Ditch that stuffy glass-and-chrome citadel you work in, pick up your ethnically diverse group of friends, a couple wine coolers, and head out to the desert to par-tay. If you want to live out that car commercial, a 2014 Jeep Cherokee really is the SUV to do it in.
Before this fancy snake-faced vehicle showed up, everyone knew what a Jeep Cherokee was. The boxy, brawny SUV both bros and hippies could agree on; the prevalence of them barreling around college campuses from UVA to UVM is a testament to that. The fact they're still getting fumigated with marijuana and slogging to taco trucks says a lot about how good their guts are, too. Make no mistake; the drivetrain of an original Cherokee will bash through a mud bog or brave a blizzard 'til the day the truck's body disintegrates.
Well friends, that's not the Jeep Cherokee anymore. It's little brother his here, and just like your real little brother you probably weren't too sure about it when if first popped up, but we can't give it back so start getting used to this mug:
At first pass, the first new vehicle to commandeer the Cherokee name just looks like the next victim in our society's ceaseless quest to declaw our vehicles in the name of safety and efficiency.
I mean, that assessment isn't totally off-base, but it sells the vehicle a little short. After almost 1,000 miles of driving over and through all kinds of everything I actually started to like the new Cherokee for all the reasons it's been a hit with the masses: it's a damn fine all-around "get stuff and move it around"-mobile.
"How do you classify this thing?"
The 2014 Cherokee damn sure ain't no truck. I'm comfortable calling it an SUV for the sake of simplicity, but let's be real: it's a lifted Dodge Dart. I guess that makes it a "crossover," but you might have trouble correcting anybody who calls it "a car."
"What about the Trailhawk, bro? Those guys drove it in Moab."
Before specs were released, many of us reckoned the Trailhawk version of the Cherokee would be riotously overpriced. An incorrect assumption which lead me to believe you'd be better off buying a Cherokee Sport and a used TJ Wrangler instead.
That's not the case though, not even close. For one thing, it's used Wranglers that are overpriced, and for another; the Cherokee Trailhawk actually comes in at a reasonable $30,000; it's actually a few bucks less than the Limited 4x4 I drove and unlike the luxury model, it comes with a dedicated low range.
I can't speak to its performance as I've yet to drive it, but I'm sure it will get you where you need to be: the company barbecue, where you can say; "Yeah, I went for the Trailhawk because she wanted something easy to drive in town but I wanted a little more capability." It's ok if you mean "I wanted the red tow hooks," they do look sharp.
"What does Selec-Terrain do, anyway?"
Besides putting a cute little animation on the dashboard, it was a real struggle to discern a difference in performance or control feedback whether the Cherokee was in "Auto," "Sport," "Sand/Mud," or "Snow." no matter if I was driving on pavement, sand, or the crème brûlée hardback of the Johnson Valley Off-Road Park.
Jeep explains that the system basically regulates how much torque goes to which wheels, but after playing with it for a few days I couldn't tell you when it's working without looking at the light on the dash.
With traction control off, you can sort of slide the thing through soft stuff but it's about as satisfying as a Victoria's Secret catalog when PornHub won't load on your iPad.
It's more fun carving canyon roads than jumping sand dunes.
The Cherokee didn't feel any more robust over corrugated sand tracks than a Subaru Forester. It'll roll through whoops at walking pace, but it gets flummoxed and bottoms out before you're out second gear.
On pavement, the thing lights right up. Sacrilegious as it sounds I'll tell you what's up; the 2014 Jeep Cherokee is downright fun to tear up canyon roads in. It rides really flat, the 9-speed gearbox is reasonably responsive, and it pulls pretty well with a boot in the throttle.
"Will it look cool with a light bar?"
No, and luckily you won't need one. Check out that stack of candlepower!
Decent engine, transmission, output, and economy.
