The 2014 Cherokee marks the return of a mothballed name for an all-new SUV that replaces the discontinued Jeep Liberty. The Cherokee is, at maximum, 265 pounds lighter, and it's expected to be up to 45 percent more efficient than the Liberty, which was a guzzler to a degree few SUVs match anymore.
Along with staggering new styling, the Cherokee introduces major new hardware: a nine-speed automatic transmission and a smaller version of the Pentastar V-6 that powers many Jeep, Chrysler and Dodge models.
As a true off-roader, the Cherokee arguably competes with models like the Nissan Xterra, Toyota FJ Cruiser and 4Runner, as well as crossovers like the Chevrolet Equinox and Subaru Outback.
Automakers tend to choose evolution or revolution when they introduce or redesign models, and this Cherokee qualifies as a revolution. Apart from the seven-slot grille, not much resembles either the boxy or rounded models Jeep also produces. The Cherokee is distinguished by high-mounted running lights atop the fenders. The headlights reside just above the bumper.
The Cherokee's trim levels include Sport, Latitude, Limited and Trailhawk. On all Cherokees, gray molding runs from the lower bumpers along the wheel arches and rocker panels. In the Trailhawk, which is the off-road-optimized "Trail Rated" version, the molding is more prominent, and the front and rear bumpers hold tighter to the body to increase the Cherokee's approach and departure angles. It has front and rear skid plates, and its ride height is raised 1 inch for a running ground clearance of 8.7 inches. The Trailhawk eliminates chrome and adds red tow hooks to the front bumper.
Wheel selections begin with 17-inch steel on the Sport and 17- or 18- inch aluminum rims on the middle trim levels. The Trailhawk comes with wider 17-inch wheels and all-terrain tires.
The Cherokee's modern design theme carries over to the cabin, which has room for five people in two rows of seats. Cloth upholstery is standard; Nappa leather is available. Heated and ventilated front seats and a heated steering wheel are also available. The 60/40-split folding backseat can slide forward or rearward to benefit passenger or cargo room. With the backseat in its fully forward position there's 29.7 cubic feet of cargo room, which is a little less than some compact crossovers offer. Jeep calls the Cherokee midsize, but it's not much roomier than Jeep's own compact Compass and Patriot.
Jeep offers as optional features a choice of a panoramic glass moonroof or a full-length power-sliding canvas roof.
Optional features include a wireless charging pad for portable devices, a reconfigurable 7-inch screen in the instrument panel, an 8.4-inch touch-screen entertainment system in the middle of the dashboard and a self-parking system that automatically steers the Cherokee into a parking space while the driver controls vehicle speed. Enhanced adaptive cruise control can bring the Cherokee to a complete stop if traffic necessitates.
Under the Hood
The Cherokee's base engine is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that makes 184 horsepower and 171 pounds-feet of torque. Finding its first home in the new Cherokee is an optional 3.2-liter V-6, a smaller version of the Chrysler group's ubiquitous 3.6-liter V-6. The new V-6 makes nearly as much power as its larger sibling: 271 hp versus 290 hp for the 3.6-liter V-6 in the Grand Cherokee, and 239 pounds-feet of torque instead of 260. Both engines work with a nine-speed automatic transmission, and models with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder get an estimated 31 mpg on the highway according to Jeep (complete EPA fuel economy estimates haven't been released as of publication).
Front-wheel drive is standard but three four-wheel-drive systems are offered. Jeep Active Drive I has a single-speed transfer case while Jeep Active Drive II has a two-speed transfer case with low range. It locks the front and rear axles together for a 50/50 split. The most capable system, Jeep Active Drive Lock — which is standard on Trailhawk — is a low-range system with a locking rear differential. The maximum crawl ratio, with the four-cylinder, is 56:1.
The four-wheel-drive systems incorporate Selec-Terrain, which has five selectable modes like Snow and Sand/Mud, to make it easy to match the drivetrain's responses to driving conditions.
Standard safety features include 10 airbags, antilock brakes and an electronic stability system. Optional active-safety provisions include enhanced forward collision warning, which readies the brakes and emits audible and visual warnings when a crash is possible. If the driver doesn't react, the system can tap the brakes to warn the driver and supplement the driver's braking effort.
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