Jeep rolls on into Detroit
The Grand Cherokee gets a midcycle update; the Compass gets tweaked.
Perhaps no other auto manufacturer has done more recently to improve the image of one of its models than Jeep with its Grand Cherokee. Before its 2011 redesign, the Grand Cherokee was a midsize SUV with plenty of off-road ability but an unimpressive interior. That redesign improved the Grand Cherokee's driving character and gave it plenty of interior luxury. Sales have tripled, and the vehicle has won dozens of awards.
Meanwhile, Fiat ownership has done what it could with the mediocre Jeep Compass, civilizing the plasticky interior, revising the styling and improving road manners for the 2011 model year. Those changes helped, and sales have risen 90 percent, but they had nowhere else to go after the depressed market of 2010. At the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week, Jeep continues to improve its product lineup, giving the Grand Cherokee an early midcycle update and further tweaking the Compass to make it more competitive.
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2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee
What is it? A midsize SUV with go-anywhere capability and room for the family.
What's hot? The 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee adds a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 engine that will deliver 240 horsepower, 420 lb-ft of torque, 30 mpg highway and 7,200 pounds of towing capacity. Gasoline models will benefit from an 8-speed automatic transmission that improves fuel economy by 2 mpg with the V6 and 1 mpg with the V8.
Inside, updates start with the UConnect communication system. The 8.4-inch touch screen adds access to applications, including Bing local search, iHeartRadio and Pandora Internet radio. It also adds more voice controls, Wi-Fi hotspot capability and a new, less cartoonish navigation system. A 5-inch touch screen becomes the base infotainment system, and the instrument panel also adopts a 7-inch reconfigurable thin film transistor LCD display. Jeep is also experimenting with interior colors, using various blues, browns, grays and blacks — often together — in trims with names such as Vesuvio and Grand Canyon.
The top-of-the-line Grand Cherokee Summit trim, which was introduced for 2013, gets its own exterior look to go with previous interior upgrades. Visual cues include more chrome accents, 20-inch polished alloy wheels, high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights with LED accents, and unique front and rear fascias.
What's not? Honestly, not much. The Grand Cherokee is a fine vehicle. Our only complaint is a starting price that's out of reach for many families.
How much and when? Roughly $28,000 to $45,000 when it goes on sale in the first quarter of 2013.
MSN Autos' verdict: With the 2014 changes, Jeep is making a fine vehicle even better, updating it with the latest technology and keeping the pressure on the competition. Some folks will love the new interior color options, while others might think them odd.
2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT
What is it? A performance version of Jeep's iconic family hauler that is faster and handles better than an SUV should.
What's hot? The SRT gets many of the same changes as the standard Grand Cherokee, including the new 8-speed automatic transmission, the UConnect 8.4-inch touch screen and the 7-inch reconfigurable instrument display. SRT says the transmission will add downshift rev matching, keeping the 470-horsepower Hemi V8 engine within its power band, and will include a launch-control feature. The UConnect system also adds Performance Pages, which will allow owners to measure zero-to-60, quarter-mile and lap times, as well as real-time horsepower, torque and G-force numbers.
The SRT's sinister looks become more sinister, thanks to new optional 5-spoke wheels, new blackened taillights and revised headlights that are tinted black and accented with LEDs. Chrome will be found only on the grille inserts, around the windows and on the badges.
What's not? Price and fuel economy.
How much and when? Starting price should be about $60,000 when it goes on sale in the first quarter of 2013.
MSN Autos' verdict: The already-menacing Grand Cherokee SRT now looks even meaner, but more importantly, the 8-speed automatic transmission will better tap into the 6.4-liter Hemi V8's willing thrust. We also like the addition of launch control and Performance Pages. If you want to get the kids to soccer practice in a hurry, go for the Grand Cherokee SRT.
2014 Jeep Compass
What is it? An entry-level Jeep without a lot of substance.
What's hot? Jeep is reducing the Compass' noise, vibration and harshness by adding an acoustic windshield and replacing the continuously variable automatic transmission with a 6-speed automatic. The new transmission will reduce the amount of time the engine is at high rpms, when it makes the most noise. Jeep promises the new transmission will also improve fuel economy, but it isn't saying by how much just yet.
Interior improvements include softer armrests, newly standard front side airbags, an available rearview camera and visual tweaks to the center stack. Outside, it gets new headlights with black-tinted lenses and new 18-inch wheels.
What's not? Jeep has improved the Compass under Fiat ownership, but it's still underpinned by an unimpressive chassis and features a pair of gruff 4-cylinder engines. The feel isn't very solid, either, since the Compass is based on the much-unloved and thankfully discontinued Dodge Caliber.
How much and when? Starting at about $20,000 and ranging up to $27,000, the 2014 Compass is due in the second quarter of 2013.
MSN Autos' verdict: The engines that power the Compass have been updated and improved for the new Dart, but they carry on in their gruff state in the Compass. Given its Caliber roots, a complete redesign is really what's needed here.
Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, and currently contributes to JDPower.com and Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.
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ARE THE SEATS COMFORTABLE YET???
How difficult is it to design a Jeep with a comfy seat? They changed the design on the Grand Cherokee a few years ago, to cement-like seats, and I haven't purchased one since. The older seats were like marshmallows....Why can't the brainiacs in Detroit improve the seats?