New Cherokee brings modern look, but same off-road capability
Some folks had their doubts about Chrysler and Jeep when Italian carmaker Fiat assumed control of them a few years back. Now Fiat owns them outright and the new product parade can’t have been more impressive.
Latest on the list is the new Jeep Cherokee. It’s an old name, but that’s all that’s old here. Thankfully the looks are all new with thin lights front and rear and a modern interpretation of Jeep’s 7 portal grille. Jeep loyalists that think all Jeeps should still look like World War II Willys will just have to get over it. Besides, the Jeep Luddites still have the Wrangler to take rock crushing.
Yet because most folks Don’t drive their SUVs over cliffs and through mud bogs, the new Cherokee is a welcome replacement for the top-heavy, gas-sucking Liberty. Cherokee is refined in looks and execution. It’s a fine on-road vehicle that oh, by the way, still could be taken off road and slopped around a bit.
First let’s look at the new mechanicals that help make this Jeep, which is based on the Dodge Dart platform, such a step up from Liberty.
Atop the efficiency list is the combination of its 2.4-liter MultiAir2 Tigershark I4 engine that creates 184 horsepower, and the segment’s first 9-speed automatic transmission. That’s right, 9 speeds. Most vehicles now use a 6-speed automatic, but Fiat puts a ZF-developed 9-speed into Cherokee. The upshot is not only decent power, but smooth fuel-efficient application of that to the road. The only hiccup I experienced was occasionally on a cold start when the car would hesitate in first and second gear and bog just a bit. All was fine once the SUV warmed.
How efficient is this combo?
The Cherokee is rated at 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway by the EPA, about 40% better than the former Liberty. Oh, and if you need more power, Jeep will drop a 3.2-liter V6 into the top three Cherokee models, the Latitude, Limited and TrailHawk, which is most equipped for off-roading. That V6 makes 271 horses and still gets 30% better fuel economy than the thirsty V6 that was available in Liberty. For the record I got 23.7 mpg in extremely cold temps and driving in a fair amount of snow.
So just from a powertrain standpoint the Cherokee is a major step forward. But wait, there’s more!
All Cherokees, including the base Sport model, also feature Selec-Terrain, a traction control system with an easy to use dial on the console. It can either be left alone in “automatic” mode to let the wheels and engine sensors decide what traction you need, or dialed in for Snow, Sport, or Sand/Mud. Some models also have a setting for crawling over rocks. Not surprisingly I had the chance to use the Snow mode during this mid-winter drive and indeed, traction was good.
Further on the functional side, the Cherokee handles well with a moderate to light feel to the steering wheel, which in the tested “deep cherry red crystal pearl” Latitude was wrapped in a thick leather. The Cherokee feels relatively light on its wheels for a small SUV that weighs 4,044 lbs. Many small SUVs are in the 3,500-lb. range. It corners well with little of the top-heavy feel so common in Wranglers. Turning radius seems a little large in parking lot maneuvers. Cherokee’s turning radius is 37.7 feet, while a Subaru Forester, for example, has a turning radius of 34.8 feet.
Ride also is not as city-fied as I’d hoped. I’d like some more dampening on frost heaves, but Cherokee still delivers some rump thumping there. While well-controlled and comfortable on the highway, I found myself trying to dodge the larger heaves or slowing down to limit the bumps.
Climbing into the Cherokee isn’t difficult, as its step up is moderate like most small utes. The Latitude does however, have 8.2 inches of ground clearance to help you if you go off trail. A few small utes have more, but quite a few of the more wagon-like crossovers have less.
Cherokee’s interior is as modern and refined as any in the small-ute segment and features what some call a spread-winged eagle layout for the dash. As far as I can tell it just means that the design is clean and well laid out with a wider “wingspread” for the center stack than some competitors.
I liked the gauges and clarity and ease of function. Best of all, the touchscreen radio (no nav in the test model) was not only large and clear, but you could activate it while wearing gloves. Most touchscreens require you to touch them bare handed to select settings or radio stations, not always optimum when it’s sub-zero outside.
