Mountain Wheels: High-efficiency diesel option transforms Ram, Grand Cherokee |

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Mountain Wheels: High-efficiency diesel option transforms Ram, Grand Cherokee

Chrysler has delivered a new, Italian-made light-duty diesel engine that's powerful, remarkably efficient and available in a variety of applications — yet is not the kind of super-expensive option the owners of large trucks have come to expect.

As greenwashed as its name may be, the EcoDiesel engine has turned out to be a tremendously successful venture, so much so that it's hard to get a Grand Cherokee featuring the 3.0-liter V-6 engine — they're building them as fast as they can — and they've generated a lot of interest when available in the Ram 1500.

Like their other European competitors, Fiat Chrysler's diesel exhaust is scrubbed through an emissions control system (utilizing a urea-based fluid you'll have to replenish from time to time), vastly cutting CO2 and almost entirely eliminating that nasty diesel aroma.

I put this all to the test with a high-end version of both of those vehicles, and my general feeling is that Chrysler has done a pretty good job of crafting a civilian-friendly powerplant that pushes highway mileage up into the 28-30 mpg range, even on large, heavy 4x4s. Both vehicles also have eight-speed automatic transmissions, to further accentuate that efficiency.

Perhaps the more stereotypical of the two, the Ram 1500 Laramie — which I drove as a Limited Edition crew-cab 4×4, turning it into a vehicle that stickers, without options, at nearly $50,000, but topped out at nearly $60K — got a lot of benefit from a diesel setup that's big on the torque, but not as industrial as the massive Cummins Turbo Diesels found on larger trucks.

In the Ram's case, the EcoDiesel is a $2,850 option, but the math starts to add up quickly when you see that a full-blown crew-cab 4×4 can get about 27 mpg, rather reliably. It is still a little noisy on start-ups and under light acceleration, but the tractor-trailer clatter and smoke are completely missing from the experience.

It was in 4×4 guise that I think I got the most out of the EcoDiesel experience — besides the excellent highway mileage. The 240-HP output pales in comparison with all the rocket science going on in the industry nowadays, but the 420 foot-pounds of torque mean that even a massive brute like the crew-cab Ram can effortlessly boogie up a slope with a locomotive's worth of power. You get that full boost at just 2,000 rpm. Had I been trying to work with a trailer, this particular setup would have been good for 7,200 pounds of wheeled excitement, behind me — full trailer brake controller and such on the center stack.

Meanwhile, as the optional engine choice in an equally leathery Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 4×4 model, the EcoDiesel is a $4,500 option. Though, again, you'll see highway mileage around 28 mpg, compared with the 20 mpg figure found on the more standard Hemi V-8. That's going to be a big draw for many buyers.

That Grand Cherokee weighs in at nearly 5,400 pounds, but compared with the ominous breadth and mass of the Ram, the EcoDiesel's impact here is far more civilized. Given that the Hemi-powered Grand Cherokee makes an earnest 390 foot-pounds of torque by its gasoline-powered self, you'll actually end up losing some of the raw thrust of either the Hemi or even the 3.6-liter V-6 engines. But the mileage is indeed a major consideration.

Chrysler EcoDiesel

2014 Ram 1500 Laramie Limited Edition Crew Cab 4×4

MSRP: $49,330; as tested, $59,010

Powertrain: 240-HP 3.0-liter V-6 diesel; 8-speed automatic transmission

EPA mpg figures: 22 combined; 19 city, 27 highway

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 4×4

MSRP: $46,195; as tested, $53,685

Powertrain: 240-HP 3.0-liter V-6 diesel; 8-speed automatic transmission

EPA mpg figures: 24 combined: 21 city, 28 highway