Basic Good Looks
It looks good naked. That's what we kept thinking all week during our recent test of the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo. As reviewers we find ourselves often testing cars that arrive loaded with all the bells and whistles, but this particular Laredo model arrived lightly optioned, with an attractive cloth interior, base stereo and no navigation system. It proved to be one of those rare vehicles that is just as appealing "undressed" as it is fully loaded. And this is impressive, since with automobiles, as with people, the less stuff you're wearing, the harder it is to make a good impression.
As with the Grand Cherokee's predecessors, dating back to the stately Grand Wagoneers of the 1970s, the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee retains an upscale look that helps it look right at home no matter where it's parked, whether it be a Costco parking lot, a yacht club or up on a rock. The difference is, with the current-generation GC, you don't have to spring for the top-dog model to impress the valet. Even the entry Laredo model projects good taste and confidence, thanks to a handsome mug (now with squintier headlamps and a more sculpted front bumper), a planted road stance, monochromatic paint and gleaming wheels.
Whereas some competitors have grown unwieldy in size, the Grand Cherokee remains perfectly manageable for urban and suburban SUV owners alike, and fits easily in most parking spots, leaving room to open its right-sized doors and tailgate. The drawback is that the Jeep doesn't have a third-row seat. However, its platform mate and mechanical sibling, the Dodge Durango, does.
All Grand Cherokees get the interior basics right. Materials, ergonomics and a sophisticated gauge cluster with lots of useful trip information are all present. Just as important is its genuine sense of quality. The 2005-2010 model was a veritable Tupperware party inside, but that has never been the case with the 2011-and-beyond model. While we missed certain extras, such as a rearview camera and parking sensors (once you have those on a vehicle you never want to have one without), we did not miss the soft leather seats, high-end sound and the like. For SUV buyers who are really pinching pennies, we might even recommend skipping the $2,000 Security and Convenience group that includes extra power outlets, heated seats, a heated steering wheel, a power lift gate and universal garage door opener. Ours also came with power seats, a sunroof, Satellite radio and full-time all-wheel drive, which together with the option group and the $995 sunroof, elevated the MSRP to $35,490, plus $995 for destination charges.
Built from the proverbial rib of the Mercedes-Benz M-Class, with which its early development was closely tied, the Grand Cherokee has strong bones. The example we tested this time was equipped with Chrysler's excellent 3.6-liter V6 with an impressive 290 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. With the added weight of 4-wheel drive, it doesn't exactly feel spry but does get out of its own way, so long as you move the fussy T-shaped shift handle into S (for "sport") mode. Left in D, the powertrain defaults to fuel-saving mode with relaxed transmission shifts and sluggish throttle response. At least it came with steering wheel shift paddles. Steering and handling, however, are tidy and comfortable; the days of the jouncy SUVs are clearly over, at least in this case.
New this year to Grand Cherokee buyers is an available diesel V6 that can tow a boat, as well as a monster V8 that delivers fuel economy solidly in the mid-20 miles per gallon range. We hope to test that vehicle soon. For anyone in the market for a handsome, well-built SUV with room for five, you could do a lot worse than this.