The test ute had a black textured dash with black and gray cloth seats and tannish headliner. There’s thin brushed copper-tone trim around the air ducts, center screen, by the console shifter and on the tilt/telescope steering wheel.
Seating is extremely comfortable in Cherokee, several riders commenting on how well contoured the front seats felt. Leather seats are available and come heated and cooled on the Limited model. I also like that the rear seats slide fore and aft to allow you to create a comfortable space if you have more passengers than cargo. We had three adults in the Jeep and everyone said leg and headroom in back were generous.
The Latitude and higher-end Cherokees also come with a fold-flat front passenger’s seat to increase cargo space and the seat includes storage under the seat’s cushion. With all the seats in place there’s still a reasonable 29.7 cubic feet of cargo room under the hatch. The test ute had a power hatch too, part of a $1,995 comfort and convenience package that added a bunch of niceties.
Key among them is a backup camera, automatic lights and keyless entry fob with remote start feature. Other upgrades via the package included an automatic temperature control system with dual zone control up front, plus auto-dimming rearview mirror with a built-in microphone. The 8-way power driver seat with 4-way power lumbar support also is part of the deal. A Uconnect system adds $500 that the electronically literate crowd will enjoy and Cherokee has a USB, SD and auxiliary ports, plus charging ability.
While the test ute had no sunroof, you can get the optional CommandView panoramic sunroof or a Sky Slider, full-length canvas roof to further enhance your outdoor enjoyment of the Jeep. The tester did have sun visors that slide though and a button on the dash to turn off the large touchscreen, in case you want to dim down the interior as you drive at night.
For the record the tested I4-equipped Cherokee will tow a modest 2,000 lbs., but the V6-equipped models will pull 4,500 lbs., best in class for a small ute. The Latitude also upgrades to 17-inch aluminum wheels, while the Limited models bump that up to 18-inchers.
A base Sport with 2-wheel drive starts at $23,990 and a 4-wheel drive Sport lists at $25,990. It’s not much more to move up to the tested Latitude, with a base price of $26,495 and $995 delivery fee. With options the test ute hit $29,985. Moving up to the Limited will put you at nearly the same spot, but you won’t need to add many options and you’ll get the heated and cooled leather seats.
Finally, the Cherokee TrailHawk is really more intended for off-road use and has a bevy of upgrades, including the V6 and a more stout off-roading selector system, to allow you to do serious mud and rock crunching. It starts at $30,490.
Cherokee joins the other small ute standouts such as Subaru’s Forester, Ford’s Escape and Honda’s CR-V. But if you intend to go off-road regularly, well, the Jeep should get your first look.
FAST Stats: 2014 Jeep Cherokee Latitude 4X4
Hits: Way better gas mileage than old Liberty model, modern looks, adjustable 4-wheel-drive system, good handling. Great seats and dash with radio touchscreen that works even if you’re wearing gloves.
Misses: Ride leans toward traditional Jeep rock n roll and the turning radius could be tighter, which would help when parking.
Made in: Toledo, Ohio
Engine: 2.4-liter MultiAir2 Tigershark I4, 184 hp
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Weight: 4,044 lbs.
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Length: 182.2 in.
Max. Tow: 2,000 lbs. (I4) 4,500 lbs. (V6)
Cargo: 29.7 cu.ft.
Base Price: $26,495
Dealer’s Price: N.A.
Comfort/convenience group (backup camera, power liftgate, remote start, keyless entry, auto temp. control w/dual zone control, auto-dimming rearview mirror w/microphone, power 8-way driver seat, power 4-way driver lumbar, auto. headlights, security alarm, satellite radio, universal garage door opener, tonneau cover, cargo net), $1,995
Uconnect system, $500
Test vehicle: $29,985
Sources: Jeep, http://www.kbb.com
Photos: Courtesy of Jeep