The V6 is a $1,500 upgrade option from the base four-banger, which I can't tell you anything about. The 6 isn't staggering quick, but 270 horsepower and 239 ft/lbs of torque is more than enough to motivate the Cherokee After 800 miles of heavy traffic, highway hauling, and romping around the desert, I turned out 25.1 MPG. Based on the way I was driving, I would not be surprised to see an ambitious hyper-miler get close to 30. The EPA says the 3.2 V6 Cherokee maxes out at 27 MPG on the highway.
The nine-speed automatic can be "controlled" through a +/- toggle you can bump the gear lever. "Controlled" is in quotes because you can't really up-and-downshift it it like other manu-matics, rather, you can force it to not exceed a certain gear. Don't waste you time mucking around with this; let the car do it's thing.
For those who reckon "nine speeds is too many," I have to say I don't remember ever seeing "9th" displayed in the gear position indicator... so you might be right.
I may be the only person who doesn't hate the styling.
The styling grew on me after a few days. I say if you stop wishing it was the brick-shaped XJ predecessor and think of it as a high-riding hot hatch you just might start to accept it.
But I guess nobody else had that much time to warm up to it. Here's what a few random Los Angeles citizens had to say about the Cherokee when I asked them what they thought;
"It's cute! I hate the front though."
"Dude, that car looks kinda fuct."
"Is that a fucking Kia Sombrero or something?"
The interior doesn't feel "rugged," but it sure is nice.
Chrysler has been on a roll with interiors; at least based on what I've seen in new Rams and Jeeps. Buttons are in the right places, the Uconnect interface is intuitive and has a glorious "screen off" hard button. The steering wheel is small but girthy; like one of those dramatic steam-valves on a ship or something. But a lot more comfortable and remarkably easy to use (so, nothing like a valve?).
The cargo area has nice little compartments and dividers for stowing your Whole Foods haul, and the footprint to useable interior space ratio is pretty solid.
...With lots of toys to play with and buttons to push to boot.
Distance-adjusting cruise control keeps you from tailgating too hard, a big juicy screen between the main gauges is customizable to display pretty much whatever you want to see, and everything else gets run through the monitor in the center.
A panoramic sunroof is optional, and delightful.
But none of those toys come cheap; the "Technology Group" option that gives you collision warnings, active cruise control (that can also do stop-and-go driving for you), lane departure warnings, and other niceties is just over $2,000. Probably worth it.
The nicer headlights and seats you get with the $1,500 "Luxury Package" might not be as key.
"So is it really the most off-road capable vehicle in its class?"
Snore. "Best in class" claims might be the most irrelevant and annoying accolade automakers give themselves. The Cherokee's effort continues the trend; the "class" they're best at off-roading in is "mid-priced compact crossovers from America." Yeah buddy, you better believe this Cherokee can leave a GMC Acadia or Ford Edge at the trailhead begging for mercy.
Verdict: It gives up most of its predecessor's off-road ability, but it gets more back in daily-driver utility.
After re-reading my thoughts on the 2014 Jeep Cherokee, I feel like I've come down pretty hard on it. It's no rock-crawler, but the rig is actually pretty well endowed with real world capability.
It's nice to ride in, gets pretty good fuel economy, holds a lot of stuff for its size, and has a good loadout of technology. That's stuff any driver is going to appreciate.
But it's starting to become dangerously apparent that evermore of the actual "off-road" abilities the Jeep brand trades on are being heaped on the shoulders of the Wrangler, which is of course rumored to turn into another alumacraft unibodied golf cart come 2017.
Specifications: 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited 4x4
As Tested: $37,030
Engine: 3.2 V6
Output: 271 hp @ 6,500 RPM / 239 ft-lbs @ 4,400 RPM
Economy: 19 City/22 Combined/27 Highway/25.1 Observed
Overall Length: 182"
Overall Width: 73.2"
Overall Height: 66.2"
Curb Weight: 4,044 lbs.
Approach Angle: 19º
Departure Angle: 25º
Breakover Angle: 20º
Ground Clearance: 8.2"
Turning Radius: 19'
Photos by the author