2014 Jeep Cherokee Crossover SUV First Drive: Introduction
Sometimes, you’ve gotta take a risk. That’s exactly what Jeep is doing with the new 2014 Cherokee, first by resurrecting an iconic and somewhat controversial nameplate for use on a crossover suv, second by replacing the boxy Liberty off-roader with a crossover SUV, and third by designing a crossover SUV that looks like something out of a Stephen King novel.
On that first point, I’m not convinced that Cherokee is the right name for this vehicle, and not because of a sense of political correctness. This would have made an excellent replacement for the largely unloved Compass. I’d rather see the Cherokee name affixed to a boxy, retro-style SUV constructed on the Wrangler platform.
On that second point, the Liberty wasn’t very good at much of anything, and the Cherokee Trailhawk model is pretty good at almost everything, so who cares if it is built on an Alfa Romeo platform and comes standard with front-wheel drive? The “Trail Rated” Trailhawk is the real deal.
On that third point, I’ll say this: the new 2014 Cherokee looks better in person than it does in pictures, especially with the bigger wheels and tires that are included with the more expensive versions of this SUV. Still, it definitely represents an acquired taste.
To see if I could acquire a taste for the Cherokee, I accepted an invitation from Jeep to spend a couple of hours driving it on difficult trails and twisting mountain roads near Malibu, Calif., and on the city streets and freeways of the nearby Los Angeles suburbs. Call me crazy, but there’s plenty to like about Jeep’s new crossover.
2014 Jeep Cherokee Crossover SUV First Drive: Lineup and Pricing
buy a 2014 Jeep Cherokee, and you’re going to spend between $23,990 for a base Cherokee Sport without any options and $41,395 for a Cherokee Trailhawk with every option. The prices include the $995 destination charge. In between, Jeep offers the Latitude ($25,490) and the Limited ($28,990), and all except the Trailhawk are equipped with front-wheel drive. A 4-wheel-drive system runs an extra two grand, while a V-6 engine costs $1,495 and is optional for the Latitude, Limited, and Trailhawk.
Choose the Cherokee Latitude over the Cherokee Sport, and the SUV is equipped with air conditioning, a fold-flat front passenger’s seat with hidden storage under the cushion, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, ambient cabin lighting, a 115-volt power outlet, body-color exterior trim, 17-inch aluminum wheels, and fog lights.
Limited models add leather, an 8-way power driver’s seat with 4-way power lumbar adjustment, heated front seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and upgraded interior trim. A dual-zone automatic climate control and a 7-inch display screen for the instrument cluster are also included for the Limited model, along with an 8.4-inch Uconnect Access touchscreen infotainment system, a USB port, satellite radio, a reversing camera, keyless passive entry and push-button starting, and remote engine starting. The exterior is dressed up with automatic headlights, a windshield wiper de-icing system, heated side mirrors with turn signal indicators, polished 18-inch aluminum wheels.
The Cherokee Trailhawk ($30,490) is ready for off-roading right out of the box, equipped with Latitude standard equipment plus Jeep Active Drive Lock 4WD, Selec-Speed Control, an off-road suspension with a one-inch lift, skid plates, a locker rear axle, a 4.083 final drive ratio, and front and rear tow hooks. The Trailhawk also gets a more rugged exterior appearance with its own 17-inch aluminum wheels and all-terrain tires, plus a full-size spare tire, unique leather/cloth seats, all-season floor mats, a cargo net, a 7-inch information display in the gauge cluster, and an 8.4-inch Uconnect Access touchscreen infotainment system with a USB port.
For this first drive review, I drove a Cherokee Limited with front-wheel drive and a V-6 engine on pavement, and a Cherokee Trailhawk off of it.
2014 Jeep Cherokee Crossover SUV First Drive: Design
Unmistakably a Jeep and unmistakably controversial, the 2014 Cherokee represents a love-it-or-hate-it styling proposition. This is not the first time that an auto manufacturer has taken a big chance with a polarizing design, and when it comes to the Cherokee, the issue isn’t necessarily the stacked triple-element lighting design or the bent signature 7-slot grille. Rather, and this is just my opinion, the Cherokee suffers from a massive overbite.
Constructed on a front-wheel-drive platform sourced from Alfa Romeo and shared with the Dodge Dart, the Cherokee looks out of balance when viewed in profile, and the smaller the wheels are, the more out of proportion the amount of front overhang appears.
The good news is that the Cherokee Trailhawk’s unique cosmetic upgrades, taller ride height, dark gray overfenders, and wheel/tire combination help to mask the SUV’s ungainly, jutting chin (see photo above). Of the four Cherokee models on sale, the Trailhawk is my favorite. Part of the reason is because I think it’s the best looking model, part of the reason is because I value authenticity, and let’s face it, part of the reason is that it’s the manliest of the Cherokees.
