2014 Jeep Cherokee

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Here’s what didn’t work:'14 Cherokee lead

Liberty (2002-2012).

Commander (2006-2010).

Which probably accounts for the new Cherokee . . . and what it’s not.

It isn’t a traditional SUV.

Reason? They’re a hard sell these days.

At least, as mass-market vehicles.

Despite Jeep’s boulder-hopping rep, the truth is most of Jeep’s current vehicles aren’t traditional SUVs anymore. In fact, only two – the Wrangler and the Grand Cherokee – are still built around the traditional SUV’s RWD-based layout, with the rugged underpinnings of a hard-core  off-roader.

They sell, so they get to stay.'14 Cherokee interior 1

But the Liberty never made much headway against the light-duty leaders, models like Toyota’s RAV4 and the Honda CR-V.

So it went.

The new Cherokee takes its place and – Jeep hopes – it will take some sales away from Toyota, Honda, Ford and other purveyors of compact crossover SUVs.

WHAT IT IS

The Cherokee is Jeep’s new FWD/AWD crossover – a step up in size (and features and amenities) from the entry-level Compass but smaller, more on-road-minded (and much less thirsty) than the still-RWD/4WD Grand Cherokee.

Unlike almost all the other compact crossovers in its class, the Cherokee is available with a fairly large six cylinder engine – and can pull fairly serious weight (4,500 lbs.).'14 Cherokee rear

It’s also the only crossover, period, that comes standard with a nine-speed transmission.

Prices begin at $22,995 for the base Sport trim with FWD and 2.4 liter engine. A top-of-the-line Limited with the Active Drive II system and 3.2 liter V-6 tops out at $29,995.

Target competition includes the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and other medium-small crossover SUVs.

WHAT’S NEW

The Cherokee nameplate returns  after a 13-year absence to take the place of the not-so-successful Liberty in Jeep’s lineup.'14 Cherokee "4WD"

Unlike the Liberty – and previous Cherokees – the new Cherokee is a crossover SUV. Meaning, it splits the difference between a FWD-based passenger car and a traditional truck-descended SUV. It’s built on a modified version of the same chassis used to build the Dodge Dart – but unlike pretty much all of the also-car-based crossovers it competes against, the Cherokee can be ordered with either of two available “4WD” systems (they’re really all-wheel-drive, see below) that offer notched up bad weather (and bad road) capability – while being just as civil and fuel efficient on road as they are.

WHAT’S GOOD'14 Cherokee "wild"

Wild-looking from head-on.

Hunky feel, without the hunky handling.

Bigger – and wider – than the competition.

But not too big.

Available V-6 (getting hard to find in this class).

Technologically impressive nine speed automatic.

Stout (4,500 lbs.) max tow rating.'14 Cherokee tow pic

More off-pavement capability than pretty much any other crossover in this class.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

Looks nothing-special from the side (and from behind).

Nine gears may be the ticket for maxxing the MPGs, but it also means there are a lot of gears to drop down when you hammer it to pass someone. This sometimes results in a slight but noticeable delay or hesitation while the transmission gets itself organized.

Less cargo capacity than several smaller competitors.

UNDER THE HOOD'14 Cherokee 2.4 engine

Unlike a growing number of four-cylinder-only compact crossovers, the Cherokee is available with either a four or a six. It is the only new model to offer a six . Competitors that do, like the current Kia Sorento and Hyundai Sante Fe, are carryover models that may lose their available sixxes at the next update. There is also the Chevy Equinox – but it’s a larger (mid-sized) vehicle and leans more to the SUV-ish side of the aisle, too.

The Cherokee’s standard engine is a four that displaces 2.4 liters and produces 184 hp and 171 ft.-lbs. of torque. It is paired with a nine-speed automatic and your choice of front-wheel-drive, a light-duty all-wheel-drive system Jeep calls Active Drive I and a heavier-duty system (standard in Trailhawks) called Active Drive II. Jeep calls both “4WD” – and technically, all four wheels do drive – but this is a FWD-based (and biased) system in which most of the engine’s power goes to the front wheels most of the time.'14 Cherokee Active Drive II

As in other AWD systems, when the front wheels begin to lose traction, some of the engine’s power is automatically routed to the rear wheels. And there is no two-speed transfer case with this system – though Trailhawks do get a Low range setting for the nine-speed automatic.

