The 2014 Jeep Cherokee offers a fresh face in the compact SUV segment, and we mean that in more ways than one. Jeep fans will know the Cherokee as a replacement for the Liberty, the brand's outdated and rough-riding compact SUV that replaced the original Cherokee way back in 2002. But in addition to a new name, the Cherokee offers a new look -- one that's very unusual among compact SUVs.

Exterior Styling Woes

There's no easy way to say it: Not everyone likes the Cherokee's front-end treatment, and this opinion doesn't belong to just two or three staffers. Nearly everyone who spent time around the Cherokee during its week with us felt that the crossover's looks are simply too daring for the compact SUV segment. Then again, we think baby SUVs like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 are not daring enough. Either way, we can't fault Jeep for trying.

In all fairness, many staffers still long for the boxy Cherokee design from the 1980s and 1990s, so there's a good chance Jeep would never have been able to please them.

Excellent Otherwise, On and Off the Road

But once you're inside, we have to admit that the 2014 Cherokee is an excellent crossover. We'll start with driving dynamics, which is an area where the Cherokee especially shines.

Around corners, the Cherokee isn't especially exciting, and we find comparatively sporty rivals, such as the Mazda CX-5, to be far more involving. But the Cherokee more than makes up for it with its excellent ride quality, which almost reminds us of a high-end luxury SUV. There's no doubt that this is among the best-riding compact crossovers, and it's a far cry from the rough-and-tumble original Cherokee of years past. We'll take the unique look if it means a carlike ride.

In addition to its excellent ride quality, the Cherokee also offers another major benefit over its rivals: off-road capability. The Cherokee may look a little strange, but this is still a Jeep. The scrappy Trailhawk model boasts a long list of off-road-ready features, ranging from tow hooks and skid plates to a locking differential and improved suspension. Basically, the Cherokee is an excellent choice whether you're looking for a comfortable ride on the pavement or an exciting trip off the road.

Impressive Engine

Beyond the Cherokee's ride quality and its off-road capabilities, we were also impressed with its powertrain. Producing a muscular 271 horsepower and 239 lb-ft of torque, the Cherokee is among the most powerful vehicles in the compact crossover segment. Add in a smooth 9-speed automatic, and you've got a standout combination, especially given parent company Chrysler's recent improvements in powertrain refinement.

Admittedly, we haven't tested a 4-cylinder model, though that too looks appealing, given a reasonable rating of 184 horses and 171 lb-ft of torque. But drivers who want power likely won't need to settle for the smaller engine: Even the V6 returns an impressive 19 miles per gallon in the city and 27 mpg in highway driving. We saw nearly 24 mpg in combined city and highway travel.

Nice Place to Be

For all of our complaints about the Cherokee's exterior appearance, we have nothing but praise to give the crossover's interior. Materials are excellent, and fit and finish is surprisingly nice, especially given the Cherokee's sub-$25,000 base price. And as always, we loved Chrysler's Uconnect infotainment system, which is among the best in the business. In essence, we found the little SUV to be highly similar to a Grand Cherokee once we got behind the wheel.

Our Take

When it comes to the 2014 Jeep Cherokee, you should primarily consider whether you can live with the crossover's unusual styling. Many drivers can, and for them we have nothing but good things to say about nearly every other aspect of the Cherokee. Plus, you'll never lose it in a parking lot. For drivers who find the Cherokee's styling a little too unusual, there are many more crossovers, such as the Nissan Rogue and Mazda CX-5, which combine a similar driving experience with a far more traditional look.

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Doug DeMuro has a wide range of automotive industry experience, from work at a Ferrari dealership to a manager for Porsche North America. A lifelong car enthusiast, Doug's eclectic vehicle purchases include a Porsche 911 Turbo, an E63 AMG wagon, an old Range Rover and a Mercedes Benz G-wagen.

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