In Europe, our continental cousins have little enthusiasm for American iron--with one exception: Jeep. When cruising Germany's autobahn south from Frankfurt, Grand Cherokees are everywhere, including the fast lane. Our cousins get two Grand Cherokee models not offered here: Laredo and a Limited, both powered by the same turbocharged 2.7L common-rail diesel (CRD) found in the Mercedes-Benz M-Class.

It's no secret fuel is expensive in Europe. In Germany, diesel runs about 80 Euros/L, regular unleaded about 100 Euros/L, and premium unleaded about 110 Euros/L. Translated into dollars, a gallon of diesel is approximately $3, and regular unleaded about $4. Considering the CRD turbodiesel returns about 20 percent better mileage (20.5 mpg in the case of our recent 600-mile trip), the math adds up, reducing our fuel bill by about 40 percent less compared to the 4.7L V-8 found underhood in most domestic Grand Cherokees. (We don't even want to think about the differential between the 2.7L CRD and the new-for-'02 high-output 4.7L V-8 that requires premium fuel to extract every horsepower.)

But what if the 2.7L CRD is a slug or is so noisy it's not worth the savings? We're happy to say, based on our time behind the wheel, at up to 110 mph on the autobahn and saner speeds on tight, twisty back roads in the Black Forest in southern Germany, the 2.7L CRD is everything you'd expect from a Grand Cherokee with the powertrain refinement of any Mercedes diesel. No surprise this lusty powerplant drives the even bigger, heavier import-spec M-Class with no sweat.

One reason Grand Cherokees are so common in Europe is because Jeep builds them there, even predating the DaimlerChrysler merger. Over the last several years, it's shared space in the Magna Steyr plant in Graz, Austria, with the Chrysler Town & Country (Voyager outside the U.S.), the Mercedes M-Class, and the PT Cruiser. Jeep has also established a presence in Europe dating back to the AMC/Renault years in the '80s. (XJ Cherokees along with YJ and TJ Wranglers are also numerous in Europe.)

Everything that's made the current WJ Grand Cherokee popular since its introduction in '99 has migrated across the Atlantic, but with a few concessions to simplify manufacturing and marketing in Europe. Laredo (4.0L I-6 standard and 2.7L CRD-5 optional), Limited (2.7L CRD-5 standard, 4.7L V-8 optional), and Overland (high-output 4.7L V-8 standard) models are teamed with the Quadra-Drive full-time fourwheel-drive system with a two-speed transfer case. All come equipped with a five-speed automatic. The only option, on the Limited, is a 1300 Euro electric sunroof, standard on the Overland.

Our tester was a silver Limited model, and getting settled inside was as familiar as could be expected, right down to the mold flash mark on top of each interior front-door trim panel. Otherwise, the Grand Cherokee's leather-trimmed interior is a great place to spend time.

As with any diesel, before starting it up, it's necessary to turn the key one click for a few seconds to warm the plugs, then it turns over, with just a little more noise than the 4.0L I-6, never a paragon of refinement when cold itself. Once underway, the CRD is quick off the mark, more a by-product of its 295 lb-ft of torque available almost immediately, peaking at 1800 rpm. The CRD shines at high speeds, where it's easy to forget the Grand Cherokee is still sitting on solid axles front and rear. It's quiet, comfortable, and supremely poised right on up to its 183-kph (112-mph) top speed. (One of Germany's top four-wheel-drive magazines, 4Wheel Fun, recently tested and picked the Grand Cherokee CRD over its Mercedes ML270 CDI counterpart. Bet that went over like a lead balloon in Stuttgart.)

The spring brings a lot of rain in Germany (it rained four out of five days on our recent trip to Sinsheim, near Heidelberg), but we were able to put the Quadra-Drive to good use exploring muddy backroads and 16th-century castles. The result was the same: The Grand Cherokee gets you where you need to go.

Does the Grand Cherokee CRD have a future in the U.S.? In Europe, the Grand Cherokee Laredo CRD is only 500 Euros (about $450 more expensive than a comparably equipped 4.0L I-6), and the Limited model is 4500 Euros (about $3900 cheaper than the V-8). The bottom line: Are you willing to give up 2.5 sec in the 0-60 benchmark to save four grand up front and 20-30 percent each year in fuel, depending upon the tax-rate differential in your area? Seems like a no-brainer for potential Grand Cherokee buyers.

Jeep representatives in the U.S. won't say anything on record, and with the Grand Cherokee expected to be replaced by a new model in '05, possibly sharing its platform and independent front suspension with the next M-Class (with rumors persisting the next Mitsubishi Montero as well), we wouldn't expect a diesel version here until then. There's also the issue of the availability of clean-burning diesel fuel.

The wild card remains, as always, the price of petroleum. With all the instability in the Mideast, we're just a supply interruption away from $4/gal fuel ourselves. It's good to know Jeep has a fuel-efficient Grand Cherokee in the pipeline for those who can't imagine life without one.

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