For those of us who remember its predecessor, the all-new 2014 Jeep Cherokee takes a little getting used to. The original Cherokee, you may recall, was the proverbial box on wheels, a lovable lunk with a bare-bones interior and trucklike driving dynamics. Similar in spirit to the current 4-door Wrangler Unlimited, the old Cherokee was about as far from today's civilized crossover SUVs as you could get. As such, it's a little disconcerting to see the iconic Cherokee name adorning a sleek new crossover with family ties to the Dodge Dart sedan.
But crossovers are all the rage these days, and Jeep has a darn good one on its hands in the reinvented Cherokee. In fact, it's hard to think of a single thing crossover shoppers are looking for that this Jeep doesn't have. Refinement, versatility, technology, carlike ride and handling -- you name it, the Cherokee has it. It also features the first 9-speed automatic transmission in any vehicle, and for those who expect true off-road chops in a Jeep, the astoundingly capable Trailhawk model should more than satisfy.
Bottom line, the new Cherokee may be a dramatic departure from the old one, but it's also one of the best reasonably priced crossovers on the market. If you're shopping in this segment, you have to take a spin in Jeep's latest.
What's New for 2014?
The 2014 Cherokee is an all-new model.
What We Like
Daring styling; comfortable and quiet ride; excellent uConnect touchscreen; high-quality interior; real off-road capability
What We Don't
Steering wheel may not tilt low enough for some; minor quirks from new 9-speed automatic transmission
The Cherokee starts with a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine rated at 184 horsepower and 171 lb-ft of torque. Optional is a 3.2-liter V6 good for 271 hp and 239 lb-ft. Every Cherokee utilizes the first 9-speed automatic transmission in the industry.
Four-cylinder fuel economy ranges from 22 miles per gallon city/31 mpg highway with front-wheel drive (FWD) to 21 mpg city/28 mpg hwy with all-wheel drive (AWD), while the V6 drops to 19 mpg city/28 mpg hwy with FWD and 19 mpg city/27 mpg hwy with AWD.
Opting for Active Drive II with low-range gearing (see below) deducts 1 mpg from either engine's highway rating.
Standard Features & Options
The Cherokee is offered in Sport, Latitude, Limited or Trailhawk trim. All Cherokees except the Trailhawk come standard with front-wheel drive, offering all-wheel drive as a $2,000 option. Latitude and Limited models with AWD are eligible for the Active Drive II upgrade, which adds low-range gearing, an off-road suspension and hill descent control. The Trailhawk comes standard with a special version of Active Drive II that includes a locking rear differential.
The base Sport ($23,990) starts with 17-inch steel wheels, LED daytime running lights and taillights, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, a 5-in touchscreen display, an SD card reader and a 6-speaker audio system with an auxiliary input jack.
The Latitude ($25,490) adds 17-in aluminum wheels, a fold-flat front passenger seat with integrated cushion storage, a 115-volt auxiliary power outlet, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with auxiliary audio controls and eligibility for numerous desirable options (including the V6 engine, which is unavailable on Sport).
The Limited ($28,990) throws in luxuries such as 18-in aluminum wheels, keyless entry with push-button ignition, leather upholstery, a power driver seat (the passenger seat remains manual), a 7-in driver information display, dual-zone automatic climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with a universal garage door opener, a heated steering wheel, a leather-wrapped shift knob, USB connectivity, a rearview camera and the excellent 8.4-in uConnect touchscreen infotainment system (optional on the Latitude, unavailable on Sport).
The Trailhawk ($30,490) loses the Limited's standard power driver seat (it's an extra-cost option) and a few other convenience items but gains unique 17-in wheels, skid plates, an off-road suspension with a 1-in lift, front and rear tow hooks, flared fenders and sporty cloth/vinyl/leather upholstery (leather is also optional).
Notable Cherokee options include a 9-speaker premium audio system, a panoramic sunroof and a Technology Group package (Limited and Trailhawk only) that tacks on adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-path detection, a forward collision warning system with automatic braking, a lane-departure warning system and parallel and perpendicular parking assist.
The Cherokee comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and nine airbags (front, front side, front-passenger knee, rear side and full-length side curtain).
Available safety technologies include an adaptive cruise control system that can monitor traffic ahead and apply braking force up to a full stop if a collision is imminent.
The new Cherokee had yet to be crash tested as of this writing.
Behind the Wheel
Settling into the Cherokee's driver seat, the first thing we noticed was the laudable materials quality. Soft-touch surfaces abound, and the overall look is one of quality and sophistication -- particularly with the attractive, easy-to-use uConnect 8.4-in touchscreen aboard. The steering wheel has a rather aggressive upward tilt, however, even at the lowest tilt setting, so make sure you can find a wheel position that's to your liking.
The Cherokee's standard 4-cylinder engine is adequate, but it runs out of breath at highway speeds, and we heard some unpleasant droning at higher rpm. More intriguing is the new 3.2-liter V6, which offers extra punch without much of a fuel-economy penalty. Either way, the novel 9-speed automatic transmission mostly stays in the background, though if you ask for full power in a passing situation, it sometimes hesitates before finding the right gear.
Jeep tells us that the Cherokee Trailhawk ran the famed Rubicon trail, and having driven the Trailhawk ourselves on a demanding off-road course, we have no reason to doubt the claim. This is a highly capable vehicle in the dirt, especially considering that it's based on the humble Dodge Dart. But realistically, the vast majority of Cherokees will stay on the beaten path, and we're pleased to report that this Jeep's on-road behavior is just as impressive. Road noise is less prominent than we're used to in this segment, and the ride remains smooth even on rutted roads. In corners, the Cherokee's handling is safe and secure thanks to those carlike underpinnings.
Other Cars to Consider
Ford Escape -- The Escape drives like a Ford Focus on its tiptoes (that's a good thing) and has a nice interior to boot, though it lacks the Cherokee's off-road chops.
Honda CR-V -- The best-selling CR-V is more basic inside than the Cherokee, but it also feels more nimble and responsive on the road.
Kia Sportage -- The Sportage matches the Cherokee's engine offerings (base 4-cylinder and optional V6), and it offers a third-row seat, as well.
We'd want the punchy V6 in our Cherokee, and the 8.4-in uConnect system would have to be in there, too. The well-equipped Latitude offers both as options without breaking the bank.