Finalist: 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee

By: Jonny Lieberman

We Like: Massive capability and drivetrain choices.

We Don't Like: The versions we'd own are expensive; only the diesel gets mpg you can mention in public.

When Jeep launched the fourth-generation Grand Cherokee three years ago, it was not a complete product. Yes, the platform was new and shared with the larger Dodge Durango (as well as the Mercedes-Benz ML and GL), and the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 was new, too. But the five-speed automatic transmission was old, and the rest of the vehicle just wasn't as premium as Chrysler Corporation would have liked. Today, without question, the Grand Cherokee is finally all here.

One aspect we focus on during our of the Year competitions is what we call bandwidth. Basically, how many engines and drivetrain configurations does the vehicle have? Just one engine and drivetrain is thought to be low bandwidth. The refreshed Grand Cherokee is among the highest-bandwidth SUVs we've ever tested. The engine choices range from a gasoline V-6 good for 290 hp all the way up to a 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 that cranks out 470 hp and a raucous 465 lb-ft of torque. In between you'll find a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 that makes 360 hp, and a truly spectacular 3.0-liter diesel V-6 that stumps up 420 lb-ft of torque, and averaged 21.2 mpg. All four engines are now hooked up to an eight-speed ZF transmission. There are also three choices of 4WD systems as well as the option of air suspension. Again, the bandwidth is high.

As was the praise for the updated GC. "There is an honesty to these Jeeps, a purity of mission," said Markus. Still, we were most impressed with the Grand Cherokee's refinement and civilized manners.

So why didn't the Grand Cherokee win? Ask Reynolds: "Eeek -- roly-poly! I don't like this thing at all. Seats are hard. The vehicle dynamics are simply absent." At the end of the day, how an SUV drives is just as important as how many options it has. And with the exception of the barnstormer, $70K SRT (to quote Reynolds again, "Who in the world would buy this? In what world is this a rational car-buying choice? It makes no sense at all."), the big Jeeps didn't impress us enough on the road. But they came very close.

Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 4x4 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4x4 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit EcoDiesel 4x4 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT
Base price $47,190 $38,790 $56,990 $63,990
Price as tested $52,475 $41,380 $56,990 $70,260
Vehicle Layout Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 5.7L/360-hp/390-lb-ft OHV 16-valve V-8 3.6L/290-hp/260-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6, 3.0L/240-hp/420-lb-ft turbodiesel DOHC 24-valve V-6 6.4L/470-hp/465-lb-ft OHV 16-valve V-8
Transmission 8-speed automatic 8-speed automatic 8-speed automatic 8-speed automatic
Power (SAE net) 360 hp @ 5150 rpm 290 hp 6400 rpm 240 hp 3600 rpm 470 hp 6000 rpm
Torque (SAE net) 390 lb-ft 4250 rpm 260 lb-ft 4800 rpm 420 lb-ft 2000 rpm 465 lb-ft 4300 rpm
Accel 0-60 mph 6.6 sec 7.7 sec 7.8 sec 4.4 sec
Quarter mile 14.9 sec @ 92.8 mph 15.8 sec @ 88.4 mph 16.0 sec @ 83.3 mph 13.1 sec @ 103.6 mph
Braking 60-0 mph 132 ft 118 ft 122 ft 106 ft
MT figure eight 28.7 sec @ 0.58 g (avg) 28.5 sec @ 0.58 g (avg) 28.8 sec @ 0.59 g (avg) 26.4 sec @ 0.71 g (avg)
Curb weight (f/r dist) 5245 lb (54/46%) 4903 lb (52/48%) 5401 lb (52/48%) 5317 lb (54/46%)
EPA econ (city/hwy 14/20 mpg 17/24 mpg 21/28 mpg 13/19 mpg
Energy consumption (city/hwy) 241/169 kW-hrs/100 mi 198/140 kW-hrs/100 mi 182/137 kW-hrs/100mi 259/177 kW-hrs/100 mi
CO2 emissions 1.20 lb/mi 0.99 lb/mi 0.94 lb/mi 1.28 lb/mi

Contender: Kia Sorento

By: Edward Loh

We Like: Roomy, high-content interior with smartly designed controls.

We Don't Like: Retrograde mpg, lethargic powertrains, fake wood interior panels.

To contend for Sport Utility of the Year, an SUV must be a standout player within its competitive set. And they don't get any more competitive than the three-row crossover segment -- at least 12 different models are currently available, from the GMC Acadia through the Subaru Tribeca.

Kia's recent product assault has produced a couple of winners in other hotly contested segments, so our expectations of the 2014 Sorento were high -- perhaps too high. "This vehicle looks better than the past one, but not near as good as what Kia has been putting out lately. It doesn't have the Euro look to it that other Kias now have," said Mortara, commenting on the lack of design advancement. The Sorento also took a hit on the engineering front. "There's just no power to be found from the carryover I-4; it's a very lethargic-feeling engine. The new 3.3-liter V-6 feels merely adequate," said Jurnecka. "The powertrains in both vehicles really hold the Kia back."

