Let me explain up front that this is my personal experience with the Jeep brand, particularly with the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Diesel, and as always this may or may not be the case for other buyers.
I have been looking for a diesel vehicle that fit my requirements for well over a year. Those requirements include, at a high level:
- Ability to tow minimally 6k lbs
- Good mpg when around town and on highway (relative)
- Good 4x4 system (again relative)
- Improved technology stack (I'm a nerd - what can I say)
- Comfort and appearance
- Reliability (one of the most important pieces to tie all of the above together)
I come from a relatively long line of imports over the past 10 years which makes include new and used Honda, Subaru and Toyota. My last two vehicles have been Toyota Tundra 4x4. The 2005 (4.6) model I owned had 80k on it at purchase and 175k on it at trade. The latest, a 2008 model (5.7), had 68k on it at purchase and 80k on it at trade. I have become very familiar with the Toyota brand and between the two vehicles have had very minor repair work done on both mainly with regard to normal wear and tear. To summarize neither vehicle has ever left me stranded, did not start or malfunction during operation. With that in mind I would rate both trucks rather high for dependability/reliability/build quality. This is what the GCD has to compete with in this review.
Purchase and Experience
I live in Minneapolis, MN and used Consumer Reports price finding tool to locate dealers who participated in their program. My requirements, after doing my research, were simply:
- Grand Cherokee Diesel Overland
...as the base model had everything I needed. The only option I really had to consider was the heater block of which I've never had to use in MN on any previous vehicles as I only use Amsoil synthetic products in engines and drivetrain and found that this seemed to have always been the highest contributing factor (obviously beside a good battery) to cold winter starting. Regardless if the unit had the block heater didn't really influence my purchase.
After realizing the GCD was in relative short supply (December 2013) I tried working with a dealer out of Maple Grove, MN - however I did not get a feel for a good buying experience. The sales team seemed very shady (general approach style - stating one price up front and then changing it when written down on paper). They also committed to pricing they couldn't actually make happen. Keep in mind I have a high credit score and qualify for all the top incentives for Chrysler financing. I moved on.
I found a unit that fit what I wanted at a dealership in Stillwater, MN and took a ride out there prepared to purchase if the numbers worked. They did and the sales team was more straightforward and, seemingly honest. I am very glad I selected this dealership as it proved critical over the next month. I drove the GCD home and had no regrets. The vehicle, overall, seemed very solid over the course of the 40 mile trek in traffic and I was getting used to the adaptive cruise control (which is a bit conservative, but works well and I can see why) and many of the niceties of the driver-centric console. I think the only thing that bugged me at purchase was the fact that the connectivity packages were ridiculously priced for hotspot and the fact that the unit was currently limited to 3G (not sure if that is an upgradable path for the units or not). Minor inconvenience however as I have an LTE smartphone and would generally use that for streaming anyway. I was thoroughly impressed by the number of USB ports in the GCD and general drive-ability (visibility, handling, diesel performance) were very good - although the diesel does suffer some level of turbo lag off the line (something I'm familiar with owning a Subaru Impreza WRX formerly). My first sign of something wrong was as I sat in some stop and go traffic around downtown I started to experience a strong odor of diesel. Background - growing up my best friend's parents owned a trucking company and was around many diesel trucks, of which we often moved for washing and parking. I am not averse to the smell at all, however it seemed to be rather "intrusive" in the cabin. I chalked it up to the cold weather (roughly 5 degrees F at the time of driving home) and continued. My wife, daughter and I later took the vehicle to a friends annual holiday tree decorating get-together. On the drive over my wife commented on the smell - and I told her that it may be due to the cold and break-in, but was seriously doubting that there was no problem at this point. By the time we got to our friends house I had a headache - it was that strong of an odor and was now concerned. The smell persisted on the way home and I emailed and called the dealership early on Saturday. The initial email I responded from the sales rep was slightly rude - stating that it was normal break in and that I should continue driving it. No sense of urgency, so I called and asked to talk to the GM. I stated that I had a problem with the vehicle and that I'd actually like to return it based on the fact that my wife was now concerned about the quality of the vehicle and general safety of it. Keep in mind she was not a fan of attempting a go at a US manufactured vehicle in the first place having had much success with imports as well. The GM stated I should take it to their dealership in S. St. Paul and that they would do a test drive with me and give me a loaner if required.
