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If you remember the boxy Jeep Cherokee SUV of old, we'll forgive you for being a little confused by the photos above. No, boys and girls, that futuristic-looking crossover hasn't wandered into the wrong article. It's the new 2014 Jeep Cherokee, and it represents a whole new direction for the traditionally macho brand. Sure, it'll do the Rubicon trail if you're so inclined, but it'll also run errands and rule the road like no compact Jeep before it. Here are five reasons why this could be the most popular Cherokee yet.

First Transmission of Its Kind

One of the Cherokee's chief selling points is its new 9-speed automatic transmission, which is the first in any production car. More speeds means the engine spends more time operating at peak efficiency, and that helps you out in two distinct ways. First, you get better acceleration and passing power, because there's always a kickdown gear that finds the heart of the power band. But perhaps more importantly, the Cherokee gets up to 31 miles per gallon on the highway, which is pretty good for a crossover.

Terrific Cabin

The Chrysler group has made huge strides in cabin quality, and the Cherokee is the latest case in point. We can't think of another compact crossover that could match the Cherokee's supple materials and premium overall feel. We also love the iPad-like 8.4-inch uConnect touchscreen; it's one of the best in any vehicle. If you still feel some nostalgia for the old Cherokee's box-tastic dashboard and Spartan features, you'll be singing a different tune after a few miles in the new model.

Two Solid Engines

The Cherokee starts off with a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder that makes 184 horsepower yet still gives you 31 mpg with front-wheel drive. Stepping up to the snarling 3.2-liter V6 brings 271 hp and a still-respectable 27 mpg. Many rivals only offer one engine these days, so it's nice that Jeep lets you choose. Fun fact: The V6 is a smaller version of the tried-and-true 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 that powers all manner of Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep products.

Carlike Handling

Unlike the old Cherokee, the new one's based on a car platform, and that pays big dividends on the road. Thanks to underpinnings shared with the Dodge Dart sedan, the Cherokee takes bumps in stride, and it can even dance a little on winding roads. You feel more like you're driving a tall hatchback than an SUV, and that's a big reason why this segment has become so popular.

Still a Real Jeep

Jeep's got a reputation to protect, so the Cherokee needs to handle well off-road, too. That's where the Trailhawk model comes in. Featuring low-range gearing and a lifted suspension, the Trailhawk's got skills that any Cherokee would be proud of. Looks pretty cool, too.

AutoTrader Says

Unlike the old model, the 2014 Jeep Cherokee offers something for everyone, though when push comes to shove, it's still a real Jeep. Take one for a spin and see if you don't agree.

author photo

Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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