At first glance, the new 2014 Jeep Cherokee seems like it won’t likely win any beauty prizes. The new design is as polarizing as it is purposeful. Not in the traditional boxy, no frills sense of purposeful, but as far as efficiency, it is a very slick body shape. I’ll be honest… the first time I saw a photo of it, I did not like it at all. It has since then slowly started to grow on me, and in person, it’s far more appealing.
I had a chance to sample the all-new machine. I didn’t drive one of them though, I drove three of them.
Some big news lies with this new Jeep’s powertrain. It has a new nine-speed transmission that gives the Cherokee a claimed 45 percent improvement in fuel efficiency over the outgoing Liberty. The Cherokee comes equipped with the 184-horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque 2.4-liter Tigershark MultiAir I-4 engine. That’s exactly the engine found on the Latitude model I initially sampled.
For those seeking a more powerful option, the Pentastar V6 offers up 271 horsepower and 239 pound-feet of torque, and it’s available with all trims minus the Sport model. The Tigershark 2.4 seemed to have adequate power for starting from a stop, merging, and passing. With the smaller motor, however, I found that the nine-speed seemed to hunt for the right gear when going up steeper hills. It was as if the unit had gone down a gear too low a few times before returning to a higher gear. Going downhill it was completely smooth and unnoticeable just like any other automatic transmission.
The first model that I drove on the street was the Latitude trim, which is a moderately equipped, middle-of-the-road variety. It will likely prove to be the most popular. In a way, that’s sort of a shame, because the more off-road in trim and location that it gets, the better the Cherokee looks.
Out on the street, I started by taking the new Cherokee through the tight and twisting blind switchbacks of the Santa Monica Mountains at speeds of around 30-45mph, slowing to 15mph when required. The cornering was flat and car-like, but I found myself braking into some of the sharper turns, partially due to my unfamiliarity with the wonderful yet stomach-twisting blind corners, and partially due to some light understeer.
One place the new Cherokee really shines is in the interior. There are 5 environment-inspired interior color themes catering to different tastes but all having a premium appearance and feel. The seats were comfortable on two-hour stints and did a great job of holding me in place. Where this really came in handy was when I climbed into a Pentastar-equipped Trailhawk edition and tried out the off-road course.
Before diving into some off-road fun, however, I wanted to take a deeper look at the interior. In the past, my experience with digital speedometers and newer digital gauges in general has been fairly negative. With cars like the Civic, I’ve had trouble seeing the readout on bright sunny days. This did not seem to be the case with the TFT (thin film transistor) instrument cluster in the Cherokee. The stereo seemed to work well, offering a lot of satellite radio stations. I never really had to think about it, there was always a good station available. It was just set it and go.
One thing that did often get in my way was the phone controls on the steering wheel. In their efforts to make everything within easy reach, Jeep may have gone a little too far putting technology in the way of driving. It didn’t stop me from piloting or enjoying the vehicle but it was a little confusing at first when the Cherokee kept telling me that there was no mobile phone connected, and I didn’t know that I’d asked for one.
The Uconnect navigation system worked well at telling me exactly where I was at on the street, but finding upcoming cross streets was a little bit of a challenge. For some reason, the system seemed to bring up the names of parallel streets before it would show perpendicular ones, which isn’t really helpful when you’re trying to find the next turn. This mostly showed up in the more grid-like areas and was only a problem when I was looking for the streets on the screen myself, without being guided by the navigation program.
I really like the way the inside of the passenger seat has the in-seat container that was previously seen in the Dodge Dart. Smart use of space.
The Cherokee has a few ways that you can feed it media through the center console, as well as charge your phone. Here you can also see the Jeep Active Drive mode selector, in this case set to Sand/Mud just behind the shift selector handle.
Enough about the gauges and navigation though, because it was time to get this Jeep dirty. The tool for this task is that aforementioned TrailHawk. This Cherokee has much more aggressive approach and departure angles (30 deg. approach and departure, 23 deg. breakover), and comes equipped with the Lock version of their Jeep Active Drive four wheel drive system to enhance its traction and climbing abilities. The ride height is also two inches higher thanks to an additional inch in off-road tire and an additional inch in suspension travel.
As Doctor Emmett Brown once said in Back to the Future “Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads.”
I took two runs on the dirt trail, once as a co-driver and once on my own. In both instances I was thankful for the side bolsters holding me in place. With the mixture of experienced and inexperienced off-roaders, such as myself, the course was set up at an intermediate level. There were times when a tire would be off the ground due to the deep offset holes in the trail but the Cherokee just kept on trucking along. The place I was most impressed was when we went down a short steep hill that was finished with what looked like a straight one-foot drop at the bottom.
Notice how the Cherokee that’s visible out of the side window is on a completely different plane. While easing down the drop, we were hanging from the seat belts!
The Cherokee eased down the slope, differentials clicking away, and when we got to the drop, the angle was so severe that we were hanging by the seat belts! We used the Selec-Speed Control set on Hill-descent Control throughout the course, which allowed me to choose between six different speed ratios. They’re not exactly gears, but they allow six levels of low speed crawling for going up and down the steep hills and sharp turns. You just select a speed and steer because the low speed ratios crawl the Cherokee along slowly enough that you don’t really need to use the gas or the brakes.
I came away with the feeling that this isn’t a Jeep intended for traditional Jeep-buyers. It doesn’t look anything like a traditional Jeep on first impressions. There are traditional design touches throughout, such as the trapezoidal wheel wells and seven slot grill, but you really have to look for them. This seems more for those with an active lifestyle, possibly bicyclists or hikers, people who you would normally see driving a Subaru. That’s not to say that they’ve made a mistake, as Subaru is selling better than even Subaru expected this year.
Available Trim Levels
• 2014 Jeep Cherokee Sport starting at $22,995 ($24,495 with 4×4)
• 2014 Jeep Cherokee Latitude starting at $24,495 ($26,495 with 4×4)
• 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited starting at $27,995 ($29,495 with 4×4)
• 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk starting at $29,995 (4×4 included)
• Pentastar 271hp and 239lb.-ft V6 available on all trims except Sport, for an additional $1,495
Full Flickr slideshow available here
[Disclosure: Chrysler flew me down to beautiful Westlake Village, California to drive the new 2014 Cherokee. This was my first press trip, and while there I got to drive through the hills around Thousand Oaks and Malibu every day until I was sick to my stomach (a first for me to do that to myself). Though I will say that I didn’t let that slow me down much. It was a total blast! These were the roads that dreams are made of. I met a lot of nice people, drove off road for the first time, stayed in a very nice hotel, and got to eat lots of delicious food.]
Photos Copyright 2013 Hooniverse/Bryce Womeldurf