The Active Drive I system features driver-selectable programming via a rotary knob on the center console for Snow, Sand/Mud as well as Sport and Automatic. This is a cut above, capability-wise. Sport – and Snow – modes for the transmission (and other calibrations) are fairly common in crossovers and cars generally. But the Cherokee’s Sand/Mud mode is unique – among its direct competition, anyhow.

The base engine delivers pretty solid acceleration – zero to 60 in just over 8 seconds with FWD – and 31 MPG on the highway, too. This dips to 28 highway if you buy the Active Drive I system, but it’s still epically better than the previous (2001) Cherokee, which posted a Hummer-esque 15 city, 20 city.'14 Cherokee gauge close up

It should also be pointed out that the Cherokee’s base engine matches – or beats – the output/performance of the only-available engines in competitor crossovers like the Honda CR-V (2.4 liters, 185 hp, 23 city/31 highway and 9.5 seconds to 60) and the Toyota RAV4 (2.5 liters, 176 hp, 24 city/31 highway and 9.3 seconds to 60).

The base-engined Cherokee’s also much stronger than the base engined Ford Escape (2.5 liters, 168 hp) and stronger still than the Escape with its optional 1.6 liter turbo engine (178 hp). To get more-than-Cherokee hp in the Ford, you have to jump two engines up the ladder, to the Escape’s top-of-the-line 2.0 turbo four . . . at which point you’re also looking at much more coin than Jeep charges for the base Cherokee.

One of the few current cross-shops that comes with a stronger standard engine is the Hyundai Sante Fe (2.4 liters, 190 hp) and that just barely. The Sante Fe’s base price – $24,950 – also happens to be almost $2k higher.

None of the Jeep’s rivals offer – let alone come standard with – a nine-speed gearbox, either.'14 Cherokee V-6 picture

The Cherokee’s trump card, though, is its optionally available 3.2 liter, 271 hp V-6. Very few vehicles in this segment offer more than a four (sometimes turbo’d sometimes not) chiefly because there is incredible pressure emanating from Washington to get every single new vehicle’s average fuel economy number into the mid-30s (35.5 MPG, to be precise). It is exceedingly hard for a six to make that cut. That’s why they’re going away – at least, as mass-market powerplants.

Thanks to the Jeep’s advantageous nine-speed gearing the V-6′s gas mileage is also very decent: 19 city, 27 highway for a “4WD” equipped version.

This is not a little bit better than larger, V-6 powered crossover SUVs like the Chevy Equinox (16 city, 23 highway with AWD) and the Kia Sorento/Hyundai Sante Fe twins (18 city, 25 highway). The Jeep’s also the quickest of this bunch – scuttling to 60 in about 6.9 seconds vs. 7-7.1 for the V-6 Chevy and 7.4 for the Kia/Hyundai crossovers.'14 Cherokee rock

The optionally available Active Drive II system is another notch-up, capability-wise, over the competition’s universally light-duty AWD set-ups. Though there isn’t a truck-type two-speed transfer case, there is a Low range gear for pulling through deep snow on unplowed roads – and you could even risk muddy fields, too. If you opt for the Trailhawk package, you’ll get an additional Rock crawl mode for the driver-selectable settings, plus an electronically locking rear differential and Hill Descent Control.

That plus 8.6 inches of ground clearance and a set of good tires will get you through almost anything. Or put another way, through things that would cripple most other crossovers.

