2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Review and Quick Spin: Introduction
Count me among the naysayers who inaccurately pre-judged the new 2014 Jeep Cherokee based on qualities other than the dynamic. First, the front styling is polarizing. Second, it is based on the same Alfa Romeo-derived front-wheel-drive platform as the Dodge Dart, and features the same standard 4-cylinder “Tigershark” engine. Third, Jeep claims the new 2014 Cherokee is a midsize SUV, when its cargo volumes clearly slot it into the compact class.
Yep, when you read about a Cherokee’s origins and specifications, and you look at pictures of a Cherokee on a page, you can jump to conclusions. Some of which, like the cargo space thing, prove accurate.
In the time that has passed since I first shared details and opinions about the 2014 Jeep Cherokee, I’ve had the good fortune to drive it on demanding trails during demonstrations of its prodigious off-roading capability, and to take one for a rousing run on twisty mountain roads. This time around, I put the new Cherokee through its paces in its adopted habitat. Suburbia. Toting a couple of little kids around. Running errands. Embarking on weekend excursions involving freeways instead of forested trails.
After a week of day-to-day living with the Cherokee, I remain duly impressed.
2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Review and Quick Spin: About Our Test Car
Four versions of the 2014 Cherokee are on sale: the Sport, the Latitude, the Trailhawk, and the Limited. I tested the Trailhawk model, which is the most capable version off-road. It starts at $30,490, but my example wore a price tag of $36,610. If you were to add every option to a Cherokee Trailhawk, the price would push to more than $41,000.
Painted True Blue, my Trailhawk added the Cold Weather Group ($595 – heated outside mirrors, wiper de-icer element, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, off-road accessory kit); the Comfort/Convenience Group ($1,895 – dual-zone automatic climate control with a humidity sensor, Keyless Go proximity passive entry system, 8-way power driver’s seat, 4-way power front passenger’s lumbar support, reversing camera, automatic headlights, auto-dimming rearview mirror, power liftgate, universal garage door opener, remote engine starting, premium air filter, security alarm, cargo tonneau cover); and the Leather Interior Group ($1,295).
In addition to these upgrades, by test vehicle had a black hood decal ($150), a premium audio system ($395), a navigation system ($795), and a 3.2-liter V-6 engine ($1,495). What it did not have is a dual-pane panoramic sunroof ($1,395), the Trailer Tow Group ($495), or the Technology Group ($2,195). With these options included, the price would have ballooned to $41,195, including the $995 destination charge.
2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Review and Quick Spin: Styling and Design
From the front wheels back, the 2014 Jeep Cherokee is an attractive, if somewhat conservative, SUV that blends right into traffic. From the front wheels forward, the 2014 Jeep Cherokee looks like an oversized and aggressive alien arachnid of some kind. But you get used to it, and once Cherokees become commonplace, you’ll find that the bent 7-slot grille and the distinctive, triple-element lighting design make for nice differentiators in the sea of SUVs plying American highways.
The Cherokee Trailhawk sets itself apart from other Cherokees with a standard Active Drive Lock 4-wheel-drive system, a locking rear axle, a one-inch suspension lift, off-road suspension tuning, skid plates, and all-terrain tires mounted on exclusive 17-inch aluminum wheels. This version of the new Cherokee also gets a revised front end to improve the SUV’s approach angle, stout red tow hooks front and rear, bolder wheel arch moldings, and a “Trail Rated” fender badge right out of the box.
Personally, I think this is the best-looking version of the new Cherokee, in part because the front styling modifications help to reduce the amount of front overhang displayed by the Sport, Latitude, and Limited models.
2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Review and Quick Spin: Comfort and Quality
Jeep calls the Cherokee a midsize SUV, and in terms of passenger capacity, that rings true. Cargo space, however, is rather tight. Behind the rear seat, the Cherokee offers 24.6 cu.-ft. of volume, part of which is compromised by my test vehicle’s bulky and balky tonneau cover. Fold the back seat down, and you’ve got 54.9 cubes of space. Fold the front passenger’s seat down, and Jeep says the Cherokee will hold 58.9 cu.-ft. of your stuff.
