2014 Jeep CherokeePosted on September 14th, 2013
Midsized SUV excites on and off-road
By Nina Russin
Although the Jeep Cherokee dates back to the mid-1970s, it’s the downsized 1984 model that established a market for midsized sport-utility vehicles. The Cherokee has, throughout its history, set the bar for off-road capability as well, having been one of the first vehicles to offer buyers a choice between part and full-time systems.
Jeep discontinued the nameplate in 2001, replacing it with the midsized Liberty. After two generations, Jeep discontinued that model, introducing an all-new Cherokee for the 2014 model year.
The newest Cherokee varies from the original model, in that it’s a unibody structure. But like its body-on-frame predecessors, the 2014 model has true off-road capability, as well as a choice of three four-wheel drive systems.
A Trailhawk version carries the Jeep trail rating designation, implying that the car is capable of navigating the Rubicon trail in California. The Trailhawk sits higher than the other three trim levels, has special wheels and off-road tires and a two-speed transfer case with locking rear axles. A Selec-Terrain system enables the driver to adapt the throttle, front/rear torque, four-wheel drive, brakes and suspension for five types of terrain: auto, snow, sport, sand/mud and rock.
Two engines and a new nine-speed automatic transmission
Buyers can choose between Fiat’s 2.4-liter, 184-horsepower Tigershark engine and a downsized version of the Pentastar V-6 in the Grand Cherokee. The 3.2-liter V-6 produces 271-horsepower and 239 foot-pounds of torque. The nine-speed automatic transmission that is standard on all models extends highway fuel economy to 31 miles-per-gallon for the four-cylinder engine and 27 mpg for the V-6.
A MacPherson independent front suspension offers a more compliant ride on paved roads, while the four-link rear suspension with coil springs also makes the Cherokee capable of towing up to 4500 pounds when equipped with the V-6.
Test drive in Southern California
I had the opportunity to drive the upscale Limited 4X4 and Trailhawk models on and off-road at a recent media event in Southern California. The Limited is the most luxurious version of the Cherokee with a base sticker price of $27,995. There are two grades below the Limited: the Sport starting at $22,995 and volume-leading Latitude priced from $24,495. The four-wheel drive Trailhawk starts at $29,495.
I drove both 2.4-liter and V-6 versions of the Limited on paved canyon roads outside of Malibu as well as the Pacific Coast Highway. The off-road course in the mountains was challenging enough to keep a seasoned Wrangler owner busy.
The V-6 engine is a much stronger performer than the four-cylinder on the type of roads we covered at the media event. It seems better mated to the nine-speed automatic transmission as well. On steep hills, the four-cylinder engine needed to rev close to 4500 rpm to make good power whereas the V-6 did fine cruising at about 2,000.
The new automatic transmission is a beautiful piece of engineering, designed with wide gear ranges and small steps between the gears for optimal performance in city and highway driving. I rarely felt a harsh downshift, even on steep climbs.
The electric power rack-and-pinion steering system has excellent maneuverability, with a 37.6-foot turning circle on front-wheel drive models. Four-wheel drive models with the locking rear axle have a 38.1-foot turning circle: fine for performing U-turns on wider suburban surface streets.
On-center response is good. I would feel confident performing an evasive maneuver in the car.
Engineers have added an enticing parking feature to the mix, that can automatically select slots and park the car in both parallel and perpendicular fashion. As someone whose parallel parking skills have become rusty after years of living in a town with very little street parking, it’s nice to have the guesswork taken out of the equation.
Blind spot monitoring on the Limited test car projects LED signals in the side mirrors when vehicles in the adjacent lanes pass through the driver’s blind spots. A standard rearview camera projects a wide-angle view to the rear on the center stack screen when the driver shifts into reverse.
Lines superimposed over the image show the vehicle’s trajectory according to steering inputs. I think the rearview camera is an essential feature for any high profile vehicle, eliminating the large blind spots created by the D-pillars as well as beneath the rear glass.
Ventilated disk brakes in front and solid rotors in the rear stop the car in firm, linear fashion.
Off-roading for gnar junkies
The off-road course at the media event included some severe inclines and descents, large boulders that pushed the Cherokee onto three wheels and a simulated canyon replete with sand, rocks and several hairpin turns.
I suppose it would be possible for a skilled driver to cover the same course we did in a very simple vehicle, perhaps even a 1941 Willys Overland. What makes the Cherokee unique is that it enables a novice to cover extremely technical trails with relative ease.
My driving partner who had never driven off-road was a case in point. The driver selects the terrain setting using a rotary knob on the instrument panel; locks the rear hubs; engages the Selec-Speed feature and steers. There’s no need to feather the throttle or brakes. The Trailhawk model has plenty of ground clearance for pretty much anything the planet can throw at it, with excellent wheel articulation for motoring over large boulders. Skid plates protect the undercarriage from damage.
I have to admit that it took me some time to warm up to the Cherokee’s exterior, especially the bent grille. It’s a feature borrowed from the 1974 Cherokee, which was essentially a two-door Wagoneer.
Designers recalled the Willys Overland models in the new Cherokee with trapezoidal wheel arches and the seven-slot grille. Inside the same theme carries through on the instrument panel with a trapezoidal cluster at the top of the center stack that includes the display screen and air vents.
The back of the car seems less resolved. I was sorry to see the narrow greenhouse, having enjoyed the wide glass area around the perimeter of the Fiat 500L the Cherokee shares platforms with. LED tail lamps are mounted high, making the area beneath look rather flat and uninviting.
The car’s interior is a home run, with a high level of comfort and convenience features and excellent packaging. Perhaps it’s all the years of building minivans that make Chrysler designers better at this than anyone else.
A new TFT display in the gauge cluster can be configured hundreds of ways to show everything from average fuel economy to the type of terrain the vehicle is traveling over. Center stack controls are simple and intuitive to operate. I found the optional navigation system very easy to program. The display screen doesn’t fade out in bright sunlight.
Both the driver’s and front passenger seats have ample lower lumbar support for drives several hours in duration. Rear seats move fore and aft, recline and fold flat in a 60/40 pattern.
The Jeep Cherokee comes with ten standard airbags, antilock brakes, traction control, stability control, Bluetooth interface, Uconnect with 911 assist, blind spot monitoring, automatic parking, the rearview camera, tire pressure monitoring and more.
Jeep builds the 2014 Cherokee alongside the Wrangler in its Toledo, Ohio assembly plant.
Like: The midsized Cherokee can makes its owners comfortable in dense city traffic and on remote off-road trails, with a host of convenience and safety features. Its versatile cargo area and 4500-pound towing capability make it a good choice for buyers with active lifestyles.
Dislike: Four-cylinder engine feels anemic on hilly terrain. Back end of the car looks flat and unresolved.
Base price: $22,995
As tested: N/A
Horsepower: 184 Hp @ 6400 rpm (2.4L); 271 Hp @ 6500 rpm (3.2L)
Torque: 171 lbs.-ft. @ 4600 rpm (2.4L); 239 lbs.-ft. @ 4400 rpm (3.2L)
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Towing: Yes (V-6 only)
Fuel economy: 22/31 mpg city/highway (2.4L 4X2); 19/28 mpg city/highway (3.2L 4X2)2014, Best Value Offroad 2014, Active Lifestyle Vehicles, auto review, Jeep, performance, pricing, standard safety
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