ON THE ROAD'14 Cherokee road 1

Other reviewers have said this – and I will “amen” them: The Cherokee’s base engine is sufficient. Better than, actually. Note that Jeep lets you order “4WD” with the four. In marginal power cases, the manufacturer will often tacitly concede the deficit by only offering the marginally powerful engine with FWD (or RWD) and requiring an engine upgrade to upgrade to 4WD. In the case of Cherokee competitors like the RAV4 and CR-V, their manufacturers offer AWD with the gimped (and take ‘em or leave ‘em) fours – but the end result of this unfortunate pairing is a bad case of The Slows. The four-cylinder Jeep is almost two seconds quicker than they are to 60 – and that is an everyday difference that matters when you’re trying to pull into traffic, or climb a grade with a full load of people on board.'14 Cherokee Burns

With the optional V-6, the new Cherokee is a potent performer. And puller. Its 4,500 lb. max tow rating is literally three times much as the Monty Burnsian RAV4 and CR-V (1,500 lbs. max each) and 1,000 lbs. stronger than the Escape’s maximum of 3,500 lbs.

The nine-speed automatic is an interesting item. Why nine speeds? For the same reason semi trucks have that many (and more) forward speeds: Leverage. To accelerate the vehicle without winding out the engine; and to cut down engine RPM to the lowest level once you’re up to speed. In order to have a really deep top gear overdrive (ninth in this case) without a bog/soft spot in between that top gear and the next lowest gear, you need a gradual series of “steps” down – and up. That’s why, in this case, the transmission has another three gears in between fifth and top gear ninth.'14 Cherokee 9 speed pic

But, you won’t notice them much. The transmission behaves very much like a “normal” five or six speed automatic. The upshifts from fifth through ninth are so closely spaced as to be almost imperceptible. And the computer exercises absolute control – even when the gear lever is in manual mode. You can move the shift lever over to the left and tap it down or up – and the dashboard indicator will change from 9th to 8th or from 7th to 9th – but the computer will shift on its schedule and is deaf to your inputs. It will allow some manual control of up or downshifts from first through fifth, but the computer is the Decider here, too.'14 Cherokee road 3

One issue that remains to be sorted is passing gear performance. You’re trundling along in ninth and floor the accelerator to pass a dawdler. It is a long way from ninth to passing gear – which in this case is fifth or fourth at the least. It inevitably takes a moment longer to drop from 9th to 4th than it does from 6th to 4th (as with a conventional six-speed box). So, there is sometimes a slight but significant pause before the onrush of acceleration. This transmission is designed primarily for economy, keep in mind. There is no other reason for so many gears. This is the price we pay to get our hands on that V-6. Without the efficiency edge conferred by the nine-speed, it’s not likely it would be in the lineup at all.'14 Cherokee road 2

This Cherokee will corner – something no previous Cherokee could do and still keep all four wheels in contact with the pavement. It is much more athletic than the CR-V or RAV4 or the Sante Fe/Sorento. The Ford Escape is comparably willing – and able – to take a curve at speed and not telegraph increasingly urgent warnings that you’re pushing your luck. But, there’s that engine issue to consider… .

Though it’s based on a car, the Cherokee doesn’t have the fragile feel of a car. Instead it feels big and heavy and reassuring solid. Which it is. Though nominally a compact, a 4WD Cherokee V-6 weighs just over 4,100 lbs. – but all this unsprung mass is very effectively sorted by the suspension. You also enjoy that pleasantly authoritative, commanding view of the road that comes with being higher off the ground than surrounding traffic (well, most of it).

AT THE CURB'14 Cherokee curb 2

The Cherokee’s front end is radical. Slits for eyes – and a toothy grille. It reminds me of the old Isuzu VehiCross – but in a good way. Like the VehiCross, it’s daring. But unlike the VehiCross, it’s not bizarre. It’s the difference between Jennifer Lawrence in a bikini… and Borat in a thong.

Jeep did not carry this stylistic daring beyond the nose clip, however. The Cherokee’s flanks and tail are conventionally crossover. Nothing unattractive – just a little ordinary and something of a letdown after viewing the Jeep from head on.

Size-wise, the Cherokee, at 182 inches long overall, splits the difference between the true compacts in this segment like the Escape and CR-V (178.1 and 178.3 inches long overall, respectively) and mid-sized models like the Chevy Equinox (187.8 inches long overall).'14 Cherokee curb 1

It is also wider than all of these rivals – 73.2 inches vs. 71.6 for the CR-V, 72.6 for the RAV4, 72.4 for the Escape and 72.5 for the Equinox – and this gives it visual hunkiness the others (especially the Escape and CR-V) lack.

