2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Long-Term Update 2
Transmission Tuning and Other Musings
One of the advantages of Motor Trend's long-term fleet program is that by spending a full year (or longer, in some cases) with a vehicle, chaperones can get some deeper perspective on what that vehicle is really like to live with on a daily basis. In sharp contrast to what we staffers call "short term" vehicles -- cars, SUVs, and trucks that live with us for just a week or two for quick evaluations and testing -- our long-termers are still in service after the new car smell has worn off and the initial excitement of driving an unfamiliar vehicle has subsided.
With four months in service, the honeymoon period for the Jeep Cherokee and me has definitely ended. That's not to say that I don't like the Little Jeep That Could – quite the contrary. But, as with virtually every long-termer that's passed through my custody, there are niggles I notice each time I climb aboard. For example, I'd love it if the steering column tilted another inch or two downwards. I also wish I could push on the fuel filler door, rather than a button in the cabin, to open it. Little things like that.
But, the most relevant of these is that the nine-speed automatic gearbox isn't quite as sharp as I'd like it to be. From the start, I noticed some hesitation – a perceived amount of "slop" in the drivetrain – especially when heading off from a stop when pointed up an incline. It seemed the initial bit of throttle resulted in no forward acceleration, only holding the Jeep in place before, snap!, the drivetrain hooked up and moves forward with a small jolt.
Moreover, the Jeep seems reluctant to shift into that coveted ninth gear on the freeway. It seems to take speeds significantly above the legal limit in most cases to reach top gear in Auto mode, and in Manual mode a shift up from eighth often results in the shift indicator on the instrument panel registering ninth gear, but without any corresponding drop in engine speed. Strange. Of course, the Jeep is very eager to get up to eighth gear whenever possible, but a little too eager on hilly sections of road. With cruise control on, this results in a tiring cycle of the transmission dropping up to three gears to maintain a selected speed, a shift back to eight when that speed is reached, then a steady bleed-off of momentum until the triple-gear drop is needed again. The cure is to select Sport mode on the drive dial or throw the Jeep into Manual mode so it holds a lower gear, but it doesn't feel as if I should have to do that. It can also be difficult to maintain a steady 70 mph without feeling like I'm prodding the throttle occasionally.
Fortunately, Jeep is said to have a transmission software re-flash prepared to remedy these quirks. In fact, I drove a 2015 Cherokee recently that did in fact feel much better, so I'm guessing this is the fix I'm after. The Jeep is currently at the dealership getting that reflash, and a little something extra. My Trailhawk wasn't ordered with the optional tow package, and a hitch-mount bike rack is the most effective way of being able to carry a couple road or mountain bikes to the nearest trails. The dealer is installing one of those as well. Once it gets back, the Jeep will get its first taste of towing, as one of our staff photographers intends to borrow it to tow a small camping trailer on an interstate road trip. Stay tuned for a recap of his experience.