For comparison, consider two of the Cherokee Trailhawk’s rugged competitors, the Nissan Xterra PRO-4X and the Toyota 4Runner Trail. Each provides greater cargo capacity, the 4Runner by a significant amount. It holds five people plus 47.2 cu.-ft. of your gear at the same time. There is, however, a price to be paid for the Toyota’s bigger interior. A 4Runner Trail starts at $38,920 and it slurps fuel at a greater rate than the Cherokee. The Xterra PRO-4X costs $31,950 with the optional automatic transmission, and is just as thirsty as the 4Runner.
Climbing into the Jeep’s front seats takes a certain level of grace. You’ve gotta watch your head on the roof, so duck as you clamber in. Once you’re seated, comfort levels are high. My Trailhawk test model had a 12-way power adjustable driver’s seat including 4-way power lumbar support, and it faced a thick-rimmed tilt/telescopic steering wheel that was excellent to grip on longer trips.
The front passenger’s seat in this particular Cherokee included 6-way manual adjustment combined with 4-way power lumbar support, and offered an in-cushion storage area ready to accept wet items, combined with fold-flat capability in order to carry longer gear. If you use this feature, though, remember that the seatback is softly upholstered and padded, so no sharp stuff.
Adults will be comfortable in the Cherokee’s back seat, which sits high off of the floor for good thigh support, and includes decent under-seat foot space combined with softly padded front seatbacks that are exceptionally kind to knees. My test vehicle included rear air vents, a 115-volt 3-prong power outlet, and a rear center armrest with cup holders. Getting into and out of the back seat is easy, too, but if the outside of the Jeep is dirty, watch your clothing as you slide into and out the vehicle.
2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Review and Quick Spin: Features and Controls
As for the Cherokee’s controls, they’re easy to find, understand, and use. I’m a huge fan of the Uconnect 8.4 system that comes standard in the Cherokee Trailhawk, and which includes an 8.4-inch touchscreen, pleasing graphics, and big, responsive touch-sensitive buttons for easy navigation and use. In my opinion, this is the current industry standard for touchscreen infotainment.
Heated seat and steering wheel functions are activated through the screen, along with Bluetooth phone pairing and music streaming, the optional navigation system, and the Uconnect Access suite of mobile applications and services, as well as the optional Wi-Fi hotspot connection. Additionally, Jeep supplies big volume/mute and tuning knobs that allow you to browse by channel or entertainment genre. You can even wirelessly charge your smartphone with the Cherokee, or set a Game Zone alert that lets you know when one of your favorite teams is playing so that you can listen in on the action.
2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Review and Quick Spin: Matters of Safety
My test vehicle did not have the optional Technology Group, a package that adds $2,195 to the window sticker’s bottom line. Believe it or not, that represents value, because that package contains a long list of desirable safety-related upgrades.
Those features include rain-sensing wipers, Forward Collision Warning with Crash Mitigation and Advanced Brake Assist, a LaneSense lane departure warning system, Blind Spot and Cross Path Detection, and automatic high-beam headlights. Additionally, this upgrade package adds Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop and Go capability, as well as a Park Assist system that automatically steers the Cherokee into parallel and perpendicular parking spaces while the driver operates the transmission and pedals.
My Cherokee Trailhawk test vehicle did have a reversing camera, which I relied on during a photo shoot on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. At sunset, however, I did not feel that the camera delivered a satisfactory degree of resolution, failing to reveal the kind of fine detail in the topography that can make the difference between getting out of a tricky situation and driving home, or using the Emergency 9-1-1 Call button on the rearview mirror.
