By Joe Bruzek on March 26, 2014
We took possession of our long-term 2014 Jeep Cherokee just a few weeks before a number of competitors entered our short-term fleet here at our Chicago headquarters.
Some of our most interesting insights into our 2013 Honda Civic came after pitting it head-to-head against the competition.
While it may seem strange to start our year with the Cherokee by pitting it against the Jeep Compass rather than another automaker's SUV, let's explain why we got here before learning which Jeep won.
Our long-term Cherokee was equipped almost identically to the 2014 Compass Limited that entered our regular media fleet with four-cylinder engine, base all-wheel drive, leather interior and navigation. The similarities don't stop there; fuel economy, cargo size and price are also a close match. You can compare the two trims here.
The Cherokee starts to stand out when you look at its 4,044-pound curb weight compared to the 3,345-pound Compass, as well as the exterior dimensions where the Cherokee's length, width and height dwarf the Compass. Those dimensions most help passenger room compared to the Compass.
Shoppers may consider both given that the prices as equipped aren't radically different — $33,375 for the Cherokee and $30,075 for the Compass including destination — but there couldn't be a clearer depiction of old Jeep versus new Jeep once you get inside and start driving.
Editors Joe Bruzek and David Thomas took the two through a route of city, suburban and highway driving from downtown Chicago northward. Here are the results of the drive.
The Jeeps have the same four-cylinder under the hood with a few more horses in the Cherokee, but a few hundred pounds along with the pokey nine-speed automatic gave the edge to the Compass. The Cherokee never gets up and goes from a stop while the Compass actually responds to the call.
There was nothing remarkable in the braking department for either Jeep but the Compass has a brief numbness in brake pedal action before the brakes grab, opposed to the Cherokee's much more responsive pedal feel. The added girth of the Cherokee also helped impress when it came to how well it slowed.
It could be the weight issues or the added length, but the all-new Cherokee didn't seem to outshine the Compass when it came to taking corners and winding roads, many of which were covered in standing pools of water during a time when Chicago's mounds of winter snow started to melt. The Compass is agile and surprisingly capable at handling quick maneuvers.
This was a contested category because the Compass shocked Thomas with its quietness during our test, enough that he nearly gave them a tie. However, Bruzek experienced considerable wind noise at highway speeds during a separate Compass road trip and couldn't ignore that when scoring here.
There was no performance category where the Compass came up as short as in the ride department. The Compass is firm to a fault, sending every bump to the spine with a quick jolt. Meanwhile, the Cherokee has one of the more comfortable rides in the segment and kept an even keel over intensely damaged roads around Chicagoland.
The turnarounds at Chrysler in terms of interior design are staggering when you put two vehicles a generation or two removed next to each other. In the Cherokee (above) not only are materials of a considerably higher grade, the layout of controls, cubbies and even pure design elements are better thought out.
Nothing ages worse than in-car technology, and the Compass is packing the ancient system Chrysler used for years. And even when it was new it wasn't that good. Meanwhile, the Cherokee sports the latest version of the company's UConnect, which we as a group use as an example of near-perfect execution versus the competition. However, Thomas noted that over weeks of testing the Cherokee the system doesn't recognize his iPhone for playing music files about a third of the time.
The similarities in cargo size go beyond just the specs, which we've recently debunked as an accurate measure of comparison. But here the specs don't lie, and in reality the Compass really does seem spot-on versus the larger Cherokee (above) in terms of the cargo area's volume. The Cherokee won because it has a significant amount of under-floor storage as well as the sliding rear seats that can expand cargo volume and feature well-executed flaps to cover any gap. The built-in cargo system in the Cherokee didn't sway us in any way.
Cars.com photos by Evan Sears
Road Test Editor Joe Bruzek covers Cars.com’s short-and long-term fleet of test cars and drives a 1998 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. Email Joe