We’ve always found the Jeep Grand Cherokee to be something of a handsome beast, but for 2014 Jeep gave the big SUV a subtle tweak to its styling and had a fiddle with its oily bits.

The famous seven-slot grille is now shorter and is flanked by slimmer headlights that feature xenon lighting and LED signature running lights as standard across the range.

The rear lights have been enlarged and also now feature LED illumination, while the bumpers have been re-profiled, the roof spoiler made larger, and the tailgate revised to offer greater visibility.

The interior has been fettled, too, with some of the materials increased in quality – we particularly like the stitched leather on top of the dashboard and the Alcantara on the A-pillars and ceiling – while a new high-resolution seven-inch colour screen in the instrument cluster takes the place of the traditional speedo and provides an almost bewildering array of customisation.

The seats and steering wheel offer good adjustment (both electrically so on Limited models and above), and the sheer amount of space on offer is exceptional, particularly in terms of elbow room.

That said, the foot-operated parking brake feels old fashioned now that most cars of this class are moving to electronic versions, and the pedal itself can dig into your leg if you try to use the foot rest.

Also new is an updated implementation of the company’s Uconnect infotainment system developed in conjunction with Harmon, and it’s controlled by a new 8.4-inch touch-screen in the centre stack.  Standard on Overland and Summit models, the system combines audio, navigation, climate, vehicle settings and connectivity functions, and while generally very easy to use, the navigation system is a bit clunky, both in terms of its interface and in its route guidance.

Still, sound quality is incredible, with the top-spec Summit model secreting some 19 individual speakers around its cabin as part of its 825-watt surround sound system.

The big change for 2014, however, is the arrival of a new eight-speed automatic transmission from ZF. It’s controlled by a new T-bar shifter in the centre console, the action of which we feel would benefit from more positive detents between each position, as aiming for Reverse will often result in selecting Park instead.

The new shifter also has no ‘tiptronic’ function – instead, a pair of paddles mounted behind the steering wheel allow you to cycle through the gears manually, although we found the paddles to be a touch too small, making it easy to inadvertently hit one of the additional buttons for the stereo that are also mounted behind the wheel.

Next to the gear shifter are the controls for the air suspension that’s standard on Overland and Summit models. Four modes are provided: Normal, Entry/exit that drops the ride height by 1.3cm for easy access, plus two Off-road modes, with the highest offering 6.6cm over normal ride height and a total ground clearance of 28cm. There’s also an Aero mode that engages automatically at speed, and this lowers the vehicle slightly to improve its aerodynamic efficiency.

Alongside these controls is Jeep’s Selec-Terrain, the company’s equivalent of Land Rover’s Terrain Response. It offers Auto, Snow, Sand, Mud and Rock modes, with each reconfiguring the responses of the engine, transmission, suspension, traction control, differentials and other systems to suit each scenario. But we’ll talk more about this stuff later.

Rear seat passengers are well looked after, with their own ventilation and USB ports, as well as excellent head- and leg-room. There’s even enough space in the foot-wells for a middle seat passenger to travel comfortably.

The seat backs recline for greater comfort on longer journeys, or fold forward to form an almost completely flat load floor. However, there’s no seven seat option available.

All but the entry-level Laredo model are equipped with a power tailgate, and this opens to reveal a vast boot of 782 litres, rising to 1,554 litres with the seats folded. The boot floor is quite high, largely due to the full-size spare wheel that lives underneath (frankly, a price worth paying), but the boot aperture is wide with a flush lower lip.

There are plenty of practical touches back here, such as a pair of lift-out storage bins under the floor, a rechargeable torch, 12v sockets, and a multitude of load hooks.

Although a thunderous 6.4-litre V8 SRT model is available, realistically there’s only one engine for the UK market, and that’s the 3.0-litre V6 diesel. Built by VM Motori in Italy and featuring Fiat’s MultiJet II technology, it produces an enticing 247hp and 570Nm of torque, although bafflingly Jeep have chosen to detune the unit found under the Laredo’s bonnet to 190hp and 440Nm.

