In the Jeep world, what goes around, comes around, and then goes around again.
The Jeep Liberty replaced the Cherokee and, now, 11 years later, the Liberty retires and the Cherokee returns with an all-new look, all new engines and a unique powertrain setup.
Jeep has dropped the same design fits all sizes philosophy that created the last generation Liberty, the tiny Patriot, and now defunct oversized Commander.
Now, new Jeeps appear to share some common features, but have their own personalities and looks. The 2014 Cherokee carries that new tradition even further with its sharp-cut hood and LED daytime running lights, and quick-looking stance. Rarely do Jeeps look fast while they're parked, but the Cherokee does. It clearly keeps its Jeep DNA with the seven-slotted grille and trapezoidal wheel wells, but there's something different about this Jeep.
When it was first shown at the New York Auto Show, many people dismissed it as the second coming of the Compass. Those detractors are wrong. The 182-inch-long Cherokee is simply the best dual-purpose small SUV available today. It has many carlike features and smooth ride to allow it to take on the likes of the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, and Toyota RAV4 -- America's volume vehicles for small families.
But it also has trucklike characteristics, such as 4500-pound towing, a 56:1 crawl ratio, and a true 4-Lo to give it incredible off-road capabilities. Match it up off-road against the Subaru Forester, and the match would be as fair as the New York Giants against the New England Patriots in a Super Bowl.
On road, where this Cherokee really calls home, I'd park it near the top of the list. That's a big improvement, considering the lackluster Liberty at the end of its run, when it aged as well as Keith Richards.
This vehicle should age better. The key to the Cherokee's success resides in the all-new I-4 and V-6 powertrains. The 2.4-liter Tigershark MultiAir 2 I-4 creates plenty of juice with 184 horsepower and 171 lb-ft of torque. The electro-hydraulic variable valve-lift system, known as MultiAir, uses a column of oil to actuate the engine's intake values and create a 7.5 percent more efficient engine. Jeep estimates the Cherokee will achieve 31 mpg on the highway and have an overall 45 percent increase in fuel economy. However, Jeep did not provide other mileage numbers, saying EPA testing was not complete.
More importantly, the Tigershark still provides decent pickup for the Cherokee. On the road, the acceleration is smooth, especially considering the new 9-speed automatic transmission. The calibration is also well tuned, allowing for the Cherokee to adjust to acceleration and deceleration demands quickly.
However, I preferred the new 3.2-liter Pentastar V-6 under the Cherokee's hood. A smaller-bore version of the award-winning 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, this engine has that truck-like oomph with 271 horsepower and 239 lb-ft of torque. It's gutsy.
The new front independent and rear independent multilink suspension provide an excellent ride on all terrains. Heading through fast corners, the Cherokee's body remains relatively flat and the increased body stiffness gives the Cherokee an extremely quiet ride. Its 106.3-inch wheelbase also seemed to be just about right, smoothing out the ride, but not making this small SUV overreact to driver inputs.
The electric power steering provides a nicely weighted feel and good return to center. It's easy to hold a line through a corner without sawing at the wheel, but also loosens up when off road, which is important.
While the 9-speed automatic transmission on a $24,000 vehicle is impressive, the unique drive system is ingenious. The four-wheel-drive system is based on front-drive engines and transaxles. However, Jeep devised a rear axle disconnect that can stop sending power to the rear wheels when not needed.
But this system is much more than an all-wheel-drive system that Jeep attempts to pawn off as 4x4. It's the real thing. There are three drive systems ranging from Jeep Active Drive I, featuring a one-speed power transfer unit, to the most advanced Jeep Active Drive Lock, the most robust off-road system, which includes a locking rear differential, a low range set of gears, and a two-speed power transfer unit.
All of these different set ups allow customers to select a Cherokee that will meet their needs best. Car campers and highway cruisers should pick the Cherokee Sport. Hardcore Jeep fans might want to consider the Trailhawk.
Furthermore, every Cherokee will include Jeep's Selec-Terrain traction control system that adjusts a dozen different onboard systems from throttle response and transmission shifts to wheel spin and stability control to make the 4x4 system operate in any condition. For example, in Mud/Sand mode, Cherokee can send nearly 100 percent of the torque to the rear axle if needed, whereas in Snow mode, the torque split is 60 percent front and 40 percent rear.
Inside the Cherokee, the interior feels more Grand Cherokee than Wrangler. It's comfortable, complete, and well laid out. There are storage cubbies throughout the cabin, including a smart storage area on the dash and a hidden spot revealed by lifting the front passenger's seat cushion. The center stack includes a spot specifically to hold a person's cell phone and the USB connection is right next to it.
Sitting in the driver's seat, the Cherokee also has great visibility outside, an important feature on any vehicle but even more so when off-roading. Jeep uses Chrysler's UConnect system that includes an 8.4-inch color touchscreen mounted high in the dash. The system includes popular apps taken from smartphones and placed on the big screen. It can be operated by voice or by touch. The system also allows for a Bluetooth phone connection for hands-free operation as well as read text messages out loud, something one particular mayoral candidate might not approve of.
There are all of the creature comforts a person could want inside the Cherokee including the ability to turn this SUV into a Wi-Fi hotspot. The Cherokee also offers a 7-inch display screen on the instrument panel that the driver can configure to display different information.
The second row, which can move fore and aft as well as recline, folds flat in a 60/40 split and provides 54.9 cubic feet of storage space. Keep the second row up and there's still nearly 30 cubic feet of storage space, more than enough room for a family of four to go car camping for the weekend.
The key to the Cherokee is its versatility. In the past, Jeep could not find a good way to perform well on and off the road. Even the original Cherokee was a fine off-road machine, but tended to abuse drivers on city streets like an angry rogue police officer practicing his backhand.
But this Cherokee is different. It has adopted the characteristics of its much bigger Grand Cherokee's namesake, but gets there in a different way and with a different look.
Change is good, especially when the change results in the 2014 Jeep Cherokee.
|2014 Jeep Cherokee |
|BASE PRICE|| $23,990 - $30,490|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT ||front-engine, FWD, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE ENGINES ||2.4L/184-hp/171-lb-ft MultiAir I4; 3.2L/271-hp/239-lb-ft DOHC V6|
|TRANSMISSION TRANSMISSIONS|| 9-speed automatic|
|CURB WEIGHT|| 3800 lb to 4100 lb (mfr) |
|WHEELBASE ||106.3 in|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT ||182 x 73.2-74.9 x 66.2-67.8 in|
|0-60 MPH || sec (mfr est) |
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON|| 18-26 city / 25-31 hwy (MT est) |
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY|| kW-hrs/100 miles (est)|
|CO2 EMISSIONS || lb/mile (est) |
|ON SALE IN U.S.|| Fall, 2013|