No hybrids here: Jeep Grand Cherokee diesel to debut at Detroit Auto Show

2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee snow backgroundSince pulling itself back from the brink of bankruptcy, Chrysler has done a lot to revitalize itself. It’s upgraded existing models, produced a credible Italian-American small car (the Dart), and revived a performance icon (the Viper). However, one area the company hasn’t focused on is green technology.

It may not be a hybrid, but the Jeep Grand Cherokee diesel set to debut at the Detroit Auto Show should at least get better fuel economy, without compromising the SUV’s rugged capability.

Jeep President and CEO Mike Manley told WardsAuto that the diesel Jeep would be unveiled in Detroit, and that it will go on sale in the first quarter of 2013. After all, who wouldn’t want a four-wheel drive vehicle when the ground is covered with snow?

Jeep already offers a Grand Cherokee diesel in Europe, and it seems likely that the Euro version’s 3.0-liter, turbocharged V6 will make it across the Atlantic. It produces 237 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque, and returns 28 mpg combined on the European cycle.

European numbers don’t usually translate into high EPA numbers, but that is an impressive start. A 2013 Grand Cherokee with Chrysler’s 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 is rated at 19 combined mpg by the EPA. The 5.7-liter Hemi V8 is rated at 15 combined mpg.

Fuel economy may not be a top priority for buyers considering an SUV with the off-road hardware and girth of the Grand Cherokee, but the diesel shouldn’t upset Jeep fans.

“Jeep had a diesel in the Liberty, and even though the volumes were relatively small, that was a very much-loved vehicle,” Manley said, “People bought it and loved the diesel.”

The Liberty CRD featured a 2.8-liter diesel inline-four, with 160 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, and was only available during the 2005 and 2006 model years. Jeep also sold a Grand Cherokee CRD, with a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 from the Mercedes-Benz M-Class, in 2007 and 2008.

Luxury SUVs like the M-Class, BMW X5, and even the Porsche Cayenne still offer diesels, but they are virtually nonexistent among mainstream vehicles like the Ford Explorer and Nissan Pathfinder.

People eyeing a Porsche might not cross-shop it with a Jeep, but if the Grand Cherokee can come close to its European numbers in EPA testing, it could trounce the 2013 Explorer AWD V6’s 18 combined mpg.

Jeep hopes the Grand Cherokee diesel will attract loyal fans and new customers who just want a more fuel efficient SUV. If it can do that, this Jeep shouldn’t have a problem staying on the market for more than two years.