2014 Jeep Cherokee First Drive

We're behind the wheel of the new Jeep Cherokee, nose pointed at the sky, our spotter's hands barely visible over the hood. We're at a stair-step climb on the Hell's Revenge trail outside of Moab, Utah, and the Cherokee hesitates briefly as one rear wheel loses contact with terra firma. But then the locked rear differential does its thing, and we lurch forward. As we do, the hood teeter-totters down, the red-rock trail again comes into view, and the Cherokee begins walking itself down the steep slope, at a controlled 0.6 mph.

Moab is home
Moab, of course, is the off-roader's paradise that each spring hosts the Jeep Easter Safari. Jim Morrison, director of Jeep product marketing, describes it as "the home base for the Jeep family." It's no surprise that Jeep has come here for this launch. When the new Cherokee was announced, Jeep traditionalists were up in arms over this transverse engine, front-wheel-drive/four-wheel-drive crossover, which replaces the Liberty. Here in Moab, Jeep is out to prove that the new Cherokee is worthy -- meaning that it earns its chops off road.

For our trail ride, we're driving only the most off-road-ready version of the new Cherokee, the Trailhawk. Its unique front and rear fascias, and one-inch greater ride height, give is better approach and departure angles than its siblings. It also gets tow hooks, skid plates, and, most importantly, Jeep's Active Drive Lock four-wheel-drive system.

3 4WD systems (+ FWD)
Active Drive Lock is one of three 4x4 systems on the new Cherokee. Sport, Latitude, and Limited 4x4 models come standard with Active Drive I, an on-demand 4WD system. (They're also available with front-wheel drive.) Like all Cherokee 4WD systems, it has a clutch to disengage the rear prop shaft to reduce drag. It also comes with hill descent control, and Selec-Terrain, with modes for different pavement/weather conditions and also a sport mode.

The Latitude and Limited can upgrade to the Active Drive II, which adds a two-speed transfer case with low range. Active Drive Lock, which is standard on, and exclusive to, the Trailhawk, adds a locking rear differential and Selec-Speed Control.

Cruise control for off-roading
The latter is a super-cool new feature (available on the 2014 Grand Cherokee as well) that we really appreciated out on Hell's Revenge. It's similar to hill descent control (when you use it, HDC is activated), but it's more like cruise control for extreme off-roading. You push the button to turn it on, and then toggle up and down with the shift lever's plus-minus gate to adjust the speed in 0.6-mph increments, from 0.6 mph to 5.5 mph. You can drive with your feet off the pedals completely, allowing you to concentrate exclusively on wheel placement.

Our drive on the trail was spent almost entirely in Rock mode, with low range and the locking rear differential engaged. We needed every bit of the Trailhawk's 29-degree approach and 32-degree departure angles, and 8.7 inches of ground clearance; even so, we occasionally put the skid plates to work as well. We also called upon the full range of suspension travel: 6.7 inches at the front and 7.8 inches at the rear. The Cherokee rides on Fiat/Chrysler's CUSW platform, but Jeep engineers say they've given it a unique four-wheel independent suspension.

Tigershark or Pentastar
Both Cherokee engines are new to Jeep, and both use Chrysler's brand-new nine-speed automatic. The base 2.4-liter is the Tigershark four-cylinder, which is also just arriving in the Dodge Dart GT. With 184 hp and 171 pound-feet of torque, it's more powerful than the 2.4-liter in the current Patriot/Compass, but it's still overtaxed in the Cherokee, and acceleration is leisurely. We much preferred the V-6, a variant of the Pentastar de-bored to 3.2 liters. With 271 hp and 239 pound-feet, the V-6 provides the oomph that the 4044-pound Cherokee (in 4x4 trim) needs. The nine-speed automatic, however, was kind of a non-issue. Of its nine forward speeds, the top four are overdrive, with ninth at an ultra-tall 0.48:1. In our admittedly brief on-road drive to and from the trailhead, we never got higher than seventh. Interestingly, the plus-minus shift gate does not provide manual up- and downshifts but instead lets you choose a maximum gear.

