Take a step back and consider the 2014 Jeep Cherokee’s position. There was a gaping hole where a mid-size SUV needed to be and the Patriot brick just didn’t fit. Actually, it didn’t fit for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was because it looked like said brick. Bon voyage, Jeep Barndoor.
Now take a step closer because it’s probably best that you
look at the Cherokee up close. From too far away it looks awkward like teenage
That’s not meant to be a dig at the earlier maligned styling
of the Cherokee. Most people are moving past the initial knee-jerk reaction to
the Cherokee when it was unveiled: Your older brother’s Cherokee, this is not.
The new Cherokee is better in the flesh, trust me.
And the Cherokee is too monumental to dismiss as ugly on
For starters, it’s a Cherokee that doesn’t have an old-world
transfer case and probably can’t be fixed with a coat hanger. Sorry Moab
friends, there’s no XJ to be found here. (But there is Moab to be found in the
new one, more on that later.) Second,
it’s the first Chrysler to be stuffed with a 9-speed transmission. That’s
right. Nine forward gears, three new four-wheel drive systems, a new engine and
a brand new body. What could go wrong? Heh.
And last, it’s the Cherokee. And that means something. For
me, I learned how to drive a manual on a 1984 beige, two-door Cherokee clad in
flannel seats, no working suspension that I remember, and four forward gears —
three of which, worked. I can’t remember if that specimen was a four cylinder
or eight cylinder, and quite honestly, it could have been either. But I loved
it like my right leg. And I’m not the only one.
But name recognition only gets you so far. After that, Jeep
has to do the work.
The Cherokee really makes hay with its 3.2-liter engine.
That Pentastar variant, a smaller displacement version of the 3.6-liter that
appears in the Grand Cherokee, makes 271 horsepower at the crank and 239
lb.-ft. of torque. That’s 87 more horsepower than the standard, 2.4-liter
MultiAir four that’s also offered in the Cherokee, which, I’m not sure is the
best choice if you live 3,000 or more feet above sea level. That’s not to say
that either are a bad choice, but after driving a V6 around Los Angeles and the
Malibu hills, even I can foresee a laborious trot or two up a mountain pass in
a four-cylinder’s future. Both are mated to the aforementioned 9-speed
automatic, which you may or may not have read about.
By the way, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Jeep
hawing over its transmission. From the get-go, there have been fits over
whether nine speeds in an SUV would be too much like Crystal Clear Pepsi was
once. Maybe a while ago, Jeep would have fired first and aimed later. Having
learned their lesson from the Dart, I’m guessing Chrysler would rather release
an airborne form of eczema than a car that might not be ready.
Having said that, my experience in the Cherokee on pavement was
sedate and unremarkable. Read: success. Nine gears pull just fine without being
annoying, and on several occasions I forced the Cherokee into ninth gear via
automatic gear selection just to say I made it there. Move over Felix Baumgartner.
The inclusion of the nine-speed was a necessity. Federal
regulations demand that this car — in particular — get better mileage. For
that, the Cherokee inches at 30 mpg on the highway (19/28 mpg in V6 4x4, 21/28
in the four cylinder 4x4) and that’s the way it is now folks. The mid-size SUV
market is the largest with 1.7 million units sold last year. That makes the
Cherokee and its competitors like the Toyota Rav4, Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and
others targets for CAFE mileage standards to increase average fleet mileage. If
only we could ask our best-selling singers to clean up their acts too.
Under the skin, the Cherokee has four-wheel independent
front and rear suspension with MacPhersons up front and four-link coils in the
back. Approach, breakover and departure angles fall somewhere in the middle
between the Grand Cherokee and Wrangler, meaning the Cherokee should be
off-road capable as both on paper, with the engine and transmission being the
only question marks.
So, to answer that, Jeep has done two things. First, they’ve
put a Jeep badge on the front that’s slightly larger than the Grand Cherokee’s
badge (I heard it’s the size of the Wrangler’s) to remind you that you’re still
looking at a Jeep.
Second, Jeep is rolling out the Trailhawk edition at launch.
Most of the time, carmakers roll out packages like the Trailhawk in the middle
or end of a product’s lifespan to generate interest in waning sales years. For
the first year, Jeep introduced the Trailhawk nameplate — a name taken from an
off-road version of the Grand Cherokee — to show that fresh out of the crate,
the Jeep can ball off road. The Trailhawk is resplendent with bigger wheel
flares, bright red tow hooks, a sharper front air dam to increase approach
angle and bigger 17-inch Firestones on the corners. Hey, look at me.
For gosh’s sakes, there’s a map of Moab’s Hell’s Revenge
trail under the passenger seat. We get it; Jeep really, really wants us to
believe that the Cherokee can go off road.
And for the most part, it can. Off-roading in the Cherokee
is possible if not almost completely automatic. We took the Cherokee around an
off-road course in California that, while not highly technical, is fairly
rigorous for any normal car’s life. The steering is quick and the transmission
is responsive when programmed correctly using terrain select and Jeep’s
four-wheel drive systems. The Trailhawk edition adds a rear locker, whereas
four-wheel drive versions of the Sport, Latitude and Limited models can’t offer
that kind of rock crawling motivation.
Starting at $22,995 for the Sport and working all the way up
to $29,495 for the Trailhawk (four-wheel drive adds $2,000 to the Sport,
Latitude and Limited models, standard on Trailhawk) the Cherokee won’t necessarily
break the bank the way the Grand Cherokee can. It won’t break your spine either;
its ride is comfortable albeit not as coma inducing as some of its competitors.
And that’s where you understand Jeep’s position in the
mid-size, great SUV race. It’s meant to fill a niche where Rav4 and CR-V fall
short — namely in snowy, off-road or otherwise four-wheel-drive necessary
areas. It’s certainly in the same category as those other SUVs, but the
Cherokee is just, well, different. Which, I’m sure you’ve been saying about its
looks for long before this story.
Aaron Cole is a syndicated auto columnist. He
enjoys hearing from readers. Reach him at email@example.com
New Jeep Cherokee offers unique return
by Aaron Cole :: posted in Reviews on October 22nd, 2013