On the move, it’s a very likeable power-plant, with little more than a charmingly gruff warble entering the cabin and a torquey delivery that works well with the new transmission.

The new eight-speed unit swaps between ratios smoothly and responds well to kick-down, its only real foible being a slight reluctance to get the big Jeep on the move from a stand-still, a trait that really only presents itself as an issue during a quick get-away: floor the gas pedal and there’s a delay of a good second or two while the transmission composes itself before there’s a chirp from the tyres and you’re propelled down the road.

The Grand can hustle itself through corners well for such a big car, and the speed at which it’s comfortable doing so might have you wishing for a little extra side bolstering for the driver’s seat.

It rides well, too, with large surface imperfections dealt with without intruding on the calm of the cabin, although – in common with many air suspension set-ups – at lower speeds around town things can become a little fidgety.

Wind and road noise are very well suppressed, and this all adds up to make the Grand Cherokee an excellent long-distance cruiser.

While the official economy figures show 37.7 mpg on the combined cycle, we averaged a still respectable 30 mpg during our testing across a mix of driving conditions. CO2 emissions of 198 g/km place it in VED Band J (currently £485 for the first year, £265 thereafter), but curiously the figures for the crippled Laredo are identical, removing any possible benefit.

As with any Jeep, however, its on-road performance is only half the story.

Laredo and Limited models are equipped with Jeep’s Quadra-Trac II four-wheel-drive system, and this uses the brakes to rein-in a spinning wheel and transfer torque to the opposite wheel. A centre differential can route up to 100% of available torque to whichever axle has the most traction, while in low range mode the transfer case splits torque 50/50 front to rear.

The more complex Quadra-Drive II system features on Overland and Summit models, and this incorporates an electronically-controlled locking device in the rear differential to pro-actively direct torque to the wheel with the most traction. The centre differential in the transfer case splits torque 48:52 front-to-rear in normal driving, but can vary that ratio according to the prevailing conditions.

While today’s Grand Cherokee with its independent suspension isn’t quite as capable in the muddy stuff as its solid axle-equipped forebears, particularly with regard to articulation, the benefit in terms of improved on-road manners is clear to see.

Realistically, tyre choice is likely to be more of a limiting factor for those looking for more off-road performance, and while more aggressive tyres for the 18-inch wheels of the Laredo and Limited are available, the 20-inch rims of the Limited Plus, Overland and Summit will prove more of a challenge.

Prices for the Grand Cherokee start at £37,705 for the Laredo, although with its restricted engine and cloth seats, it becomes something of a brave purchase.

More usefully equipped is the Limited at £39,165, with the range-topping Summit model weighing in at £50,205. The latter is home to a bewildering list of standard kit, including adaptive cruise control, 825-watt 19-speaker audio system, air suspension, panoramic sunroof, Uconnect navigation with DAB digital radio, reversing camera, heated and ventilated seats, power tailgate, electrically adjustable memory seats and steering wheel, keyless entry, and a whole raft of electro-safety gubbins. ‘Fully loaded’ is probably an understatement.

The elephant in the Grand Cherokee’s room, however, is its residual values, and at these prices, the Land Rover Discovery becomes the more sensible choice.

But then car buying isn’t a process driven solely by the head. And for our money, the Grand Cherokee’s handsomely rugged styling, sense of practicality, and engaging blend of space with pace is difficult to resist.

Entry-level Price £37,705 Price as tested £50,205
Engine V6 diesel, 2987cc Transmission Eight-speed auto
Power 247hp @ 4,000rpm Torque 570Nm @ 1,800rpm
0-62 8.2 secs Top speed 126 mph
Economy 37.7 mpg CO2 198 g/km
Dimensions 4875 x 1943 x 1792 (LWH) Kerb Weight 2328 kg

Alex Kefford

Editor

Freelance journalist, ex-offroad driving instructor and long distance road-tripper. If you have any questions about this piece, feel free to hit me up on Twitter.