The Cherokee's wheelbase is close to the Liberty's, but the Cherokee is more than five inches longer, as the transverse engine layout makes for a much greater front overhang. The Cherokee is also lower and wider than the Liberty, although still shy of the Grand Cherokee on both counts. In passenger space, however, the Cherokee rivals its bigger brother; in fact, it has more rear-seat legroom. The interior design shares much with the Grand Cherokee: twin gauges flank a configurable TFT screen; Chrysler's large touch screen sits prominently in the center stack; and big, rubber-edged knobs are used for volume, tuning, and fan speed.

The wilder side
The exterior design, on the other hand, owes nothing to the Grand Cherokee -- or to any other Jeep. Sure, there are a couple of Jeep styling cues: a seven-slot grille and trapezoidal wheelhouses, but the whole Jeep form language of flat surfaces is gone, giving the Cherokee a generic-crossover look. Mark Allen, head of Jeep exterior design, says that, whenever the designers presented multiple options, management "kept going for the wilder side." The result may be a little too wild, and undoubtedly has fed the controversy that greeted this new Cherokee.

Controversial though it may be, the Cherokee did convincingly demonstrate on Hell's Revenge is that it can do real-Jeep things. Maybe not to the degree of an old-school Cherokee, but it's still impressive how much ability Jeep engineers have been able to bake into a car-based crossover. And in the mid-size SUV segment, crossovers are where the action is, since they don't demand the fuel-economy and packaging compromises of a truly optimized off-road machine. Jeep's Jim Morrison figures that the Cherokee can easily double the volume of the Liberty -- whether the traditionalists come around or not.

