2014 Jeep Cherokee first drive
Liberty replacement transformed on-road, still talented off-road
Photo: Jeremy Sinek
Westlake Hills, Calif. – The only surprising thing about the return of the Cherokee name is that it ever left in the first place. It’s not as if the nameplate was tainted by negative brand equity. The previous 1984-2001 Cherokee was a real Jeep that arguably sparked the mainstreaming of SUVs long before the advent of the one that usually gets the credit, the Ford Explorer. Nonetheless, when Jeep redesigned the Cherokee for 2002 it gave it a new name, Liberty.
Although the previous Cherokee was hardly a crossover as we know it today, it was one of the earliest SUVs to adopt a feature that has become one of the hallmarks of crossoverness – a unitary body.
All new for 2014, the reborn Cherokee is a modern crossover in every sense of the word. Not just a unibody, it’s constructed on the architecture of a front-wheel drive car, the Dodge Dart. But it’s also a Jeep, which means it is can be had with the necessary mechanical fortitude for hard-core off-roading. Three different 4x4 systems are available, and two of them include a Low Range.
A midsizer only in its own mind
Photo: Jeremy Sinek
Jeep is calling the Cherokee a midsize SUV. In reality, though, its dimensions match the average for the compact-SUV category in which it also competes on price. It’s no more a midsizer than the Grand Cherokee is (as Jeep calls it) a full-size SUV.
One feature the new Cherokee does share with midsize SUVs is an available V6. Optional on every model, the 3.2-litre, 271-hp motor is derived from Chrysler Corp’s excellent, and increasingly ubiquitous, 3.6-litre Pentastar V6. Cherokee’s standard engine across the board is a 2.4-litre, 184-hp MultiAir Tigershark four-cylinder.
With the 3.2, the Cherokee claims a best-in-class V6 tow rating of 4,500 lbs; with the 2.4, fuel economy is a staggering 45 per cent better than the Liberty.
Not (yet) shared with any other Fiat-Chrysler product is the transmission – a nine-speed automatic. The ZF-designed unit puts the Cherokee in a class of its own ... until the 2014 Land Rover Evoque hits the market.
All three 4x4 systems include an automatic disconnecting rear axle for improved fuel economy, as well as Selec-Terrain traction management with up to five settings. Active Drive I is an automatic all-wheel-drive system that engages and disengages as needed, much like those on most other compact CUVs. Active Drive II adds a dual-range transfer case which locks the front and rear axles together when in 4Low. Active Drive Lock adds a locking rear differential to the features of Active Drive II.
Built for the boonies
Ground clearance inches up in lock-step with the level of AWD sophistication, culminating in a minimum 8.7-inches for the boonie-basher Trailhawk trim. The Trailhawk also features Active Drive Lock, knobblier tires, skid plates, and significantly steeper approach and departure angles (i.e. the ability to negotiate, say, a river bank without taking it on the chin or getting its tail whupped).
The vast majority of potential customers will, of course, be more interested in the on-board electronics, whether of the infotainment kind or the, “here, why don’t you let me take over?” sort. Have you noticed how the more we have of the former, the more we need of the latter ...?
Among the active auto-pilot options is ParkSense, which can automatically steer the car not only into parallel parking spots but also perpendicular ones. Also available: adaptive cruise control with automatic stop; forward collision warning with automatic brake; lane departure warning; blind-spot monitoring; and rear cross-path detection.
On the infocommutainment side, even the base trim has a five-inch UConnect touch-screen with hands-free communication, two USB ports, SD slot and aux input, plus a 3.5-inch info centre in the gauge cluster. Top trims include a seven-inch full-colour gauge-cluster screen that you can configure to display whatever information is most important to you. Also available is a centre-dash 8.4-inch UConnect touch-screen multi-media centre, with or without navigation.