Legroom in both rows is pretty good – 41.1 inches up front and 40.3 in the second row. Pretty balanced might be a better way to put it. The Escape has more legroom up front (43.1 inches) but at the cost of a much tighter squeeze in the second row (36.8 inches). Same goes for the RAV: 42.6 inches up front – but 37.2 in the second row.'14 Cherokee back seats

Interestingly, the Jeep’s interior is about as spacious (passenger room-wise) as the physically larger (mid-sized) Chevy Equinox’s. Though the Equinox is almost half a foot longer, it only has 41.2 inches of legroom up front and 39.9 in the second row. However, it has 31.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind its second row – and this brings us to the Cherokee’s sole objective deficit relative to its rivals:

A shrunken trunk.

Technically, of course, it’s not a trunk. Crossovers don’t have trunks. They have cargo areas. And the Cherokee’s is smaller-than-average: 24.8 cubic feet with the second row up and 54.9 cubes maximum, with the second row folded flat. The much smaller overall CR-V has 37.2 cubes behind its second row – and 70.9 cubes total. The RAV4? 38.4 cubes behind its second row – and 73.4 if you fold them down. And the Ford Escape? 34.3 cubes behind the second row and 68.1 with them folded.

Remember: All three of these models are smaller – yet they have significantly more cargo carrying room.

THE REST'14 Cherokee SD card

Unusual standard equipment includes an  SD card reader, in addition to a USB port. You can order useful additional equipment such as heated windshield wipers (part of the Cold Weather package, which also includes heated front seats) a two-piece or panorama glass sunroof, and a perpendicular as well as parallel-parking assistant.

Trailhawk models come with a M/S-rated 17 inch wheel and tires package, tow hooks and underbody skid plates – in addition to the enhancements for the Active Drive II system previously described.'14 Cherokee Trailhawk

There’s nothing to indicate Jeep is actively considering it, but I can’t help considering what the Cherokee might be like with a version of the 3 liter diesel V-6 that’s currently available in the Grand Cherokee. Scale it down a bit (no need for 420 ft.-lbs. of torque in the smaller/lighter Cherokee) and tune it for say 40 on the highway. It ought to be doable.'14 Cherokee last

And it would a nice poke-in-the-government’s eye. Beat their CAFE number – without killing off vehicles like this.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Other than having an on-the-small-side cargo area, the new Cherokee is everything the old Liberty (and Commander) were not.

Which is probably why it will succeed where they failed.

Throw it in the Woods?

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  23 comments for “2014 Jeep Cherokee

  1. JoePA
    March 31, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    Sorry Eric but yes…”throw it in the woods”. Too many family and friends have owned Jeep products and all were dismal in quality. The Wrangler was fantastic in its rock crawling capabilities but nothing else. How many people do true off-roading rock crawling to appreciate that? In the woods and let them rust. My two cents.

    • eric
      March 31, 2014 at 3:50 pm

      I hear you, Joe.

      As nice a vehicle as this seems to be, I also would be leery about buying it, given the iffy history of Chrysler products in recent years.

      • Jason Flinders
        March 31, 2014 at 5:02 pm

        I’m sure that 9-speed 4-wheel-drive automatic transmission is going to be rugged, and inexpensive to overhaul when the time comes, right? Riggghhhht.

        My personal preference is for old-style, simpler 4WD vehicles. Currently for winter use (it saw a lot this winter!) we have an AMC Eagle — basically a 1980s-vintage Jeep drivetrain, sans low range, in a modified Hornet/Concord body shell. After decades of hard use this vehicle is still quite capable in snowy and slippery conditions and it has never needed major drivetrain work.

        The government wanted me to trade this in under their ludicrous “cash for clunkers” program for a high-mpg tin box. I told them to get stuffed.

