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The Jeep Cherokee is back for the 2014 model year, but it's nothing like the squared-off, bare-bones SUV that exited the market back in 2001. This time around, Chrysler is putting one of the best-known nameplates in the world to better use: it's beefing up its crossover game with a vehicle that can really bridge the on- and off-road worlds. A good trail blazer and a very capable street performer, the Cherokee may be the first compact SUV to do both equally well.After a decade on hiatus, the Cherokee is back for 2014, and now that we've driven it, we're admittedly more impressed than we thought we would be. It's a turducken of a crossover, a city-friendly crossover stuffed with the heart of a Trail Rated Jeep. From the inside out, it does a convincing job of delivering Jeep essentials--ruggedness and a general zest for things outdoorsy. It even delivers a lot more of the things that drove some Jeep fans outside the home to places like Sportage and Santa Fe.
It doesn't do so with the greatest of ease with its sheetmetal, though, where it flutters between brain-fighting experimentation and duller design by default. This Liberty replacement, Dart derivative, Compass mea culpa wants to define a new era in SUV design, but gives up about a fifth of the way through. The front end splits its headlamps and underplays the grille--the one design detail that connotes Jeep no matter where it's seen, around the world. Those are unforgivable but reworkable flaws. The rest of the body? It's warmed-over leftovers, with heavy reliance on crossover fallbacks in glass area and fender sculpting, rehashed Hyundai. The cabin does paramedic duty here, healing up all that poorly thought-out stretching with some palliative shapes and some truly nice finishes and Easter-egg touches (seriously, it's a Where's Waldo? of hidden Jeeps inside).
Jeep calls the new Cherokee a mid-sizer, however it’s really sized quite closely with compact crossovers like the Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester, Ford Escape, and Toyota RAV4—at about 182 inches long, with a wheelbase of about 106.3 inches, it's only a few inches longer than those models, much smaller than a Chevrolet Equinox. There’s no third-row seat, but this is a roomy five-seater, with a back seat that’s suitable for adults—or even asking three to sit across for shorter distances--but the jutting front headrests might enforce a slouching position that robs some of that rear-seat space. The second row slides fore and aft to choose between legroom and cargo space, and there’s a handy organizer for the more retentive fans.
While several models in this class have gone all-four-cylinder, the Cherokee offers a choice between a four-cylinder or a V-6. The standard 2.4-liter in-line four turns in a well-adjusted 184 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque; it's plenty so long as there's less weight aboard, and it's plenty smooth and preternaturally quiet, given its world-engine roots. A new 3.2-liter V-6 makes 271 hp and 239 lb-ft of torque; it's torquey and generally happy with whatever work you throw its way.
The Cherokee also sports a new ZF nine-speed automatic, with a lower first gear for quick takeoffs, a handful of mid-range gears, and a trio of tall overdrive upper gears for good highway mileage. The top figure of 31 mpg highway still isn't stellar for the class, but it's good; the powerful 4WD versions post combined numbers in the low-20-mpg range. With the V-6 and a Trailer Tow Package, the Cherokee can pull 4,500 pounds. No matter which version, the Cherokee has fairly numb but accurate steering, with a well-tuned and well-damped ride.
The 2014 Jeep Cherokee will be offered in Sport, Latitude, Limited, and Trailhawk editions, with Jeep's Trail-Rated badge applying to the Trailhawk, which gets a one-inch lift, unique front and rear fascias, an Active Drive Lock and locking rear differential, added skid plates, and red tow hooks. As with other Jeep models, there are several different four-wheel drive systems, including Active Drive I, and Active Drive II (adding a dual-range transfer case). All models with 4WD have the Selec-Terrain system, with separate ’smart’ modes for Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud, and Rock, and in low-range models with four-cylinder engines, its crawl ratio is an astonishingly good 56:1, which Jeep says is 90 percent better than that of the Liberty.
Crash-test scores earn the Cherokee four stars from the NHTSA, and a Top Safety Pick award from the IIHS. Adaptive Cruise Control-Plus is available, for the first time in any Chrysler or Jeep vehicle. The system can bring the vehicle to a complete stop; meanwhile, a Forward Collision Warning-Plus system will help prime the braking system, warn audibly and visually, and even deploy Advanced Brake Assist to quicken braking times. Another first in the Cherokee is the ParkSense Parallel/Perpendicular Park Assist feature, which will steer the vehicle into a driver-designated space. Blind-spot monitoring, Lane Departure Warning-Plus, and Rear Cross Path detection are also on offer, as is a rearview camera. Electronic stability control is standard, along with ten airbags.
Highlights from the features list include a CommandView panoramic sunroof and Sky Slider roof, with memory heated/ventilated seats, and infotainment systems include 8.4-inch Uconnect media center, plus Uconnect Access via Mobile; top models include a full-color reconfigurable LED instrument cluster.
The 2014 Cherokee is priced from $23,990 for a base Sport with front-wheel drive; the V-6 Trailhawk is priced from $30,990.
- Reaches for a new look
- Roomy, family-friendly interior
- Front seat comfort
- We'd recommend either engine
- Nine (!) speeds
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- Doesn't go all-in with styling
- Steering feels numb
- Four-cylinder gets too heavy with four-wheel drive
- Gas mileage is just okay, nine-speed nothwithstanding
- Rear seat room seems slim