Kiino questioned the value proposition, usually a Kia strength. "The Hyundai Santa Fe costs less than the V-6 Sorento and barely more than I-4 but seems like a roomier, better, and more stylish package."

Most damning were the backwards steps in fuel efficiency. All 2014 Sorentos have lower EPA mpg ratings than 2013 models -- as much as 3 mpg less on the combined cycle for the volume-selling four-cylinder models.

So Sorento couldn't make the finalist cut, but it wasn't all bad. The interior scored high marks with Jurnecka. "Good-looking interior save for the fake gray wood. Nice center stack design, with clean, clear, easy-to-operate controls. And four power outlets!"

Markus called out the Sorento's solid build and seating. "Feels solid, substantial. No rattles among all these rows of seats. Great second row seats -- oodles of room, good armrests, sun shades!"

Kia Sorento LX AWD Kia Sorento V6 Limited AWD
Base price $26,750 $40,550
Price as tested $35,750 $41,600
Vehicle Layout Front-engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV Front-engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 2.4L/191-hp/181-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4 3.3L/290-hp/252-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
Transmission 6-speed automatic6-speed automatic
Power (SAE net) 191 hp @ 6300 rpm 290 hp @ 6400 rpm
Torque (SAE net) 181 lb-ft @ 4250 rpm 252 lb-ft @ 5200 rpm
Accel 0-60 mph 9.8 sec 7.3 sec
Quarter mile 17.2 sec @ 80.3 mph 15.7 sec @ 89.6 mph
Braking 60-0 mph 128 ft 121 ft
MT figure eight 28.9 sec @ 0.55 g (avg) 28.5 sec @ 0.59 g (avg
Curb weight (f/r dist) 3929 lb (54/46%) 4171 lb (55/45%)
EPA econ (city/hwy 19/24 mpg 18/24 mpg
Energy consumption (city/hwy) 187/140 kW-hrs /100 mi 177/140 kW-hrs/100 mi
CO2 emissions 0.93 lb/mi 0.96 lb/mi

Contender: 2014 Land Rover Range Rover Sport

By: Frank Markus

We Like: Landed-gentry power, prestige, ambiance.

We Don't Like: Surging power delivery, cockney-proletarian infotainment system, hobby-horse ride.

That these racy-looking, supercharged fun machines didn't advance to the finals speaks volumes about our collective diligence and restraint, as the roads that are most fun to rip through in a 510-hp, fat-tired thrill-mobile are found on the longer finalist loop. Those hoping to round off the shoulders of the Rovers' Michelins were quick to highlight its many virtues in our various categories: fetchingly styled all-aluminum bodywork -- design points; eight-speed transmission, active anti-roll bars (standard on V-8s, part of a $1300 Extra Duty package on our V-6), and standard air suspension -- engineering excellence points; an optional third-row seat, Terrain Response 2, and all that Born Free/Daktari heritage -- intended-function points.

A greater number of dissenters found too many chinks in this latest Landie's alloy armor, especially as concerned the entry V-6 model, which idles like a diesel, vibrates when cruising near 2000 rpm, and delivers non-linear throttle response. Jurnecka noted, "Frustrating to drive smoothly around town. There's a tremendous amount of pitch and dive from accelerating and braking, which gets obnoxious after a while."

The infotainment system drew criticism for its clunky, outdated interface. No useful audio data can be displayed on the instruments screen (even on the V-8's fully digital cluster); fuel-economy data is crammed onto a single line; and the eco-coach graphics line is just dorky. But the off-road-info screens on the center display are well-executed.

The transmission drew raves, as did the V-8. "Stupid fast, with a smooth auto," quoth Kiino, and Jurnecka agreed: "Great power. Feels more composed than the V-6." He summed up our assessment pretty well: "There are too many shortcomings to the V-6 and too few superlatives for the V-8." So while we love hooning around in the V-8, the lineup doesn't earn the calipers.

Land Rover Range Rover Sport HSE Land Rover Range Rover Sport S/C
Base price $63,495 $79,995
Price as tested $76,820 $92,285
Vehicle Layout Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 3.0L/340-hp/332-lb-ft supercharged DOHC 24-valve V-6 5.0L/510-hp/461-lb-ft supercharged DOHC 32-valve V-8
Transmission 8-speed automatic8-speed automatic
Power (SAE net) 340 hp @ 6500 rpm 510 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque (SAE net) 332 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm 461 lb-ft @ 2500 rpm
Accel 0-60 mph 5.7 sec 4.3 sec
Quarter mile 14.3 sec @ 96.5 mph 12.8 sec @ 109.9 mph
Braking 60-0 mph 119 ft 120 ft
MT figure eight 27.3 sec @ 0.65 g (avg) 25.8 sec @ 0.71 g (avg)
Curb weight (f/r dist) 5063 lb (50/50%) 5417 lb (51/49%)
EPA econ (city/hwy 17/23 mpg 14/19 mpg
Energy consumption (city/hwy) 198/147 kW-hrs/100 mi 241/177 kW-hrs/100 mi
CO2 emissions 1.01 lb/mi 1.22 lb/mi