EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 24, 2013

Jeep Grand Cherokee gets a makeover

Motor Mouth
Jeffrey Zygmont

---- — If you look at the Jeep Grand Cherokee right now, this very week, you’ll see a good snapshot of a car company keeping people well engaged with a popular model.

Jeep just released the 2014 version of its Grand Cherokee, a full-size sport-utility vehicle that is the top-selling model in the Jeep line. The first samples of the 2014 Grand Cherokee arrived in Haverhill at Bill DeLuca’s Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram dealership only about a week ago. At this moment they’re parked alongside 2013 Grand Cherokees, the outgoing versions that the car maker now no longer produces.

The new model is not a full-blown, next-generation remake, when everything about a vehicle changes. For the Grand Cherokee, that last occurred with the 2011 version. At that time Jeep brought out a fully updated, thoroughly contemporary SUV that was supple and streamlined, yet still retained the toughness and heft that people associate with the Jeep brand. That re-engineered model has been a big success, helping to reinvigorate Jeep and maintaining a position as one of the best selling full-size sport-utilities.

Today’s 2014 model retains the underpinnings introduced in 2011. But it picks up enough updates to be labeled a new version. It is “refreshed,” according to the term often used by auto companies.

Depending on business conditions, a complete re-do for any model – when a car is completely redesigned from tires to antenna tip – usually occurs every five or six years. A refresh typically comes in the middle, renewing a vehicle while its fundamental design still has two or three years left to run.

That schedule helps a car company maintain an active relationship with drivers.

It needs to. The auto industry is hyper competitive, with manufacturers competing to win your attention so they can win your business. A refreshed model gives them an opportunity to promote and advertise in order to grab your interest.

It also keeps the company abreast of changing times. Fashions move forward in cars the same as they do in clothing. With a refresh, a car maker can keep up with cosmetic trends while the technology underpinning a model is still too current to fully replace.

But of course, vehicle technology doesn’t change in five-year intervals. It improves all the time. A mid-life refresh lets an auto company pack in some substantial updates that keep a model current not just cosmetically, but also in performance and features that affect drivers’ on-road experience.

Thus the overall aim of a refresh like the one just received by the Jeep Grand Cherokee is simply to keep a car desirable.

“When the customers fill out all those little surveys, the company listens,” explained Kevin Bihl, internet sales manager at DeLuca. “That’s where all the enhancements come from.”

The 2014 Grand Cherokee that’s just arriving shows that those enhancements can be both subtle and sizable.

For one, the refreshed version of the sport-utility contains a new, eight-speed automatic transmission that boosts Grand Cherokee’s fuel economy. It also adds an “eco mode,” a selectable setting that configures the transmission to shift in ways that optimize gas mileage.

A new, V6 diesel engine coming as an option on the 2014 Grand Cherokee boosts fuel mileage more. It gives the model a fuel-economy rating of 22 miles per gallon in city driving, and 30 mpg on the highway, in a Grand Cherokee featuring standard, rear-wheel drive. That’s the best fuel mileage available in the full-size SUV category, according to Jeep. With all-wheel drive, the diesel engine’s fuel-use estimate drops to 21 mpg city, 28 mpg highway.

The new diesel engine also gives Grand Cherokee the highest-rated towing in its class, at 7,400 pounds, announced Jeep.

Other revisions include a reshaped nose that aims to make Grand Cherokee’s front appear more substantial. Taillights are larger, with LED lights. The back spoiler is bigger and more aerodynamic, and the rear hatch re-sculpted for greater visibility. LED signature lights around slimmer head lamps announce the new model to oncoming drivers.

Inside, the 2014 Grand Cherokee gets upgraded leather upholstery and open-pore wood trim in up-scale models so equipped. Its array of added technology includes an 8.4-inch touchscreen display for controlling cabin features, and the company’s Uconnect communications link.

When a refreshed model brings along such upgraded features, the company clears out left-over inventory of the prior version simply by having a sale. Kevin Bihl of DeLuca explained that the Chrysler Group, which makes Jeep, Chrysler and Dodge passenger vehicles plus Ram trucks, currently offers tempting price cuts on 2013 Grand Cherokees.

“The 2013s are dwindling rapidly because they have some nice incentives on them,” said Bihl.

It helps that the transition from the former, 2013 SUV to the refreshed, 2014 model is gradual, he noted. It takes time for the Jeep factory in Detroit, where Grand Cherokee is built, to push out enough models to fully stock dealers’ lots all across the country. Therefore, as with most new models, when the new version of the 2014 Grand Cherokee arrived at DeLuca last week, leftovers out-numbered the replacements. Shoppers are more likely to find the configuration they want among the outgoing models.

That’s just fine with most of them, said Bihl. The dealership continues to do a brisk business with remaining, 2013 Grand Cherokees because it was such a sought-after models to begin with. That goes back to the full re-design for the 2011 model.

“There was a good bump in popularity then because the changes in the vehicle made it such a popular car,” he said. “It has continued to sell well.”

In the meantime, the 2014 model is starting to bring in curious drivers who want to see the upgrades. There have been just a few so far, said Bihl. But they’re starting the renewal that should keep the Grand Cherokee among the foremost SUVs available.

Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction and nonfiction books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Vehicle type: 4-door, 5-passenger, rear- and all-wheel-drive full-size SUV Price range: $29,790 to $51,990 (plus options) Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles basic warranty; 5 years/100,000 miles powertrain warranty; 3 years/unlimited miles corrosion warranty; 3 years 36,000 miles roadside assistance Base engine: 3.6-liter V6 Power: 290 horsepower at 6,400 rpm; 260 lb.-ft. torque at 4,800 rpm Base transmission: 8-speed automatic Fuel economy: 17 mpg city; 25 mpg highway Wheelbase: 115 inches Length: 190 inches Width: 77 inches Height: 69 inches Weight: 4,545 pounds Fuel capacity: 24.6 gallons Turning circle: 37.1 feet