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2014 Jeep Cherokee Test Drive Review
The Cherokee’s V6 served up more power than even a lead-footed enthusiast like me needs to be happy.
After a somewhat rocky and delayed launch attributed to initial quality concerns, the Jeep Cherokee is back, but its days as a boxy, no-frills utility vehicle are history. Look beyond the polarizing front-end styling, and you’ll discover a versatile crossover that impresses in almost every way, from performance and foul-weather handling to comfort and materials.
Look and Feel
Out of 10
If first impressions meant everything, it’s quite possible very few 2014 Jeep Cherokees would ever make their way off dealer lots. With its oddly placed horizontal LED lights up front, this FIAT-based Jeep might lead some to conclude that the minds behind the much-maligned Pontiac Aztek have once again finagled their way into an automotive design studio. Furthermore, if not for the slotted grille and obvious "Jeep" badge on the curvaceous hood, you’d swear this crossover carried the DNA of almost any other brand.
No, to this observer’s eyes, the Cherokee’s mug ain’t pretty, but to my surprise, it did grow on me quickly. Perhaps the rest of the package played some part in that; to its credit, this 5-seater has an aggressive stance highlighted by squared wheel arches finished with matte black trim, sporty chrome dual exhaust tips integrated into the rear bumper and chiseled body lines. Overall, the Cherokee appears more rugged than competitors such as the Ford Escape and Toyota RAV4, yet it's clearly less utilitarian than its Wrangler stablemate.
For car shoppers who want to become 2014 Jeep Cherokee owners, they’ll need to select one of four available trim levels and have at least $23,990 (prices include a $995 destination charge) at their disposal. That’s the base price for a front-wheel-drive (FWD) Sport model equipped with standard amenities, including Bluetooth connectivity and streaming audio, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, a 5-inch touchscreen Uconnect infotainment system with voice control and both USB and auxiliary input jacks, and 17-inch steel wheels.
One notch above the Sport is the Cherokee Latitude ($25,490), home to standard fog lights, roof rails, a 115-volt household-style power outlet, a fold-flat front passenger seat with additional storage under the lower cushion, leather accent trim and 17-inch alloy wheels. Those upgrades are also found on the Jeep Cherokee Limited ($28,990), as are automatic headlights, heated mirrors with integrated turn signals, dual-zone automatic climate control, a rear-view camera, leather upholstery and power-adjustable heated front seats. On top of that, there’s a complementary 1-year satellite radio subscription, a heated steering wheel, an 8.4-inch screen for the Uconnect system, push-button start and 18-inch alloys fitted within the wheel wells.
That brings us to the off-road-ready Trailhawk ($30,490), available exclusively with a standard full-time 4WD system featuring a locking rear axle, as well as skid plates, a raised suspension, all-terrain tires and hill-descent control.
Options for the Cherokee are dependent on trim level, but among the highlights are remote start, Active Drive I full-time 4WD with a single-speed transfer case, Active Drive II 4WD with a 2-speed transfer case including low range, a Technology Package chock full of advanced safety features and a Class III towing package.
My review centers on a 4WD Cherokee Latitude provided by Jeep for a week of evaluation. Several add-ons drove the as-tested price up to $32,970.
Out of 10
Standard in all versions of the 2014 Cherokee is a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine that Jeep refers to as the Tigershark. Contrary to the powerful image that moniker may elicit, the little 4-banger musters only 184 hp and 171 lb-ft of torque, but those are in fact some of the highest figures in the segment. And, thanks to the efficiency of a 9-speed automatic transmission, EPA-rated fuel economy is also competitive, if not class-leading. FWD Cherokees are expected to average up to 22 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway, while the addition of the Active Drive I 4WD system knocks those estimates down to 21 and 28 mpg, respectively.
Drivers who want more muscle under the hood—and don’t mind stopping by the gas station a bit more frequently—will want to consider the Cherokee’s optional 3.2-liter V6 that’s good for 271 hp and 239 lb-ft of torque (Sport aficionados are out of luck—it’s not offered in that trim). Again, the 9-speed tranny is standard equipment. Stick with FWD and you should see 19 mpg around town and 28 mpg on long highway trips. Active Drive I reduces the highway rating by only 1 mpg. (Regardless of engine choice, Trailhawk models and those equipped with the Active Drive II 4WD system shave off another 1-3 mpg).