As for the Cherokee’s crash-test performance, as this review is written the Jeep has been partially assessed only by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). It receives the top rating of “Good” in all but the new small overlap frontal impact test, for which it has not been tested. Additionally, thanks to the optional Technology Package, the Cherokee gets a “Basic” crash avoidance rating.
2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Review and Quick Spin: Driving Impressions
A 184-horsepower, 4-cylinder engine – the same one installed in the Dodge Dart – is standard equipment for the 2014 Cherokee. My test vehicle had the optional 3.2-liter V-6, a new engine paired with a 9-speed automatic transmission. That’s right. Nine speeds. And Jeep has done a terrific job of programming the automatic so that it doesn’t hunt during downshifts and doesn’t upshift sooner than you might like.
Most of the time, anyway.
The new V-6 makes 271 horsepower and 239 lb.-ft. of torque, stout enough figures to give the Cherokee a towing rating of 4,500 pounds, when properly equipped. While that’s better than most crossover suvs, both the Xterra and the 4Runner can handle heavier trailer loads. With the V-6, the Cherokee was quick, though I thought it might benefit from some additional torque.
Trailhawk models are equipped with the most capable of three 4-wheel-drive systems offered for the new Cherokee. The Active Drive Lock 4WD system includes a locking rear differential, a 56:1 crawl ratio, a hill descent control system, and a Selec-Terrain traction system with drivetrain settings designed to tackle specific off-roading conditions. Together, these components make the Cherokee Trailhawk far more capable than any crossover SUV I can think of, and this trail-rated Jeep bests many traditional SUVs designed to go where other vehicles can’t.
Here’s more good news about the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk. It’s commendable off-roading capabilities appear to in no way negatively impact its on-road driving dynamics. Despite its taller ride height, its heavier-duty suspension and drivetrain components, and its all-terrain tires, the Cherokee Trailhawk provides a commendable ride quality, secure handling, and a remarkably quiet interior on the highway, qualities that utterly escape the Nissan Xterra and Toyota 4Runner.
The new 3.2-liter V-6 and 9-speed automatic transmission are a great team, and I averaged 21.4 mpg. That’s better than the 21-mpg estimate from the EPA, but I spent a good deal of my time on L.A. freeways, so, as is typical, you might want to take official fuel economy ratings with a grain of the proverbial salt. In any case, that result is honestly better than I expected.
Jeep had to delay the Cherokee’s arrival in showrooms to finalize the new transmission’s software, and it would appear that the wait was worth it. With so many gears, the potential for the transmission to hang when punching the gas for extra power or to upshift too soon in order to conserve fuel economy is a real drivability concern. On a couple of occasions, the transmission behaved in an unexpected fashion, but given how infrequently this occurred over hundreds of miles of driving, I’d say it’s a non-issue.
The rest of the Cherokee Trailhawk driving experience impresses if for no other reason than it doesn’t drive like a truck, the way its key competitors do. In the morning, you can drive this thing where few vehicles dare to tread, and then get it cleaned up for the clichéd “night on the town.” And honestly, if you’ve driven in any of America’s older cities lately, you know that the Trailhawk’s rugged underpinnings are just as useful over pot holes, frost heaves, bus ruts, and patched pavement as they are tackling uncharted territory in the wilderness. Plus, there’s little worry about scraping the front end on parking blocks, or rubbing the rims on curbs.
The 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk is, clearly, a jack-of-all-trades kind of SUV.
2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Review and Quick Spin: Final Thoughts
From my perspective, the primary downside to buying a 2014 Jeep Cherokee is that it simply doesn’t hold very much stuff. Otherwise, this is that rare SUV that proves itself equally adept on the pavement and in the dirt, and the Cherokee is packaged to meet a wide variety of budget and lifestyle considerations. If you like the way the Cherokee looks, chances are that you’re going to like the way it fits into your life unless your life requires a big cargo area.
Jeep provided the 2014 Cherokee Trailhawk for this review
2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk photos by Christian Wardlaw