Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Breaking rules on diesel power; Plenty of torque in 3.0 L engine


A common perception about diesel engines is that they're noisy, slow and smell bad. Don't tell Jeep's 3.0-litre turbo-diesel that . . . it's busy rewriting the book on what we've come to believe about diesel power.

Introduced into the Grand Cherokee lineup earlier in 2007, the diesel will impress even the most jaded critics and blow away most of its competitors in the process. In terms of pep it'll even give the 5.7-litre Hemi V8 a run for its money and consume less fuel doing it.

After several months driving in all kinds of road/driving conditions, this Jeep's capabilities are indeed impressive. The Grand Cherokee isn't the first Jeep to receive a diesel option (that honour goes to the 2005-'06 Liberty) but it's by far the most impressive application.

The 215-horsepower 3.0-litre V6 Common Rail Diesel (CRD) arrives by way of Mercedes-Benz, which has installed cleaner-burning "Bluetec" versions in a number of its passenger cars and sport-utility vehicles for the 2008 model year.

For the time being, the CRD in the Grand Cherokee doesn't yet qualify as a Bluetec engine since it lacks the urea-based nitrogen oxide reducing system installed on diesel engines used by its former business partner Mercedes. However, sources at Chrysler claim that Bluetec-equipped Jeeps should become available for the 2009 model year.

Meanwhile, buyers wishing to sample the current Jeep CRD's many attributes should definitely try one on for size. To coin a phrase, the engine is an absolute torque monster, producing 376 lb.-ft. of grunt from 1,600-2,800 r.p.m. That's enough to launch the beast with similar authority to the much ballyhooed 330-horsepower 5.7-litre V8 "Hemi" engine with a nearly identical torque rating . . . at least for the first couple of hundred metres. Beyond that point, the Hemi's extra horses kick in to rule the road. The CRD Grand Cherokee does, however, match the Hemi's 3,270-kilogram maximum towing capacity.

The CRD's nimble behaviour around town will surprise drivers of much smaller commuter-style vehicles as they dart through and around traffic. Also surprising is its relatively quiet nature. Compared to the stereotypical diesel engine, there's much less clatter, no blue/black smoke and virtually no aroma of fuel.

There is a bit of clatter, especially from a cold start, but the CRD is generally as well mannered as any gasoline engine. Because diesel engines have very high cylinder compression, letting off the throttle produces an automatic braking effect that requires some getting used to.

The CRD's real advantage becomes apparent the first time you fill 'er up: the city/highway fuel-economy rating of 12.0/9.0 l/100 km is much better than the 5.7-litre gas V8's rating of 16.5/11.2. Even the Grand Cherokee's base 210-horsepower 3.7-litre gasoline V6 can only muster 14.2/10.2 l/100 km.

For 2008, the CRD option, which was previously offered only on the entry-level Laredo model, can now also be ordered on up-level Limited (pictured here) and Overland trim levels. Laredo pricing begins at $50,500 including destination charges (slightly less than the entry prices for similarly equipped Hemi models). Those prices include five-speed automatic transmissions, 17-inch wheels, automatic on/off headlamps, power eight-way driver's seats (four-way for front passengers), automatic dimming rearview mirrors, leather-trimmed (and heated) front seats, power adjustable pedals, remote start and power sunroofs.

After all this time, parent company Chrysler is probably wondering if we're ever going to give back the Grand Cherokee CRD test vehicle. Actually we hope they forgot all about it so we can spend the winter reducing snow piles to meaningless impediments and catching the competition unawares at the next stop light.

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