2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee

With the new turbodiesel engine, the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee will have an easier time ascending terrain like this. Pictured is a 2012 model.

Trade weekly Automotive News, citing various sources, reports that the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee large SUV will start sale next January with two notable changes: an 8-speed automatic transmission, replacing a 5-speed unit, and the model’s first diesel-engine option in North America. Both moves were expected, and Chrysler-Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne confirmed the diesel option last January.

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And what about the 2013s? AN says that production will begin this August at Chrysler’s Jefferson North Assembly Plant, which “will forgo the usual summer shutdown to keep up with demand for the hot-selling SUV.” The facility also turns out the related Dodge Durango, which will probably get the new automatic for 2014 but not the diesel engine. Both models should be virtual reruns for 2013. The 2014s will likely see minor cosmetic and features changes as well.

Chrysler began rolling out the 8-speed automatic on 2012 V6 versions of its large cars: the 300 and Dodge Charger. It’s sourced from a Chrysler plant in Kokomo, Indiana, and built to a design licensed from German transmission specialist ZF Friedrichshafen AG. As with the 300/Charger, the 2014 Grand Cherokee should pair the 8-speed only with the base 3.6-liter Pentastar V6.

The new diesel option is a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 that’s already offered for Grand Cherokees sold overseas, where it teams with a 5-speed automatic. There is no word yet on whether it, too, would be available with the 8-speed for 2014, but it’s not out of the question. Outputs should be little changed for U.S. consumption: around 241 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque.

The turobdiesel is supplied by Italy’s VM Motori S.p.A., which is owned by alliance partner Fiat. Jeep previously offered a diesel in its compact Liberty SUV, but the option was short-lived due to lackluster sales. The turbodiesel promises to be well-suited for towing, a popular pastime among Grand Cherokee owners, as it “out-torques” the available gasoline 5.7-liter Hemi V8 by 16 pound-feet.

It’s our understanding that Chrysler eventually plans to offer 8-speed automatic on all its largest vehicles, not just V6 versions. The existing unit apparently isn’t up to the greater torque of the company’s V8 engines, so those models will continue with 5- and 6-speed transmissions until a suitably strong 8-speed is ready.

Unsurprisingly, Chrysler’s shift to the 8-speed is motivated by rising federal fuel-economy targets. The same is true with Grand Cherokee’s new diesel option, which should rate better EPA fuel economy than any of the gas engines, even with a 5-speed automatic.

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