2014 Jeep Cherokee at the 2013 New York Auto Show

  • Competes with: Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Edge, Toyota RAV4
  • Looks like: What the aliens will be driving when they invade Earth
  • Drivetrain: 184-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder or 271-hp, 3.2-liter V-6 with nine-speed automatic transmission; front- or four-wheel drive
  • Hits dealerships: Third quarter of 2013

Cherokee is one of the Jeep brand's best-known names, and it returns to the U.S. with the launch of the 2014 Cherokee, which arrives at dealers in the third quarter of 2013. While the new Cherokee is the replacement for the Liberty SUV in Jeep's lineup, the two models couldn't be more different in terms of design, powertrains, construction and features.

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The new Cherokee's styling — particularly its front end — represents a radical departure for Jeep design, and one that's bound to be controversial. The upper portion of the seven-slot grille is raked rearward but the design's bigger departure — and risk — is its use of stacked lighting elements. The highest ones look like slender headlights, but they're actually daytime running lights; the headlights are below them, and the fog lights are set even lower in the front bumper. It's all very modern and gives the Cherokee a futuristic look.

The Cherokee uses the same unibody platform that underpins the Dodge Dart compact car. Though not as rugged as a traditional body-on-frame setup, Jeep says the Cherokee will be able to tow up to 4,500 pounds with the available V-6 engine and deliver Trail Rated capability in Trailhawk trim. The Trailhawk's enhanced off-road prowess is enabled by more aggressive approach and departure angles, a 1-inch suspension lift, skid plates and a locking rear differential.

The base engine is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that makes 184 horsepower and 171 pounds-feet of torque. The optional V-6 is a smaller version of Chrysler's ubiquitous 3.6-liter V-6. Displacing 3.2 liters, the Cherokee's 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).

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. The most capable system — Jeep Active Drive Lock — is a low-range system with a locking rear differential. 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.

The Cherokee's modern design theme carries over to the cabin, which has room for five people on 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 the Equinox (31.5), Edge (32.2) and RAV4 (38.4) offer.

Available technology 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.

As for safety features, the Cherokee comes with 10 standard airbags, antilock brakes and an electronic stability system. Its suite of safety technology can be supplemented with a number of electronic systems. These include enhanced adaptive cruise control, which can bring the Cherokee to a complete stop if traffic necessitates, as well as 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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