I arrived at the dealership a bit later and while it's a nice dealership it's very high volume, fast paced and personally did not feel as though they were expecting me or all that concerned with the potential problem of a brand new, 50k+ vehicle. I drove with the manager of the service department and he kept saying to me "This is just normal break-in smell - I smell no diesel". I said that I respectfully disagreed and explained my background with diesel vehicles, but keep in mind I don't make any proclamation to be any sort of expert diesel mechanic - I just know that the smell was very noticeable. Since we could not agree on the validity of my claim he agreed to keep the vehicle and have a diesel tech look at it. I stated the GM of the other location had promised a similar vehicle (keep in mind this is MN in winter and we have had a lot of snowfall this year - with roads continually covered even in the metro). He put me in a 200. At this point I was a bit pissed off. I just spent $50k on a new vehicle less than 24 hours ago and now I was driving a Chrysler 200 FWD that had a 1/4 tank of gas? Regardless I went home and promptly called the GM to explain what had happened so everyone was in the loop - he apologized for the confusion on loaner (too little, too late IMHO). He did state I could take it back and swap for another unit, I told him I could wait a day or two to see what the outcome was. Saturday night I had no answer. Monday I got a call stating that there was "something wrong" and they needed more time to look into it. I called the GM to explain and he was surprised stating profusely that he had never run across this before (well, to be fair it is a new vehicle). We arranged to swap the 200 out for an older model gas GC since it had snowed and I was getting more annoyed with the FWD.
During this time I had repeatedly told the GM that if there was something wrong that we would have to unravel the deal and I would need my truck back. The GM promised not to sell my trade-in Tundra and also stated they would "make it right", which to me indicated I would not actually have that option.
I got a call from the GM Thursday and he stated they had two options for me (at this point I was recording all phone calls since I was losing faith in verbal agreements as I tried to do all comms via email for some truth in what was stated). The first option was that they could "fix" the current GCD that, yes, there was something wrong. What turned out to be wrong was that one of the injector banks was faulty and leaking. There was no indication from the vehicle something was wrong - just the smell. I asked for a copy of the tech's notes at this point and the GM stated they would be provided when I stopped in next. The other option was that the dealership knew how upset my wife and I both were of the problem and that they would do a dealer locate for a similar vehicle. I told him I needed a day to think it over and called a few lawyers in the mean time. This is not the way you want to deal with a new vehicle was top of mind for days to come. I decided, after review, that taking the new vehicle would be the best approach as the dealership did go to great lengths offering up the other vehicle. The GM asked me, however to go drive the now "fixed" GCD I purchased before making my final decision. I agreed.
I went to the dealership and test drove the GCD. While the smell seemed better it was hard to not be very aware of any diesel smell. Again, it was very cold and upon starting I got a strong whiff of the familiar aroma - which seemed to subside during driving. I decided I would not be taking the "fixed" version as my confidence was still reduced and I noticed the dealership managed to put a gouge in the leather on the dashboard of the passenger side. I called the GM, explained I wanted a located vehicle and that it had to be exactly the same and the color choices that would be acceptable as I realized exact model and color may be counter-productive.
They located and got a new vehicle within 5 days, right before the holidays (which I requested as my family and I were going out of town for the week and taking the GCD, or so we hoped). I picked up the vehicle 2 days before we were to leave and the dealership apologized profusely. To their credit they made the swap painless and a nice experience - literally in and out within 30 minutes. Great service. The GM sent me off and stated as I left that while we'd likely not talk again in the near term he stated to call him if I had any qualms. What came next probably made him reconsider that statement...
December 24th, 4AM. I had taken the GCD out the night before to top off the diesel and mail a few cards and run a few errands. It was cold, -10 when I came home. I parked the vehicle inside and plugged the engine block heater in. As I didn't want to leave all of our gifts out in the vehicle overnight (detached garage) I decided to get up early and load up. At 4:30AM we were ready to go. The GCD stating on the dash that it was in "power conservation mode". My guess was that because it was cold the fuel line heaters were working - however nothing seemed odd otherwise. As I started driving I got an error on the dashboard stating there was a "message" - WTF. I pulled over and scrolled through the menus and found a message stating that there was a problem with the throttle position sensor (sorry, memory is fuzzy on what it exactly stated). I shut the vehicle off, let it sit for 5 minutes and started it back up - the message did not come back. We drove around for 5 or so minutes deciding it was best to stay close. No warnings. We decided to continue on our 250 mile trek.
