I owe it to you, our readers to share the fact that I consider myself a true Jeep guy! Why is this relevant you ask? Quite simply, I have experienced Jeeps on one of the toughest trails in the country, the Rubicon, as well as the rugged outdoors of Oregon and back hills of Virginia. I’ve been part of the Jeep family with Wranglers and Grand Cherokees since the late 90s and tend to be a bit critical of new Jeep upgrades and refreshes. As a matter of fact, there have been a couple of models I’ve been less than pleased with particularly in the compact and mid-size categories. So when the SUV ambassador from Detroit created the 2014 Cherokee I couldn’t help but to think, “here we go again.” Available in four different models, Jeep Cherokee Sport, Cherokee Latitude, Cherokee Limited and the fully off-road capable Trailhawk model, I’m happy to say this time they got it right.
The exterior styling has the kindred spirit of the larger Grand Cherokee with its sculpted looks, a complete departure from the earlier squared model that bore the Cherokee nameplate. The interior is equally as impressive with styling cues directly from nature, very apropos for a Jeep. For instance, the broad dash layout is inspired from birds of prey with large flowing wingspans. Color cues taken from scenic locations such as Iceland, Morocco, Mt. Kilimanjaro and the Grand Canyon harmoniously blend within a spacious cabin consisting of sliding rear seats offering 6 inches of maneuverability. To bring the outdoors within, there are two options, the new CommandView dual-pane sunroof and also an all-new “SkySlider” open-air sunroof, both aiding in the Jeep Zen experience.
To demonstrate the Cherokee’s on and off-road abilities, the picturesque twisty canyons of Southern California along with a vigorous off-road trail served as my proving grounds. You may think an environment such as an open highway or conquering the city streets of L.A. may have been more suitable for such a smooth urban-ready mid-size SUV. On the contrary, the famed Mulholland Drive weaving through the canyons proved to be ideal in showcasing the Cherokee’s nimble handling characteristics thanks to a front independent suspension with MacPherson struts and a rear independent multi-link suspension.
The base powerplant is a 2.4-liter MultiAir2 “Tigershark” I4 engine which produces 184 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque offering 31 highway mpg. However, for my journey I chose the Jeep Cherokee Limited with the optional new 22 highway mpg, 3.2-liter V6 powertrain producing 271 horsepower and 239 pound-feet of torque which provided a great power-to-weight ratio. Mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission, the new Cherokee keenly handled the canyon roads with ease.
Being the outdoorsy guy I am, I took a liking to the Trailhawk model and quickly discovered this compact SUV has the heart, soul and capabilities synonymous with Jeep. The ride height is increased on the Trailhawk by an inch with a modified front end for better approach and departure angles when navigating challenging terrain. Also included are skid plates, off-road wheel flares, 17-inch polished aluminum wheels, off-road suspension, and red tow hooks. Where other manufacturers may have chosen to omit tow hooks, the engineers at Jeep purposefully decided to equip them while keeping the driver’s rescue safety in mind, a major component of the Jeep experience.
All of these extras are good, but not enough to earn the Cherokee Trailhawk edition its “Trail Rated” badge. In order to don this coveted hardware, the Cherokee had to conquer one of the toughest trails in country, the legendary Rubicon. With support vehicles ready, the mighty little SUV took on and successfully completed the entire trail earning its new badge of honor. Although I was hundreds of miles away from the Rubicon, I had the opportunity to traverse Rubicon-like conditions from loose gravel, soft dirt, steep inclines, tight cornering and bodies of large rock. It was in these conditions I was able to put the Cherokee’s 4×4 Selec-Terrain feature with five settings (Auto, Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud, and Rock) along with the new Selec-Speed Control with Hill-Ascent and Descent Control to the test. Once your selection has been engaged, the engine will handle the rest from braking to accelerating allowing you to concentrate on navigating around your obstacles.
With a starting MSRP of $22,995 ($400 less than the outgoing Liberty), a sophisticated sporty look, best in class V6 towing (4,500 pounds), on-road performance and trail rated capability, the Cherokee is a worthy addition to the Jeep family.