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RECENTLY DRIVEN

2014 Jeep Cherokee North

 

Curious front end with three disparate lighting elements and canted grille hasn't hurt sales, which have been brisk 

Car tested 2014 Jeep Cherokee
Body style Four-door wagon
Engine 3.2L-V6 (271 horsepwer)
Transmission

Nine-speed automatic

Least expensive Cherokee $23,965
Price as tested

$33,160 (North 4x4 with Deep Cherry paint, 26J package, Comfort/convenience group, 3.2L-V6 engine, UConnect, ParkView camera)

The squared off wheel arches are the principal Jeep styling cue on the flanks of the Cherokee

History
This new Cherokee is, in name and layout anyway, the successor to the unibody Cherokee introduced for the 1984 model year while Jeep was owned by Renault. The 1984 Cherokee was a smashing success and essentially created the whole SUV-for-personal-use phenomena after it introduced a four-door body style. While undergoing a number of updates over the years, the 1984 Cherokee continued in production into the 2001 model year. Its successor was still marketed as the Cherokee in other markets, but was sold as the Liberty in North America until 2012.

The new Cherokee is a CUV (compact utility vehicle) based on Fiat's "Small-wide" unibody also shared with the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart. Compared to the Jeep Patriot, the Cherokee has a longer wheelbase and is both longer and wider.

Two engines are available, a 2.4L four and a 3.2L V6. Power reaches all wheels via a nine-speed automatic transmission exclusively. 

Two separate models are marketed, a mainstream Cherokee and a more off-road oriented "Trail Hawk" model, with altered front and rear fascias permitting steeper approach and departure angles.

Competition
The Cherokee competes against mainstream vehicles like the Ford Escape, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport and Subaru Forester. While the Escape, Santa Fe Sport and Forester are offered with high-power turbo fours, only the Cherokee is available with a  V6. Currently, the Cherokee is outselling the Grand Cherokee and the combined sales of the smaller Patriot and Compass. Cherokee sales are still behind those of the market-leading Ford Escape, Honda CR-V and Hyundai Santa Fe, but will very likely eclipse those of the Mazda CX-5, Nissan Rogue and Subaru Forester this year..

Styling
Other that the seven-slot air intake and squared-off wheel arches, there is little about the Cherokee that overtly says Jeep. The front end, with its three disparate lighting elements as well as the rearward tilt of the traditional seven-slot grille, is bold and a bit odd, but doesn't appear to have put customers off.

Performance 
The new 3.2L version of Chrysler's "Pentastar" engine is a great powerplant for the Cherokee. The engine is strong, flexible and near silent in normal driving, but moves with impressive alacrity and emits a delicious precision snarl when extended.

Chrysler's quest to hone the operation of the Cherokee's nine-speed automatic transmission resulted in a delayed launch for the vehicle as well as a number of transmission programming updates since the vehicle went on sale. The nine-speed automatic, hooked up to a V6 on the Cherokee sampled in July of 2014, went about its tasks unobtrusively. The transmission delivers smooth upshifts, crisp, eager kickdowns and kept the engine churning over at a relaxed 1500 rpm when cruising at 100 kilometer per hour. With a quiet exhaust system, the Jeep isn't plagued by the changes in engine pitch due to frequent gear changes that are common in some other vehicles with multi-speed transmissions. The biggest fault of the nine-speed automatic transmission is it is in too high a gear when completing a turn (most noticeable on right turns), when it fails to select a low enough gear and makes the vehicle feel flat footed. Despite its powerful V6, the Cherokee was quite economical, delivering low consumption of 11.2L/100 km in mixed driving in summer conditions.    

Most Cherokees feature the single speed Active Drive I transfer case which distributes power to all four wheels. Active Drive II adds a two-speed transfer case with a low range and an extra inch of ground clearance, and is optional on the Sport, North and Limited models. Jeep Active Drive Lock, exclusive to the Trail Hawk version, adds a locking rear differential for low-speed driving in arduous off-road conditions. 

The Cherokee's steering provides little feedback from the road, but its weighting and precision are excellent, loading up nicely in curves and feeling reassuringly centred at highway speeds. 

With a ride that is on the resilient side of firm allied to very tidy, drama-free handling, the suspension reflects careful development.

Though it bears no designer name, the audio system in the Cherokee, with deep lows, crisp highs, and a wide spectrum of adjustments for individual preferences, is a model for others to follow. The Bluetooth phone and audio systems work very well. Our Cherokee was equipped with Chrysler's touch screen technology that operates in a straightforward and intuitive fashion. Like the touch screen, the Cherokee's climate controls, which are used in most Chrysler products, are brilliantly straightforward.

The Cherokee offers good visibility to the front, with visibility to the sides and rear no better or worse than most competitors these days, which is to say not great. The large rear-view camera on the test Cherokee took the guesswork out of backing up.

Properly equipped, the four-cylinder Cherokee can tow up to 907 kg (2000 lbs); towing capacity for the V6 is an impressive 2041 kg (4500 lbs.).
 