2014 Jeep Cherokee

On Sale: September
Base Price Range: $23,990-$30,990 (Sport 4x2, Limited 4x4)
Engines: 2.4-liter I-4, 3.2-liter V-6
Power:184 hp, 271 hp
Torque: 171 lb-ft, 239 lb-ft
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Drive: Front-wheel, 4-wheel
Fuel Economy: N/A
Ron Konieczka
I own a 14 Trail Hawk and just love it.  At first I hated the front end, but after seeing it daily I'm fine with it.  It has all the comforts of the Grand Cherokee with better gas mileage.
clathey
Are there a bunch of Republicans on this site.  No, no, no.  Heh.  I may be 70, but have had my '87 Jeep Wagoneer LTD since Nov. '86--according to the dealer the only one he sold with every available option--and when I see it in a parking lot it's still the best looking vehicle there, eh?  Not the seven slot Cherokee grille, but the Wagoneer grill and dual over and under headlights, but Select Trac and the tranny with selectable shift points.  It was the last AMC Jeep and the first 4.0 liter six and what I want to say is:  This is the first new Jeep that has appealed to me in almost 27 years.
As Dylan sang:  The times, they are a changing.  Get used to it.  This Jeep as others in history does it's job better than the competition in it's class.  What I wonder is why it's 900 lbs. heavier than my cast iron block, big transfer case/cast iron rear end differential, no airbags or non-skid braking Wagoneer.   Eh?  Anyone?
By the way, nice article that said a lot more then the others since Moab.
Takanashi Yuri
no
Rob Stauber
Like the design way better than the Liberty it replaces. But with an underpowered 4 or a downsized 6 engine I think the "Power Bulge" in the hood is a bit of an overstatement by the design folks.
Herbert Salamánca Ramos
Legendary name, horrible design. Sad.
Sebastien La Victoire
do the Koreans know someone stole one of their designs????
Lee Klein
How did this pass the design phase? It's shocking how such an ugly car got made. What were they thinking?
Lee Klein
Couldn't agree with you more.
Salabi Abi
this one is realy high sporty...I like it....
KJ Newman
this is ugly
Ervin Catovic
i want the new cherokees to kep making them
Leo Perez
Hate it. Just plain awful.
Craig Stishenko
WHY THE FRONT END !?!?!??! True that few Jeep owners use their Jeeps like they should. Jeep did have to appeal to a larger crowd, and with this variant they may. Between the 9 speed and the Aero styled body, im sure it meets needed efficiencies on the highway. I do not agree that they had to make the front end THAT ugly, but it is good to know that they have not forgotten their heritage with its offroad ability.
Orin O'Neill
I suppose many of their customers will demand this new Cherokee be "Trail-Rated(tm)" but how many will actually drive them off road? Not many, I'll bet. I expect to see lots of these in ditches when Western Washtington State has its annual week-long snow event...
Michael Dunmire
That thing is so fugly I'm just sitting here laughing at it. Pontiac Aztec, anyone? LMAO
Dammy Onafowokan
Aztek reborn!
Deepak Choudhary
perfect...!
BigBlock45
Mmm, walking on the wild side, maybe.  A 9-speed auto tranny with cruise control for rock crawling, ridiculous!  No one is taking a family hauler rock crawling or down some narrow trail... maybe negotiating a camp ground or state park, yeah.  I'm also thinking insurance is going to be pricey for this model... a hard bash on the bumper takes out the pricey HID headlights, the fog lights and air bag system!  The front end is highly controversial -- like in trying to make it look car-like while heisted way up in the air!?  A transverse engine also means more weight concentrated on the front tires (affecting offroad balance) and an engine more difficult to service (meaning more trips to the dealer).  The engine/trans/drive train layout makes much more sense in a road car, not in something alledgedly designed to go offroad.  God help Jeep if they screw up the Grand Cherokee design, cause this Cherkoee design ain't cutting it!
Richard Macintyre
it's the only thing more gimicky and bastardized than the Vette. It's barely attractive as an SUV, it's ridiculous as a Jeep.
Phil Sheo
That front end is ghastly.  Someone had to be tripping ball$ when they designed that.  I can understand wanting to differentiate it from the Grand Cherokee; but, c'mon, man!
andyoo
Are they trying to make a sport car or suv? the front is trying to do both and it's ugly. I guess they had not get rid of the bad designers yet.
It really does not matter how good the off road is on this, since 90% of buyers would drive this on regular roads anyway. however, if this jeep is as unreliable as the old model, it will be parking on the side of the freeway waiting for tow truck anyway even when it looks brand new...much like other models of this company.
trymes
It's comforting to know that the designer of the Pontiac Aztek isn't out of work.
Matt Simmons
That front end is really ugly.
Babatunde Nasir
lovely jeep
Mitch Jackson
I'm sure it's a great car and Chrysler will sell a s*** load of them. But I don't care, it's a kick in the nuts to Jeep fans.
Vincent Poulin
Thats the cherokee sports in lieux of the now dead liberty, that should keep the current gen beauty alive @ Bill luxon
Didei Stephane
J'aime la jeep
Bill Luxon
horrible travesty that new front facia. I think the current gen is one of the more handsome SUVs being made
Matthew Bacon
I love the look of the car. As a first generation Jeep owner this things looks a million miles better. The only down size is putting that much cash up front, which is why vehicle leasing is so useful, like with concept vehicle leasing. Those guys are great. 
ed124c
I think it is good looking.  But why put a smaller engine (3.2) in a 4,000 lb car?  I think this is a mistake and that Jeep should have simply gone with the nice, reliable 3.6.  Can the 3.6 be so heavy that they had to put in a smaller and less powerful engine?  My guess is that the 3.2 and 3.6 each weigh about the same. 
clathey
@Sebastien La Victoire So you did read the review suggesting a rip-off of the Kia grille elements.  Humans do have a pattern recognition thing going on, one of the reasons we dentists can read x-rays, but the esthetic is actually different here.

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