is only available on the three top Grand Cherokee models and adds $4,500 to the cost of a Limited. It may be a small price to pay for anyone wanting a diesel that isn’t Cummins-sized, but it still ain’t cheap. Most buyers will still opt for that big honkin’ V8 and not have to worry about urea upkeep, turbo headaches, or unexpected emissions issues. But for diesel fanatics, this Jeep is a godsend, because it’s one of the only SUVs in its class that runs on crude.

So was there anything else about the Grand Cherokee that caught my interest? Indeed. There were loads of goodies that made me rethink that hefty $54,795 price tag. With the Limited, you have a vehicle that’s reaching Range Rover levels of off-road prowess — at around half the price. From the auto-leveling, bi-xenon headlamps and LED running lights to the panoramic sunroof and rain-sensing wipers, there’s way more to this Cherokee than just a slathering of off-road ferocity and some well-stitched seats.

Comfortable and composed, the Grand Cherokee’s multi-level, height-adjustable air suspension offered added ground clearance and increased ride comfort, all while making it easier to pack gear in and out of when it comes time to set-up camp and strike tents. Add in all the blind spot and camera safety add-ons that come in the $2,000 “customer preferred package” and you’ll wonder why anyone pays double this amount for other, less rugged SUVs.

Is it the newest car on the market? Nope. But it sure as hell doesn’t look dated either, and with its brilliant functionality, hearty mechanics, and jaw-dropping interior, there’s little reason to look elsewhere for a capable diesel SUV. Plus, getting 28 miles per gallon out of a two-and-a-half ton SUV is pretty tough to beat.

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