        The main problem with these cars is that the engine is carbureted and strangled by a maze of crude emission controls. It is just crying out for fuel injection. (The hot setup for these is to transplant a 4.0 injected six with the associated electronics from a later Jeep.)

        • eric
          March 31, 2014 at 6:40 pm

          Hi Jason,

          Oh yeah. I would not be surprised if the replacement cost for that unit is $4,000 – maybe more.

          • Jason Flinders
            March 31, 2014 at 10:31 pm

            I’ve always found 3-speed automatic transmissions work just fine and are reasonable to service if and when the time comes, Chrysler Torquflites being the gold standard. (Heck, I’ve driven cars with 2-speed automatics that weren’t all that bad.)

            This 9-speed gizmo sounds like a guaranteed trip to the junkyard for these vehicles when they start getting old.

          • eric
            April 1, 2014 at 6:51 am

            Hi Jason,

            I’d one-up you. To a four-speed (three with an overdrive fourth). The OD is a real help, as far as cutting down revs (and increasing fuel economy) at speeds over 45 in most vehicles, even with an aggressive axle ratio (for improved off-the-line acceleration).

            As an example: I installed a four-speed OD (2004R) in my ’76 Trans-Am. Even with a 3.90 axle, it cruises at about 2,200 RPM at 75. If it had a three-speed (non overdrive) the engine RPM at that speed would be almost intolerably high with 3.90 gears in back.

            This is why, back in the day, cars came with either “highway” gears or “performance” gears. You had to pick – and accept the compromises.

            With OD transmissions, you can have both performance and reasonable economy (as well as much reduced wear and tear).

    • Garysco
      April 1, 2014 at 3:16 am

      That has always been jeeps’ problem. No other does as well off road, but…. I had a 93 Cherokee 4.0HO 4X4. Nothing could touch it on bad slippery roads, but what component or sub-system was not going to act right was a daily adventure.

      • eric
        April 1, 2014 at 6:32 am

        It will be interesting to see whether the Fiat Infusion improves Chrysler products’ long-haul reliability . . . or not.

  2. Brandonjin
    March 31, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    I wouldn’t say the first generation liberty was a failure, but they definitely neglected it for 2008-2013.

    Many people compare the front styling to be as radical as the Aztek. I don’t mind it, but a refresh with more conservative styling will probably help it.

    Always glad to see a 6 cylinder survive. I’d buy it just for that reason. By the way, I think you’re onto something with putting the CRD into this.

    • eric
      March 31, 2014 at 6:51 pm

      Bob’s quite something, isn’t he?

      The interesting thing is I’ve been accused of being a “liberal” before. Perhaps they mean in the old (Jeffersonian) sense. If so, it’s an honorific I’ll gladly accept.

      Bob strikes me as the “good Republican” type. He is put off by my antipathy toward corporate rent seeking – which, to the Republican mind, is somehow not of the same species as “welfare” for the poor.

      • Brandonjin
        March 31, 2014 at 7:17 pm

        lol, I think you’re in the wrong section Eric. :P

      • Mike in Spotsy
        March 31, 2014 at 8:33 pm

        Conservatives will call you a liberal; liberals will call you a conservative. Most people seem to be incapable of getting past all of the false dichotomies that have been constructed: democrat/republican, liberal/conservative, black/white, man/woman, white collar/blue collar, rich/poor, American/non American, ad nauseum. It’s all an artificial construct designed to keep people bickering among themselves and distract them from the real enemy. And as an added bonus for the state, it gets to mediate all of the resulting disputes, thereby constantly gaining power.

        • eric
          April 1, 2014 at 7:09 am

          Hi Mike,

          Yup!

          I parted ways with several of my “good Republican” friends – including one I’d known since I was a teenager – as I parted ways with them over their rabid American Exceptionalism, war-lust, Family Values shibboleths and barely sub-rosa yearning for a Christian theocracy. I suppose they, in their turn, could not abide my equally rabid rejection of American Exceptionalism, war lust, indifference to Family Values (what values? Whose values)? and unmitigated horror at the prospect of a Christian theocracy.