As I approached the last stop light before the highway entrance the power conservation message came back. I accelerated from a stop and as the vehicle cycled through gears it got to 3rd (indicated on the dash based on what current gear the ZF is in I was not in sport or manumatic mode at the time) and stopped shifting. Stuck in 3rd. I was on a 60mph and not sure what to do, attempting to manually shift with the paddles, tried going into sport and back out, nothing. The dashboard wouldn't reflect any attempted changes to the mode or gear. I was going 45mph and could now smell burning transmission fluid. I slowed and pulled off a mile down the road on the first exit. Pulled into a residential area and tried fruitlessly to get the vehicle to shift in any direction. I finally shut the vehicle down again, waited and restarted - same issue. We limped back home in 3rd gear. It's now roughly 5:15AM and we should be leaving town by now - instead we're going back. My wife is pissed. I state nothing, tell them to go in the house and move all of our things to my wife's Toyota. I am livid, but it's the holiday and try to stay positive. I parked the vehicle back in the garage and swore it off, at that point, as a piece of - well...
I called the dealership at 9:30AM of our trip and, miraculously (on the 24th), the sales person that sold me the car answered the phone. She basically stated (which I had recorded) that at this point she too would be livid and the dealership should take the vehicle back - she said she'd get everyone ready to go so when I came back they'd be set to figure something out.
Fast forward. No calls at all during the week. No emails. Nothing. I call the dealership on the way home and it's as if nothing has happened. Level of anger is increasing so I call a lawyer who I formerly talked to and now I have a solid case. The rope is thin and I unload on the GM via voice mail and email - stating if they didn't come to pick up the vehicle tomorrow (a Saturday) he would regret it. He finally called me at 10:30AM on Saturday, profusely apologizing again, and said someone was on their way with a loaner and going to take the vehicle. At this point after I drove the car around the block the vehicle did, again, shift - however the dash was showing warning messages. I talked to the guy (who knew nothing about the product) who came to pick up the vehicle for about a half hour - explaining all the problems. As he's about to leave he tries to remote start the vehicle and it turns on and right back off - he has the gall to ask "So, does it have enough diesel to even run?". At this point I find it hard not to laugh - "Ummm, yes, it's completely full - something is WRONG with it".
Fast forward about 4 days - seemingly no urgency on the matter. I get a call from the GM stating there is nothing wrong with the vehicle.
Really? I have pictures of the dashboard with codes and you're flirting with disaster again. Again, I unload on him (fair or not - I'm very mad). He states he'll go figure it out. He calls back a day later and says that he had a meeting with the owners and that neither Jeep nor their dealership thinks it's in their best interest to have me as an unhappy customer and decide to unravel the deal.
A week later I have my 2008 Toyota Tundra back and could not be happier. I'm sure I had a fluke of unfortunate problems however when I experience a motor and transmission failure - that could have been life threatening with the cold weather, I lose all faith in a product. I lost faith in Jeep. I will never buy another Jeep and I will never recommend another Chrysler product to anyone ever again. I hope that your experience is not mine and I understand that this could be an amazing product (it looked amazing to me on paper and in all the reviews I watched). I really wanted this to be the vehicle I drove for the next few years, I really liked the feel of it - the build quality was far superior on the 2014 than the 2012 I drove as a loaner. However, I can't ever again take the risk. Unfortunately Jeep failed to convert here. I acknowledge it could happen to any brand, but in my experience nothing like this has ever happened to me in purchasing a vehicle (I have owned 14 car/truck if you include both failed GCD and countless other motor vehicles including snowmobiles, ATVs and motorcycles).
Things break, it's inevitable - but this was too much failure in a vehicle positioned as rugged, reliable, premium and luxury. At the price point this should have never happened. The GM stated as I left the dealership with my Tundra keys he would be using this as a story for their upcoming meetings with Jeep on product lines and that QA needs to be more diligent. I told him "Tell them to read up on Deming and thanks for your help".
That was the end of my GCD experience...