If you decide that you like the Cherokee’s exterior styling, you’re going to love the interior. It looks and feels like quality, is cleanly executed and tastefully detailed, deftly blends modern technology with traditional controls, and is remarkably comfortable. You can even specify an upscale 2-tone color combination if you’re so inclined.
2014 Jeep Cherokee Crossover SUV First Drive: Comfort and Cargo
Step into the Cherokee Limited, and the power driver’s seat and tilt/telescopic steering wheel ensure a proper driving position with good outward visibility. The Jeep’s windshield pillars are a little bit thick, and the rear glass is on the small side, but the large side mirrors definitely help the driver to see out of and around the Cherokee.
Comfort levels are impressive. The driver’s seat is generously padded and supportive, and the steering wheel in my Limited test vehicle featured a thick, leather-wrapped rim, making the SUV quite comfortable to drive. Plus, the upper door panels, where people often like to rest their elbows or arms, are wide and softly padded, for both front and rear seat occupants.
Riding in the Cherokee’s rear seat is not to be considered a penalty or a snub. The bottom cushion sits up high, providing great thigh support, and there’s a bunch of foot space under the front seats. With taller people seated up front, rear seat legroom is snug, but the front seatbacks are softly padded, making them easy on knees and shins. The seat also slides fore and aft to help adjust the space for people or cargo, depending on requirements.
Given that the cargo area holds just 24.6 cu.-ft. when the rear seat is located all the way back in its track, you just might want to slide it forward when there aren’t passengers aboard, which adds 4.5 cu-ft. of extra space. Fold the rear seat, and the Cherokee swallows 54.9 cu.-ft. of cargo. You can expand upon that by folding the front passenger’s seat in half, for a maximum of 58.9 cu.-ft. of cargo capacity and space for the driver.
Those numbers aren’t terribly impressive, especially for what Jeep calls a “midsize” SUV. For example, a Subaru Forester carries five people and 34.4 cu.-ft. of cargo at the same time. Fold a Forester’s back seat, and it holds two people and 74.7 cu.-ft. of stuff.
Jeep makes up for the shortfall to some degree, offering lots of interior storage including a covered bin atop the dashboard and a hidden compartment under the front seat. Plus, the cargo area has storage compartments under the floor (except Trailhawk), and includes a standard Jeep Cargo Management system with grocery bag hooks and more. Even so, the Cherokee’s interior dimensions fall short.
2014 Jeep Cherokee Crossover SUV First Drive: Safety and Technology
Jeep doesn’t skimp on technology when it comes to the new Cherokee. All versions offer a Cold Weather Package as standard or optional equipment, and it is packed with heated front seats, heated side mirrors, a heated steering wheel, a wiper de-icing system, and remote engine starting. Additionally, depending on the trim level, this SUV can be fitted with a humidity-sensing climate control system, ventilated front seats, passive entry with push-button starting, and a power tailgate. You can even equip a Cherokee with a charging pad that wirelessly replenishes your phone’s battery.
On the infotainment front, Bluetooth connectivity and a touchscreen radio with a 5-inch display screen are standard equipment. Jeep’s excellent Uconnect Access 8.4 touchscreen infotainment and smartphone pairing system is optional for Latitude models and standard for the Limited and Trailhawk models. Those two latter versions of the Cherokee can also be equipped with HD Radio and a navigation system.
A Technology Package is also available for the Limited and Trailhawk models, and it installs a long list of safety-related upgrades including Forward Collision Warning with Crash Mitigation, Blind Spot and Cross Path Detection, LaneSense Lane Departure Warning, and Advanced Brake Assist. Additionally, this package adds Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop and Go, automatic high-beam headlights, rain-sensing wipers, and an automatic parking system that can steer the Cherokee into both parallel and perpendicular parking spaces while the driver operates the pedals and transmission.
Because the Cherokee is new, it had not been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) when this review was written.
2014 Jeep Cherokee Crossover SUV First Drive: Engines and Transmissions
The 2014 Cherokee’s available powertrain combinations can get a little bit tricky to follow, so I’ll try to simplify as best I can.
All Cherokee models are equipped with a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine as standard equipment. It generates 184 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 171 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,600 rpm, and is charged with motivating a minimum of about 3,600 pounds. A 9-speed automatic transmission drives the Cherokee’s front wheels, unless one of the 4-wheel-drive systems is specified.
A new 3.2-liter “Pentastar” V-6 engine is optional for Latitude, Limited, and Trailhawk models. It generates 271 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 239 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,400 rpm. That’s enough to give the 3,775-lb. Cherokee V-6 decent acceleration and to tow up to 4,500 lbs. of trailer.
Three different 4WD systems are offered for the new Cherokee. The first, Jeep Active Drive I, is an automatic system that feeds power to the rear wheels when the front wheels slip, and a rear-axle disconnect system is employed to help maximize fuel economy. This option is good for owners who want 4WD for the occasional snowstorm or to deal with a well-traveled but muddy road.
