2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk 4X4Posted on May 28th, 2014
The freedom to go anywhere
By Nina Russin
Jeep Wrangler or Jeep Cherokee: that is the question. Both have serious off-road capability, but they target different audiences. The Wrangler is the purist’s car: no messing around for a Wrangler owner. With its live axles and worm gear steering, it’s not for the faint of heart. But as a rock crawler in Moab, the Wrangler can’t be beat.
The Cherokee can’t match the Wrangler’s capability on extreme terrain, but it will do more than most people who purchase four-wheel drive vehicles expect. I have driven the Trailhawk model on some pretty gnarly terrain and it went through like a champ.
On paved roads, there is no question that the Cherokee offers more creature comforts, including an independent suspension, quieter interior, electric power steering, and a very sophisticated terrain control system that automatically adjusts the suspension, throttle and brakes to the type of surface the car is traveling over.
The 2.4-liter Tigershark engine and nine-speed automatic transmission on the Cherokee Trailhawk average up to 27 miles-per-gallon on the highway as opposed to 21 for the four-door Wrangler Unlimited with the Pentastar V-6 engine.
Bottom line: the Cherokee may better fill the squares for buyers who have active lifestyles, but also commute through heavy traffic on a daily basis and need a more spacious interior for their growing families. The Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk combines the car-like ride and handling of a crossover with Jeep’s legendary off-road finesse.
Value product strategy
Product planners focused on giving the consumer bang for the buck, by basing the new midsized sport-utility vehicle off Chrysler’s common-wide architecture: the same platform used for the Fiat 500L. By sharing powertrain and chassis components with other vehicles, engineers were able to offer a lot of content at a very reasonable price. The off-road capable Trailhawk has a base sticker of $29,495 excluding the $995 destination charge.
Standard equipment includes Jeep’s Active Drive II system with a locking rear differential. The chassis sits slightly higher than other Cherokee models for a better breakover angle.
Comfort and convenience features include keyless entry, Bluetooth interface, satellite radio, 17-inch alloy wheels, all-terrain tires, leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, TFT gauge cluster display and ambient lighting.
Options on the test car include a rear backup camera, leather upholstery with heated front seats, keyless start, power driver’s seat, power liftgate, navigation with real-time traffic and weather updates, HD radio and automatic climate control. Final MSRP is $34,625.
Test drive in Phoenix, Arizona
This week’s test drive was my second experience in the new Cherokee: my first having been at a media program last Fall in southern California. At that event, I had the opportunity to experience the car’s considerable off-road capability. This week I was more interested in seeing what the car might be to live with, driving through rush-hour traffic, loading up the cargo area and the like.
Having just purchased a new Jeep Wrangler the week before, the comparison at the beginning of this story was a personal one. I opted for the Wrangler because I like its authenticity, and indestructible build: perfect for dirt roads full of teakettle rocks in the northern part of the state. But if I had children or used my car for extensive daily commutes, I most likely would have chosen the Cherokee.
The nine-speed automatic transmission is a really fine piece of work. The 2.4-liter engine has enough power for those buyers who don’t plan to tow and don’t live at altitude. Those wanting more power can upgrade to the Pentastar V-6.
Taking the road less traveled
Outdoor enthusiasts who have always wanted to go off-roading but are timid about doing so will feel quite comfortable venturing out in the Trailhawk. The engineers made things extremely simple, by including Jeep’s Selec-Terrain traction control system as standard equipment. All the driver needs to do is lock the rear axle, select the appropriate setting for one of five driving situations and steer.
Standard hill descent control means the driver doesn’t need to use the brakes to slow the vehicle down on steep hills, while hill start assist prevents the Cherokee from rolling backwards when the driver accelerates from a stop up a steep grade.
Granted, the doors aren’t removable nor does the windshield flip down as it does on the Wrangler: one of the reasons the Wrangler is better for serious rock crawling. But visibility around the Cherokee perimeter is pretty good thanks to a generous greenhouse. Approach and departure angles are big enough that the driver doesn’t have to worry about hanging up the front or back ends. And the wheelbase is short enough to make the Cherokee reasonably maneuverable on narrow trails.
One of the Cherokee’s greatest sells is its beautifully designed, versatile interior. Perhaps it’s the decades of minivan experience: Chrysler outshines the industry when it comes to interior packaging.
Fit and finish is top notch. Controls are easy to locate and intuitive to operate. For example, the Selec-Terrain, hill descent control, differential lock and hill start assist controls are all within easy reach of the driver, next to the shift lever. For the Trailhawk model, the driver can manually shift gears by moving the gearshift lever to the right: a boon for off-road driving.
The thin film transistor display combines a lot of information in the spot where it’s easiest for the driver to see: the gauge cluster. Both the gauges and large center stack screen are easy to see in a variety of lighting conditions, including bright sunlight.
Although the chassis sits higher than other Cherokee models, step-in height is quite reasonable for easy access and egress. On a similar note, smaller drivers should find it easy to load up the rear cargo area. With second-row seats folded flat, the Cherokee easily meets our bicycle-friendly standards.
The Jeep Cherokee comes with front, side, side curtain, driver and front passenger knee airbags, electronic stability control, antilock brakes, an off-road suspension, hill start assist, trailer sway control and hill descent control. Jeep’s factory warranty includes complimentary roadside assistance for up to five years or 100,000 miles.
Jeep builds the Cherokee alongside the Wrangler at its Toledo, Ohio assembly plant.
Like: A value-packed midsize sport-utility vehicle with serious off-road capability, a high level of standard safety and convenience features and versatile interior.
Dislike: Exterior styling seems unresolved, especially the front end.
Model: Cherokee Trailhawk 4X4
Base price: $29,495
As tested: $34,625
Horsepower: 184 Hp @ 6400 rpm
Torque: 171 lbs.-ft. @ 4600 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Towing: V-6 model only
Fuel economy: 21/27 mpg city/highway.2014, Best Value Offroad 2014, Active Lifestyle Vehicles, auto review, Jeep, performance, pricing, standard safety
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