Interior
After hitting rock bottom around 2008, Chrysler group interiors have improved remarkably as the existing model range is updated, and new vehicles are introduced. With copious amounts of soft-touch surfaces, matte-finished plastics, attractive faux-alloy accents and elegant fabrics, the Cherokee's interior is among the best in its class. 

The driver faces a crisp, clear gauge package that flanks a large electronic readout. They reside in a "School of Chrysler". dashboard that looks good and does everything well.

The black cabin was relieved by light gray cloth inserts in the seats, as well as gray, easy-to-clean accents on the door and centre armrests. The faux ebony wood splashes on the door armrests of our test vehicle were so dark and similar to the black trim around them as to be nearly invisible. 

The expansive front seats feel soft at first but prove comfortable on long runs, and the rear seats are large and supportive. Some occupants found the tops of the front seat head restraints extended so far forward as to be intrusive. Legroom is copious up front and certainly at least class average in the rear.

The glovebox and deep bin under the front centre armrest hold a reasonable amount of stray gear, but the bins in the doors are designed mainly to hold water bottles.  

Though the rear wheel housings intrude, the cargo area is ample with the rear seats in place and substantial when they are folded down. There is sufficient vertical cargo height below the window line. An elaborate storage bin below the cargo floor takes up about six inches of cargo height. That said, the cargo floor is virtually flat and is at the same height as the tailgate opening.

 Clean dash design incorporating Chrysler's excellent touch screen and logical climate controls

 

Crisp, clean gauges flank a digital readout

 

Chrysler's touch screen technology is simple, logical and works very well

 

Comfortable rear seat is allied with good legroom for the segment

Rear door panel contains a bottle holder, a constrasting colour armrest, soft-touch upper surfaces and a fabric insert that bridges the gap between them

Good cargo space with the rear seat up. The gray hoop on the left is a detachable grocery bag holder

Long, flat cargo space with rear seat folded down 

 

This elaborate tray resides under the cargo floor. Some owners would prefer more cargo depth 

Smooth, punchy V6 delivers impressive fuel economy with its nine-speed automatic

Pricing
Drivetrain options include all-wheel drive at $2200 and the V6 at $1495 for most models. The content included in the $3000 "North" trim level corresponds to its higher price. The Limited trim upgrade, which includes about $7000 in contents for only $3500, is a bargain. The Trail Hawk version is equipped roughly the same as the "North" trim level and includes a lot of off-road capability for not much more money. Compared to the Honda CR-V, the base front-wheel drive Cherokee Sport is roughly $2300 cheaper than a front-wheel drive CR-V LX;  a fully-equipped all-wheel-drive 2.4L Cherokee Limited is priced $1000 less than a CR-V Touring. Monthly finance payments (60 months, tax and freight in) for the top 2.4L Cherokee are roughly $20 per month lower than the top CR-V. A Cherokee V6 Limited with all-wheel drive is priced only about $500 more than a Honda CR-V Touring powered by a 2.4L four. No leasing is available.

Reliability
The Cherokee is an all-new vehicle and there is no current long-term reliability information available. The V6 is new, and it has the first application of an advanced nine-speed automatic transmission (which had some programming issues after launch). Three year bumper-to-bumper warranty, with five years/100,000 km on the powertrain. An extended warranty from Chrysler is recommended, if you plan to keep your Cherokee past the point where the warranty has expired. APA members may be able to receive a small break on the cost of the warranty -- check with the Association. 

Safety
The Cherokee is equipped with 10 airbags, including dual front airbags, front seat-mounted airbags, side-curtain airbags, knee airbags for both front occupants and side airbags for outboard rear passengers. The Cherokee was not tested in the IIHS new Small Overlap Frontal Crash Test but was rated Good in the other four test categories. The Cherokee was rated at four out of five stars by the NHTSA. The $1795 Technology package offered on the Limited model includes advanced safety gear such as Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop & Go, Advanced Brake Assist, Auto High Beam Headlamp Control, Blind Spot Detection, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Departure Warning, Parallel & Perpendicular Park Assist with Stop and Rain Sensitive Windshield Wipers. 

 

Clean rear styling end reflects Italian influence

Just in case you forgot how Jeep got started, this graphic is embossed into the steering wheel

Summary
The new Cherokee employs Fiat's small-wide vehicle architecture with Chrysler mechanical elements, combining them with interesting mid-Atlantic styling. Size and price are similar to class competitors, but the Cherokee manages to look and feel more substantial than some of them. Results apply to our nicely-equipped test model with the strong and relatively thrifty V6 powertrain; the overall rating with the four which APA did not test, will likely be lower and real-world fuel savings inconsequential. Reliability can be a question mark with a new Chrysler design  -- as stated above, the APA recommends you go for the full coverage extended warranty if you plan to keep the vehicle past the three year/60,000 warranty period.

For those willing to eschew the Grand Cherokee's sybaritic comforts, smothering silence and nameplate prestige, a well-equipped new Cherokee provides a Jeep-branded vehicle with similar performance, cabin space and utility, for much less money.