Evolution of the "Original SUV" Timeline:
1974 - the Jeep Cherokee / Wagoneer SJ, that descendant of the Willys Overland Jeepster wagon, introduced "Sports Utility [Vehicle]" in advertising. Then in the care of American Motors Corporation.
1985 - American Motors sketched a successor to the smaller Jeep Cherokee XJ line., using this new method called "Computer Aided Design."
1987 - Lee Iacocca's "New" Chrysler Corporation rescued the fabled Jeep brand. Having hedged all bets on a revamp of the successful "mini-van" the new owner was content with Jeep capitalizing on the perennially successful CJ off-roader.
1991 - Along came the Explorer mid-size SUV. From Ford.
1992 - the launch of the Jeep Grand Cherokee ZJ proved that Americans could have both their utility and their luxury.
Mid-2000s - several worthy premiums had shoved the Grand Cherokee off the top of the SUV hill. As in BMW X5 and VW Touareg.
Late 2010 - A third generation of Grand Cherokee debuted just as the ink was drying on the paper signed by Sergio Marchionne, of Italian automaker FIAT,' to acquire a majority stake of Chrysler from shareholders / taxpayers. The sweater-clad Chairman of the Board looked the proud-papa. The new Grand Cherokee vaulted back up to the top of the SUV hill.
It was on a recent "Drive...He Said" excursion into Arizona's Sonoran Desert that we tried out a refreshed 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo.
Two-Wheel Drive Survives [Packed] Desert Sand:
That our GC Laredo tester was the 4x2 [read "Rear-Drive"] version, created some consternation about driving beyond the asphalt. Turned out to be misapprehension. Computer-managed traction + stability control system in conjunction with some meaty Michelin Latitude tires on 18"-inch wheels and 8.6"-inches of ground clearance made mince meat out of the packed desert dry gullies. It was all possible without the "Trail Rated" emblem reserved for GCs with Quadra-Trac II / Quadra-Drive II all-wheel drive. Undelivered - yet hoped for during low 90° temps - were some goose bumps induced by the automatic-climate control in unison with dark tinted glass aft of the front row.
Eight Gears = Less Pain at the Pump:
How does a combined 21 miles-per-gallon in a mid-size SUV with 6200-pound tow capacity grab ya? Chrysler is now making enough ZF 8HP 8-speed automatic transmissions in Kokomo, Indiana to supply all Grand Cherokees. In the Laredo the engine is aluminum-alloy 3.6-liter V6 DOHC running on 87 octane unleaded. 290-horsepressure and 260-pound-feet of spin happen without direct injection, reducing noise pollution. Helm-mounted paddle shifters help lock out higher gears, useful in light off-roading and mountain passing. Chrysler-Fiat, how about pumping a "5.7L HemiV8 soundtrack" into the Pentastar GC's?
So the Grand Cherokee "makes-do" with a version of the quasi-ladder frame used for the three-row Dodge Durango. This sucker is as stiff as rigor mortis. Remarkably it's no heavier than a uni-body BMW X5. Segue from a Volkswagen Touareg into the Jeep GC and sense the improved ride compliance. The fully independent suspension (front double wishbone/ rear four-links) holds body sway at bay whether rocking over dunes or making last-minute lane transitions. Brake dive is modest while the four-wheel disc binders could stand a firmer pedal. A low-effort steering wheel, good for suburban mall hops, is complemented by less inert steering feedback and fewer turns to lock.
Wearing Sunday's Best:
Jeep has done well to offer the 2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee within the range of average new car pricing in the United States. Our white Laredo 4x2 tester went through the checkout at $31,000. It even includes the new TFT 7"-inch "Dynamic" Gauge Cluster. Where driver chooses between English or Metric, analog and digital and calls up all sorts of data including engine coolant temps and oil pressure readings. At this price we couldn't care about the missing the panoramic moonroof or the 8.4" U-Connect touch infotainment/ navigation interface. Because Bluetooth pairing is a snap, the USB interface reads even older I-Pods, and the music was listenable as long as restraint was shown with the volume. If anything the standard 5"-inch touch screen with digitized analog radio tuner and large compass readout imparts simple elegance. You know, some of us do have "Smart Phones" with GPS navigation apps.
Is your brood of the average American size? That's two of you adults and those pesky 1.5 kids. Once those 1.5 kids become full fledged 6 footers, they'll have no reason to gripe in the second row of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, what with 39"-inches of room to spare for the noggins and over 38" to stretch the legs. Gear can be gulped to the tune of 36-cubic-feet in the cargo bay. Folding the split second-row seat backs will suck up 63-cu-ft. The 24.6 gallon fuel tank would normally imply few pit stops. If it were not for the eight cup and bottle holders.
Alright, not even a swig of the Single Malt would stop a Scotsman from cringing at the GC Laredo's faded plaid design of the cloth seating. Some hard plastic pieces "below-the-belt" exhibited greater gaps and sharper edges than desired. The glove-box door included.
None of which can undo the fact that the Grand Cherokee inner environment is remarkably placid as in "What drivetrain whine and wind / road noise?"
Dust laden as the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo 4x2 was after an afternoon of fun in the Sonoran sands, we were still presentable enough for the evening mass at the desert oasis of St. Anthony Greek Orthodox monastery outside Florence, Arizona. Located where the cactus ends and the olive groves begin.
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Tags: 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo 4x2 review, 4x2, BMW X5 Competitor, Grand Cherokee, Jeep, Laredo, Mercedes ML Competitor, Mid-Size Sport Utility, off-road, Premium Off-Road vehicle, Rear-Wheel Drive, Sport, Sport Utility, Toyota 4-Runner Competitor, utility, vehicle, Volkswagen Touareg Competitor