Our first opportunity to drive the 2014 Jeep Cherokee was in Moab, Utah, where the Trailhawk version showed off-road chops that earned it the brand’s revered “Trail-Rated” badge. This capability helps quell the doubters who say that this unibody crossover based on the same Fiat-sourced platform as the Dodge Dart can never live up to the Cherokee name. However important this kind of rock-crawling, sand-kicking ability may be for Jeep’s reputation, it doesn’t matter much to most shoppers in the compact crossover segment. Just look at the best-selling Honda CR-V and Ford Escape: neither crossover even offers a full-time four-wheel-drive system, let alone an available locking rear differential and hill descent control like the Jeep’s. We spent a few weeks in a 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk to see if even the most off-road-oriented Cherokee can live up to the on-road-biased demands of today’s typical crossover buyer.
This particular Cherokee test car was nearly loaded, with the optional 271-hp, 3.2-liter V-6 engine, the Trailhawk-exclusive Active Drive Lock four-wheel-drive system, and various luxury options like navigation, leather, automatic climate control, and a heated steering wheel—our personal favorite for the way it helps us get through Michigan winters. All of this makes for an as-tested price of $36,120. That’s a lofty sum for sure, but as associate editor Greg Migliore says, “the price is reasonable considering the equipment level, and it does make a style statement.” We’ve yet to come to a consensus on whether or not we like the Cherokee’s controversial, wedge-like front end, but self-proclaimed “Jeep guy” Migliore is in favor of it. It’s a design that looks less extreme in the flesh than in photos.
We weren’t at all torn about our Cherokee’s impressively trimmed interior. The stitched leather and subtle wood and aluminum accents in our upper trim model gave off a high-class, baby-Grand Cherokee vibe. That’s a welcome change from the cheap, plasticky interiors of other compact Jeeps like the Compass, Patriot, and the now-defunct Liberty, which the Cherokee replaces. We found rear-seat room to be competitive with other small crossovers too, although copy editor Rusty Blackwell notes that the Cherokee’s high cargo floor compromises space behind the seats. Lesser Cherokees than the Trailhawk have a compact spare tire in place of our tester’s full-size spare, which opens up more storage space below the cargo floor.
Once underway, the 2014 Jeep Cherokee’s upscale demeanor continues to impress. Despite the aggressive all-terrain tires that come standard on the Trailhawk, the Cherokee is quiet on the highway, composed over potholes and frost heaves, and surprisingly agile through the turns as well. The steering is heavy but accurate, and the Cherokee’s chassis is tuned for a sportier feel than softly sprung competitors like the Honda CR-V and Nissan Rogue. Power from the V-6 is “more than adequate,” executive editor Todd Lassa says. He praises the nine-speed automatic for shifting “smoothly and seamlessly.” It appears that the Cherokee’s production delays for last-minute transmission calibration paid off in the end.
“The Cherokee feels bigger and more substantial than the intended competition,” Lassa continues. “Because I drove it 50 miles home in a snowstorm, this CUV’s substance felt reassuring.” This sense of solidity is backed up by the Jeep Cherokee’s hefty 300-600 lbs of extra weight compared to other compact crossovers. This hurts fuel economy, despite the nine-speed transmission’s mpg-friendly gearing. We only got an indicated 17 mpg in 200 miles of driving with more time spent on the highway than around town. Non-Trailhawk Cherokee models with lighter-duty four-wheel-drive systems and/or the four-cylinder engine achieve considerably higher EPA mileage ratings, but if Jeep really wants to challenge the class leaders in this area, then the Cherokee needs to lose some weight.
Migliore calls the 2014 Cherokee “a modern SUV that’s right for the times.” The Cherokee has sold extremely well in its first two months, rivaling the popular Wrangler, which was the best-selling Jeep in 2013. After years of getting by with subpar compact Jeeps like the Compass and Patriot, this new Jeep Cherokee finally gives Jeep a crossover that can compete on its own merits.
2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk
- Price As Tested: $36,120 (Trailhawk 4×4)
- Engine: 3.2-liter V-6
- Power: 271 hp
- Torque: 239 lb-ft
- Transmission: 9-speed automatic
- Drive: 4-wheel
- Fuel Economy: 18/25/20 mpg city/highway/combined
- Cargo Capacity: 29.7 cu ft (seats up)