          Meanwhile, liberals (modern usage) disgust me equally. They present themselves as amicable and soft and kind and “helpful” … always at the barrel of a gun. A gun which they hold – and which you’re not allowed to hold.

          Where’s that FTL drive again?

          • Steve
            April 3, 2014 at 10:39 am

            As a highly orthodox southern baptist I agree with everything you just said. What they want is a theocracy (direct rule by God). What they will get is some mad “mouthpiece” imposing his own tyranny doing all sorts of things in God’s name. Warmongering busybodies at play. Most of these “christians” will wash out when a real crisis happens not unlike in 5th century Rome. Hence Augustine’s City of God.

          • eric
            April 3, 2014 at 2:02 pm

            Thanks, Steve… it’s always refreshing to find sanity out there!

  3. chiph
    March 31, 2014 at 10:25 pm

    Eric – word is that Chrysler is working on software updates on the ZF 9-speed to improve the shift quality.

    I think I know where they got the styling for the back end of the Cherokee — the Subaru B9 Tribeca. It also had a controversial “schnoz” on it…

    http://imgur.com/9AxXETA

    • eric
      April 1, 2014 at 6:57 am

      Hi Chip,

      Yup!

      I hope they get it into the pipeline soon. There’s nothing wrong with the 9-speed’s operation in most normal driving. It’s just that it’s a little silly to give drivers the facade of manual control when the computer allows virtually no driver control of the up and downshifts in gears 6-9 under most conditions.

      Ditto on the Tribeca, too.

  4. Helot
    March 31, 2014 at 10:41 pm

    I did like the look of the front.
    From the side, it looked like most, a tennis shoe.
    Hot chicks still look good driving them though. Imho.

    There were three paragraphs that screamed out to me: “Tell eric to get a track set up off-road to run these vehicles through!” …. “And, catch it on video! Or, at least a few good photos?”

    Paragraphs such as this one: “That plus 8.6 inches of ground clearance and a set of good tires will get you through almost anything. Or put another way, through things that would cripple most other crossovers.”

    That would be nice to see.

    But I suppose they do not want you getting it dirty and full of mud or rocks?

    That’s too bad.

    Also, @JoePA , The Wrangler was fantastic at going through mud as well. A farmer near me had a track set up on the outskirts of his farm,… through the mud, and over the hills… over between the trees. (Reminds me of a song.)

    Most vehicles had troubles here and there, but not the Jeep. I felt pretty good that my two door S-10 could get through it where most failed. It, was-not-easy.

    I’ve Never seen a Wrangler stuck in a ditch in the Winter, either. So they might be pretty good in the snow, too. But I don’t know.

    And, HA! Bob’s *is* quite something. …Why do so many people have to be so freaking clueless?

    ANyway,for new cars, I kind of like this: “a rotary knob on the center console for Snow, Sand/Mud as well as Sport and Automatic.” Perfect for the wife.

    • eric
      April 1, 2014 at 6:39 am

      I actually have the field – and could drive the Jeep out there (it’s cool with them – Jeep. Expected, in fact, so long as it’s not deliberately abusive). But I need help – someone to do the filming.

      If Dom were closer (he’s 200 miles up the road) that would work.

      But it’s just me holding my little Contour Roam thing….

  5. MikePizzo
    April 1, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    Yeah, Jeeps are not famous for their longevity. Here’s the trick that works for me….don’t keep them too long.

    First Jeep was a circa 1978 Cherokee. That thing ran great. Had a lot of engine too. But it got the same mpg as my motorhome does now (8.5 mpg.) So I sold it quick.

    My other Jeep was a 1999 Grand Cherokee with Quadra Drive. Ran great, was phenomenal off road. Around 70k miles, however, the glitches started. Power window and door locks….ignition. So I traded it before any of that complex 4wd drivetrain could break. So both of my Jeep experiences were enjoyable.

    I wouldn’t hesitate to give this new one a try. But I’d unload it before it hit 65K.

    • eric
      April 2, 2014 at 5:47 am

      Glad you liked that, Pete!

      And: We Libertarians aren’t scary. We believe in live – and let live. Not a bad concept, is it?

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