2nd Place: Porsche Cayenne Diesel
For a sport/utility vehicle, this is a helluva sports car. Praise was heaped on the Cayenne Diesel right from the start. Gushed Martinez, "It simply does not feel its weight or size with Sport Mode engaged and when pushed on twisty sections of pavement. As such, it's absurdly fun. Mix the Cayenne's long-standing athleticism with a torquey diesel and smooth eight-speed gearbox, and you get one lovely sporty SUV that lunges from corners and sets up better than some sports cars, bend after bend. Driven in a civil manner, the Cayenne's air suspension soaks up nastiness and provides a nice, comfortable ride. It also had little trouble conquering the soft-road paths, hill climbs, and rocks we put in its way."
Kong noted, "Responsive steering and a predictable engine/transmission powertrain: plenty of torque off the line, and it takes to the curves as you'd expect from a Porsche." We drove the Porsche as you would drive a Porsche, and the resulting fuel economy was something we still haven't been able to figure out: It generated the best mpg of the test, 29.2.
The fuel economy was something we still can't figure out. It was the best of the test -- 29.2
The interior was also very Porsche-esque. High-quality, attractive black leather is draped over the seats and much of the cabin. The wall of buttons and switches on the center stack seemed intimidating at first, but the controls are grouped logically and are easy to learn. It was easy to put the Porsche in off-road mode, and it did well in the dirt. Sound isolation was excellent, and there were wonderful touches, such as the traditional compass at the top of the dash, the altimeter, and bolstered seats that seemed to offer infinite adjustment choices.
The Cayenne ties for best towing capacity of test (7716 pounds), but has less cargo volume than the rest with the rear seats up or down, as well as the least rear-seat shoulder and legroom.
There's another problem with the Cayenne: the as-tested price, which was more than $93,000. However, the one we tested was beyond fully loaded, and it would be relatively easy to omit a few style features to significantly bring down the price. That aside, if you like to tow and go off-road, the Porsche shines.
As good as it is, though, there is one sport/utility here the judges felt was better all around.
1st Place: Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel
For 2014, the Jeep has crisp new styling inside and out, plus a diesel option for the first time since 2008, backed by an eight-speed automatic. Yes, the $56,000-plus as-tested price may seem alarming at first, but this Jeep is all grown up. As we discovered, it's comfortable going against the likes of Mercedes, Volkswagen, and Porsche.
This was not the fastest SUV of the four. In fact, it was the slowest. That's not a small difference, but it can be explained by its 400 additional pounds of mass -- it was the only one with low range. And it was by far the most confident on the trail, easily conquering the Hollister Hills trails with confidence. Yet that didn't keep the Grand from being fun on-road.
Martinez liked his introduction to the Jeep. "Whoa, there, torque. Nice to meet you. There's a huge dose of it at around 1500 rpm. It's not unpleasant. Rather, it comes into play in a smooth, linear way. Highway passing is stupid easy." Everyone was blown away by the refinement and smoothness of the eight-speed automatic transmission. But this was the noisiest engine. Its diesel sound noticeable at idle but much more pleasant at speed.
Whoa, there, torque. Nice to meet you. There’s a huge dose of it at around 1500 rpm.
Sanchez "really liked the open-pore wood trim, which made it look rugged yet classy. It didn't look cheap, and was a nice touch. The instrument cluster was simple, the graphics were crisp, the colors vibrant. Using the infotainment screen came naturally; no brain teasing going on there." Martinez agreed. "I found it had one of the most comfortable interiors of the quartet. Its seats were cushy; visibility was excellent. Off-roading-specific menus like the real-time wheel articulation animation made it stand out even more."
We were also impressed by the amount of features you get for the money -- and the Jeep came equipped with more of them, such as push-button start, blind-spot detection, xenon headlamps, and keyless entry -- than some of the others had, for a lot less money.
It is fun to drive on road, excels off-road, and has a comfortable, luxurious interior and the most payload capacity of test. Its fuel economy was just shy of the Touareg's -- and that's while carrying around significantly more weight. It offers a lot of value for the money. How could we not pick the Jeep as our winner?