The 1984 Jeep Cherokee arguably invented the small SUV, and it ruled for 17 years until its slot was taken by the 2001 Jeep Liberty. Now it's back in the lineup. The 2014 Cherokee is new from the ground up, a redesign to knock your socks off. Cherokee looks cool again. And the base price is $400 less than the 2013 Liberty.
The 2014 Jeep Cherokee comes standard with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. Called the Tigershark MultiAir 2 I-4, it makes 184 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque, with fuel mileage EPA-rated at 21/28 mpg City/Highway. We got 23.4 on the highway and winding mountain two-lanes.
The optional engine is a 3.2-liter Pentastar V6, making its debut in the Cherokee. It has many new features, some improving resource use, such as a disposable oil filter. It's derived from the 3.6-liter that's been one of Ward's 10 Best Engines for the last three years. It makes 271 horsepower and 239 pound-feet of torque and it's EPA-rated at 19/27 mpg City/Highway. We got 18.1 mpg in a 4x4 model. The advantage to the V6 is towing, rated to 4500 pounds (best in class says Jeep) versus 2000 pounds for the I4. For daily driving, we like the four-cylinder, it's smooth and powerful enough. However it's a tough call, because the V6 is only a couple mpg thirstier.
Both engines are aided by a new 9-speed automatic transmission, standard in all Cherokees. It's a compact marvel, raising the regular-car bar for tranny construction and packaging, not to mention the electronic and mechanical complexities of high-speed meshing of spinning steel gears. Our test drives revealed the shifts are smooth, while the programming is dominant even in manual mode. First gear is an aggressive 4.71:1 for low-end performance, while 6, 7, 8 and 9 are all overdrives for the highway, to increase fuel mileage and lower noise and vibration. Ninth gear is a super overdrive, at 0.48:1.
The off-road oriented Trailhawk will do amazing climbing and descending things, while looking too good to be able to do those things. Floods, blizzards, earthquakes, typhoons and the Outback are no worries mate. It breaks new ground with electronic descent control. With its tall 4.7:1 ratio for first gear, the crawl ratio of 56:1 is nearly as high as the Wrangler's.
There are three new 4WD systems introduced in the Cherokee: Active Drive I, with a one-speed Power Transfer Unit; Active Drive II with two-speed PTU and low range (it's towable); and Active Drive Lock with two-speed PTU, low range and locking rear differential. The basic Active Drive I is all-wheel drive, distributing some but not a lot of drive to the rear wheels when needed.
The Selec-Terrain traction control system has five modes: Auto, Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud, and Rock. There's a new independent suspension to go with increased torsional rigidity in the frame. There are significant standard extras, like LED headlamps and daytime running lights, fold-flat front passenger seat with storage, and more.
As for looks, it sure doesn't get lost in the SUV crowd. Its designers delivered style and distinction while enhancing the iconic image. Other SUVs dream of looking like the new Cherokee. The Cherokee Latitude is less blingy than the Cherokee Limited. Trailhawk looks best because it's tough, with raised suspension, overfenders and painted tow hooks. It says Jeep the loudest.
The interior is stylish and utilitarian, both. Everything has a function, while being easy to reach and operate. Many knobs. Knobs are good. There's a lovely storage bin on the dashboard that can hold a laptop. There are clear digital gauges between the speedometer and tach, lit organic white. Navigation on the touch screen is easy to read, with basic buttons. We wish the radio had a dial.
The Latitude standard cloth seats are rugged and sporty, and fit just right. You're surrounded by the right stuff in the right places: leather armrest/grab handle, deep door pocket and center console, clean and responsive center stack, black vents, trim like brown titanium, stitched leather on the dash of the Limited.
Behind the front seat, there's a lot of room and convenience for passengers and cargo. The 40.3 inches of rear legroom is nearly 2 inches more than big brother Grand Cherokee, due mostly to seat height. The 60/40 rear seats fold flat in a heartbeat.
Behind the wheel, it feels tight. Smooth and solid with a firm ride. The four-cylinder has plenty of power for daily needs, and to cruise easily at freeway speeds. The V6 has a bit of engine noise, with kick-butt acceleration. The V6 handling is good but it's not as attached as the four. The ride is softer except for undulations, while speed bumps are gentler. The V6 just feels bigger.
At the introduction of the new Cherokee, we were given the opportunity for comparison spins in a Honda CRV, Toyota RAV4, and Ford Escape. The Cherokee turned them into vanilla. It looks and feels like an Alfa Romeo, compared to its competitors.
Jeep Cherokee comes in Sport, Latitude and Limited models, each with front-wheel drive or 4x4, plus the Trailhawk 4x4, with offroad capability that's off the chart.
Cherokee Sport ($22,995) and Sport 4x4 ($24,495) comes standard with non-ICS air conditioning, air filtering, cloth seats with manual height adjustment, cloth door trim, reclining and fore-aft adjusting 60/40 rear seat, power windows with driver's one-touch down, keyless entry, 5-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth and media hub, LED taillamps and daytime running lights, halogen headlamps, electric parking brake, 17-inch steel wheels with all-season tires, black door handles and power mirrors.
Cherokee Latitude ($24,495) and Latitude 4x4 ($26,495) upgrades to air conditioning, power front windows with one-touch up and down, front passenger fold-flat seat with storage space, leather-wrapped steering wheel, LED interior lightning, body-colored door handles and mirrors, bright molding and roofrails, tinted glass, fog lamps, 17-inch aluminum wheels, 115-volt outlet.
Cherokee Limited ($27,995) and 4x4 ($29,995) upgrades with leather-trimmed heated seats, dual-zone climate control, premium air filter, leather-wrapped shift knob, vinyl door trim, auto headlamps, heated mirrors, brighter fascia, 18-inch painted aluminum wheels, 8-way with lumbar power driver's seat, 7-inch color instrument cluster, 8.4-inch touchscreen audio, rear backup camera, remote engine start, cargo net.
Cherokee Trailhawk ($29,495) comes standard with Jeep's Active Drive Lock 4x4 system with low range and locking rear axle, Selec-Terrain drive mode selector, Selec-Speed Control with hill ascent control and hill descent control, offroad suspension with increased ride height, heavy-duty cooling system, transmission oil cooler, offroad front and rear fascias, fender flares, red tow hooks, skid plates, grille surrounds, roof rails, black moldings, 17-inch aluminum wheels with black painted pockets, all-terrain tires, full-size spare, exclusive cloth interior with red accent stitching. Trailhawk equipment levels are similar to those of Limited, though Trailhawk comes with seats trimmed in cloth, leather and vinyl.
Safety equipment standard on all models includes 10 airbags, electronic stability control and ABS. Optional safety features included ParkSense Parallel/Perpendicular Park Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control-Plus, Forward Collision Warning-Plus, LaneSense Lane Departure Warning-Plus; 9-1-1 assist call; ESC; Electronic Roll Mitigation; Blind-spot Monitoring; Rear Cross Path detection; ParkView rear backup camera with dynamic grid lines.