Jeep Active Drive II offers low-range gearing for more difficult off-roading situations, as well as a Neutral setting that allows the Cherokee to be flat-towed behind a motorhome.
The Cherokee Trailhawk has a Jeep Active Drive Lock 4WD system with low-range and a rear locker axle for maximum off-roading capability. Selec-Speed Control is standard for the Trailhawk model, and programs the SUV to ascend or descend hills at a driver-selected speed, freeing the driver from needing to brake or accelerate so he or she can concentrate on steering and placing the Cherokee intelligently on the trail.
When discussing the Cherokee, Jeep representatives point out that the SUV gets up to 31 mpg. That’s true, by the EPA’s estimates, but only for highway driving with the 4-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive. And we all know that EPA estimates are always accurate (wink, wink).
Instead of fixating on that 31-mpg rating, take a look at the Cherokee’s combined driving figures. For the 4-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive, the rating is 25 mpg. Add 4WD, and the rating drops to 23 mpg or 24 mpg, depending on the system selected. Choose the V-6 engine and front-wheel drive, and the rating slips from 25 mpg to 24 mpg, making the extra 87 horsepower and 68 lb.-ft. of torque even more appealing. Cherokees with the V-6 and 4WD get between 20 mpg and 22 mpg, with the Trailhawk gulping gas at the fastest rate.
During my brief drive on a mountainous route that included two-lane canyon roads, freeway driving, and some city traffic, the Cherokee’s V-6 returned 19.3 mpg.
2014 Jeep Cherokee Crossover SUV First Drive: Driving Impressions
I didn’t drive a Cherokee with the standard 4-cylinder engine, so I cannot comment about that powerplant’s effectiveness in this SUV. I can tell you that the so-called “Tigershark” 4-cylinder isn’t terribly satisfying in the lighter 3,300-lb. Dodge Dart, but maybe the Cherokee’s 9-speed automatic makes it more appealing as installed in the Jeep. My guess, however, is that owners are going to spend lots of time mashing the gas pedal in order to keep the Cherokee moving, effectively mitigating its minor advantage in fuel economy.
Therefore, I strongly recommend upgrading to the 3.2-liter V-6. This engine delivers strong acceleration from a stop, and the 9-speed automatic upshifts quickly, cleanly, and smoothly, delivering an unexpected level of refinement. I fully expected an automatic with this many gears to call undue attention to itself on a regular basis, and during my short stint behind the Cherokee’s wheel, it did nothing of the sort.
There are always exceptions to the rules. On the freeway, while traveling at 60 mph, I floored the accelerator to merge into the left lane and pass slower traffic. It took more than just a moment for the transmission to downshift once, and then twice, to deliver the requisite amount of power for the maneuver. Drivers can take control of gear changes using the manual shift gate, but it employs a counterintuitive pattern that requires movement up to execute a downshift, and movement down to perform an upshift.
The Cherokee Limited model’s highway ride quality is quiet and composed, very much like a car and nothing at all like a truck. You sit taller in the saddle than in some crossover SUVs, with a commanding driving position and a decent view out despite the rather thick windshield pillars. Large side mirrors help in this regard.
Electric steering is responsive and natural in terms of feel, and the thick steering wheel rim is good to grip. The Cherokee’s brakes bite early and with authority, and prove easy to modulate in traffic. Predictably, the Jeep feels nose-heavy on a twisty road, and the body leans while the tires squeal a bit, but the Cherokee feels solidly planted to the pavement and is relatively tossable compared to other small crossovers.
While the Cherokee Limited with front-wheel drive satisfied me in terms of driving dynamics on paved roads, the Cherokee Trailhawk won me over after it tackled a trail that most other crossover SUVs could never hope to conquer.
Thanks to generous approach, breakover, and departure angles, as well as the sophisticated Selec-Trac and Selec-Terrain drivetrain calibration systems, plus the standard off-roading equipment for this model, the Cherokee Trailhawk proved that it can venture places no average driver would dare travel, even with a more rugged SUV. Aside from finding that the turning radius is a little wide, requiring some reversing on tighter kinks in the trail, this version of the new Cherokee proved itself impressive.
2014 Jeep Cherokee Crossover SUV First Drive: Final Thoughts
No risk, no reward. That’s how the adage goes. With the new 2014 Cherokee, Jeep wisely builds one version that will satisfy brand enthusiasts and knowledgeable off-road drivers, and another version for the bulk of buyers who essentially want to buy a rugged-looking station wagon. Having spent a morning with diametrically opposed versions of the new Cherokee, I have acquired a taste for it, including the styling. Trust me, that grille and those lights look much better in person than they do in photos.
The author attended a manufacturer-sponsored ride-and-drive event for the 2014 Cherokee.
2014 Jeep Cherokee photos supplied by the manufacturer