DETROIT – A long-awaited diesel powertrain returns to Jeep’s American lineup as an oil-burning ’14 Grand Cherokee debuts at the North American International Auto Show today.

Eight-speed automatic transmissions supplied by ZF Friedrichshafen also debut in the Grand Cherokee here, as Chrysler pushes for increased fuel economy across its portfolio.

Jeep-brand President and CEO Mike Manley tells reporters at an earlier backgrounder for the SUV the upgrades will increase the Grand Cherokee’s share of the SUV market. ”It’s the segment that can really help your premium position as a brand,” he says.

This year will bring a wave of new Jeep products, most of which are bowing here. Alongside the Grand Cherokee are refreshes in Jeep’s C-segment entries, the Compass and Patriot, a revised SRT Grand Cherokee and a forthcoming, unnamed D-segment SUV being revealed later this year.

A diesel engine has been offered in European models of the Grand Cherokee for some time, but the arrival of the technology stateside signals the growing presence of oil-burners here. Called EcoDiesel in the Chrysler universe, the V-6, 3.0L engine produces 240 hp, 420 ft.-lb. (569 Nm) of torque. Two-wheel-drive models deliver 21/30 mpg (11.2-7.8 L/100 km), while 4x4 models are rated 20/28 mpg (11.8-8.4 L/100 km).

The last diesel Jeep to be sold in the U.S. was a Liberty offered from 2005-2006.

Fuel efficiency is improved on the Grand Cherokee’s existing powertrains, with the 3.6L Pentastar V-6 – a Ward’s 10 Best Engines winner this year – rising to 17/25 mpg (13.8-/9.4 L/100 km) and the 5.7L V-8 increasing to 15/21 mpg (15.7-11.2 L/100 km) on 4x2 models and 14/21 mpg (16.3-11.2 L/100 km) on 4x4 models.

All Grand Cherokee powertrains have ZF’s 8-speed transmission, which Chrysler began moving across its rear-drive models last year. Jeep adds paddle shifters to the Grand Cherokee and says a lower crawl ratio of 44:1:1 helps keep its status as a trail-rated SUV.

Exterior finishes also are upgraded, with a brightened grill, enhanced fog lamps and frosted taillamps. A backup camera comes with the SUV for the first time, and the trailer hitch is hidden from view.

“It’s still a Grand Cherokee in face and presentation, but there’s a much more refined look to it,” says Mark Allen, head of Jeep design.

“Mid-cycle actions, they can go sideways if not executed right. This looks very cohesive and very tied together,” he adds.

The Grand Cherokee also adds front park assist, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control and “Quadra-Lift” air suspension, which can position the SUV at five different ride heights.

Uconnect, Chrysler’s infotainment suite, is upgraded, with new voice commands for navigation and searches for points of interest through Bing, the Microsoft-owned search engine.

Inside, top-trim Grand Cherokees have an option of copper accents.

“Maybe we’ll walk away from chrome,” laughs Chrysler head of interior design Klaus Busse. A color-customizable thin-film transistor display screen is added, Nappa leather seats are available and more color offerings are available with each trim package.

“I’ve been preaching to you guys over the last few years that we want to be much more adventurous with colors, that we want to have more fun with colors. Jeep of all brands gives us the perfect canvas to do so,” Busse says.

Jeep’s Patriot and Compass receive similar exterior and interior treatments, with careful attention paid to the interior. Designers promise softer appointments, such as a cushier arm rest, and satin chrome accents added to the higher-cost Compass.

Gone from the Patriot and Compass are their continuously variable transmissions. Engineers here cited a rise in customers’ complaints about disappointing initial throttle response and replaced the CVT with a 6-speed automatic.

The ’14 SRT Grand Cherokee gets some refreshes that lend more credence to Chrysler’s high-performance division. It is the first vehicle with an SRT-badged steering wheel. It also gets the ZF 8-speed transmission, paddle shifters and exterior refinements.

SRT President and CEO Ralph Gilles notes the SRT Grand Cherokee is winning over Porsche Cayenne and BMW X5 converts and is the best-selling of all SRT vehicles.

“The last generation was more of a hot rod. This is a very sophisticated machine. I’m getting CEOs, I’m getting people literally double in income that (are) buying this vehicle now.”

Manley says all Jeeps, as well as more products across the Chrysler stable in the future, will get an improved Eco mode that shuts off cylinders for fuel-conscious drivers.

The Jeep brand posted a global sales record last year with 701,626 units, up from 675,494 in 1999. It’s a goal Manley had been looking to reach since Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy in 2009, and was surprised it happened considering a lack of new product last year.

“It really has been an incredible story for the brand,” he says.

afoley@wardsauto.com