The Jeep Cherokee is one of the best-known nameplates in the SUV world, but it’s been gone since 2001…until now. It’s back for 2014, and this time, it’s a lot more family-friendly.
So does it live up to the legend while spanning on- and off-road worlds more neatly? And how does it stack up against the competition such as the Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester?
MORE: Read our 2014 Jeep Cherokee review
The exterior of the Cherokee might be the definition of polarizing. It’s unexpected, awe-inducing—and not entirely in a great way. Our main issue with the styling is this front end. Breaking up those LED running-light eyebrows from the headlights sounds like a clever idea, and it looks cool after dark, but in daylight it looks tired...and we like our Jeeps to look wide awake. From the side it resembles a Hyundai Santa Fe and the rear is somewhat like a Kia Sorento. Guys, if you are going all-in on a new shape, go all in.
The interior's better. There’s a lot of soft-touch material here, and everything is pleasing to the touch. There are several handsome color schemes, and there are a ton of cool Easter Eggs in the design—such as the 1941 Jeep Willys at the base of the windshield.
The ads call the Cherokee a mid-size crossover, but honestly, it’s not much bigger inside than most of the compact crossovers like the Subaru Forester. Our favorite spot in most Cherokee models is the front seats. It’s just on the roomy side of compact, though bigger drivers will make contact with the center console and door panels.
On paper the Cherokee has about the same rear-seat room as the Grand Cherokee, but in reality they are worlds apart. Once the driver puts this seat back a little you’ll start getting cramped on legroom. You can mitigate this by sliding the back seat a few inches on its track, but then you cut into cargo room.
ALSO READ: The Most Unusual Car Features Of All Time
The high cargo load floor is the result of the four-wheel-drive components that ride beneath it, and those components also trim down total cargo space. But hey, there’s a nifty cargo management system with Jeep grilles on the plastic. The glovebox can hold an iPad, and there’s a bin on top of the center stack that you can throw some stuff in while on the go.
When it comes to safety the Cherokee has you covered. The IIHS named it a Top Safety Pick with good scores across the board, and the NHTSA gave it four stars. We like that Bluetooth is standard, and there’s fairly good visibility here. Unfortunately a rearview camera is standard only on the Limited model, but it is an option on all the others. There’s other safety tech available such as blind spot monitors, adaptive cruise control that can bring it to a full stop, and a lane-departure and a forward-collision warning system. The only thing on our wish list would be a surround-view camera system which would be awesome for off-roading.
The base engine in all Cherokees is our tester’s 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, and frankly it’s the best-sounding Chrysler four-cylinder in a long time. It’s reasonably powerful with 184 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque. It’s also eerily vibration-free and is capable of 25 mpg combined in front-wheel-drive configurations. Unlike most of the competition there's a V-6 engine option here. It’s a 3.2-liter V-6 that makes a very strong 271 horsepower and 239 pound-feet of torque with a 22-mpg combined rating. The V-6’s responses are quick and confidence-inspiring.
It doesn’t matter which engine you choose, both are connected to a new ZF nine-speed automatic transmission with a very low take-off gear and a few very tall overdrive gears for fuel economy. Chrysler says it has more than 40 shift patterns, but what it really lacks is true control. There are no paddle shifters here, and while you can change the gears with the lever, at the end of the day the transmission is just ignoring you and going with its programming.
The Cherokee’s ride and handling are a pleasant surprise. We were prepared to be underwhelmed, but the the Cherokee rides very well in most versions with smooth dampening over most urban streets. This Trailhawk is less vulnerable to road rash—and might have an easier time with deep snow, too—thanks to its off-road tires and inch higher ride height. Yes, there’s real four-wheel drive with a locking rear differential and crawl ratios. We're not sure if the Subaru Forester could keep up with the Cherokee off-road.