My Cherokee Latitude, upgraded with Active Drive II, averaged 20.5 mpg over the course of a few hundred miles racked up in town, on I-95 and during a one-day self-guided sightseeing tour through the mountains. One thing I realized from the get-go was this: The Cherokee’s V6 served up more power than even a lead-footed enthusiast like me needs to be happy. I seldom felt the urge to stomp on the throttle, whether to make a pass or just to act like a hooligan on a lonely stretch of blacktop, as conservative application of the gas pedal delivered ample acceleration for any situation. And, as an added bonus, the engine felt and sounded equally refined at low and high revs, a point not all manufacturers’ engineers have mastered. As for the 9-speed automatic, it too was impressive, with a knack for finding the appropriate gear when I was looking for a burst of speed while climbing a steep hill.
Since I tested the Cherokee in the dead of winter in Maine, I was afforded the opportunity to see how well this Jeep tackled several inches of snow. There’s a dial on the center console for the 4WD system with settings for Auto, Snow, Sport, and Snow/Mud—I opted for Auto most of the time and never had an issue with traction. Switching over to Snow mode effectively prevented what little wheel slippage I’d experienced in Auto. In my notes, I commented, “The Cherokee is a bear in snow. It’s a troopa.” (That’s “trooper” for those outside New England.)
Of course, most drivers won’t spend their days traveling along unplowed roads, so it’s good to know that the Cherokee boasts a comfortable and compliant ride on dry pavement. Bumps are absorbed well, and their effects are nicely isolated from the cabin, which is fairly quiet. The suspension does feel a little soft, allowing for some body roll in corners, but that’s not unexpected when you’re talking about a capable 4WD crossover.
Form and Function
Out of 10
In years past, a Jeep with an impressive powertrain and proven all-weather chops might have very well lost its luster when its interior became the topic of conversation. Questionable build quality and low-rent materials were the focus of more than a few complaints. However, anyone who still holds that impression hasn’t been in one of several redesigned or all-new Chrysler products, including the 2014 Jeep Cherokee.
Yes, you’ll find hard plastic inside, though it’s not too shiny, and its use is limited. Instead, there are soft-touch surfaces on the dash and upper door panels, rubber-gripped control and air-vent dials that feel upscale, mesh fabric on the headliner and visors (the latter is often cheap vinyl), and durable, almost denim-like cloth upholstery. The sense of quality also carries over to the steering-wheel stalks, which offer an affirmative click when used.
Those bits and pieces are joined by comfortable front seats featuring generous thigh support and sufficient side bolstering. Heated buckets would’ve been a nice addition, but remote start more than compensated by letting me turn on and warm up the Cherokee from inside my house. Much appreciated, Jeep. Props also go out for the multiple power adjustments and manual tilt/telescoping steering wheel, both key to dialing in a suitable driving position.
Rear-seat passengers are granted similar accommodations, including ample overall space. Front seatbacks are padded, so riders with long legs won’t walk away with sore, bruised knees. As is typical, the second row’s cushions are relatively flat and stiff, though they do recline a bit, offer a fold-down center armrest with cupholders and slide fore/aft—presumably to increase cargo space. There’s also the aforementioned 115-volt outlet that proves handy for charging DVD players, games and more.
In terms of storage, the Cherokee has things covered with a deep glovebox, door pockets, numerous cubbies on the console and dash, and a dual-level front center armrest. Of special note is an area below the instrument panel including space for a portable device as well as a power outlet, USB and auxiliary input jacks, and an SD card slot. At the other end of the vehicle is the trunk, accessed by lowering the rear seats or via the power tailgate. On the plus side, the opening is wide and the floor is flat, but those benefits are somewhat negated by a high liftover that will make loading items potentially problematic for some.
Out of 10
Like all 2014 Cherokee models, my tester was fitted with Jeep’s Uconnect infotainment system, though I had the upgraded 8.4-inch screen. Navigation wasn’t included, but it was the hub for the radio and media, and it had controls for features including the rear-view camera and auto-dimming mirror. Activating the intuitively labeled icons required only a light tap, something I was able to do with bare fingers or while wearing gloves (I’ve often found that to be an issue).
To use Uconnect, you’ll need to set up an account on the Uconnect website and download the app onto your smartphone. Once that’s done, you can visit the "store" to browse through all the available apps. The system also enables the Cherokee to serve as a Wi-Fi hotspot.
Pairing a phone is simple and easy—the process was literally completed in a matter of seconds—and call clarity is excellent. At one point, I shared a three-way call with a hard-of-hearing passenger who had no problem carrying on a conversation, despite the presence of distracting traffic and road noise.
Out of 10
Although it had yet to be crash tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) when this review was written, there’s good reason to believe the 2014 Jeep Cherokee will perform well when that time comes. I say that because the other leader in the field, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), has subjected the Cherokee to its own battery of tests, all of which the little crossover aced on its way to earning a spot on the Institute’s coveted list of Top Safety Picks.
Credit goes to the vehicle’s architecture and the inclusion of 10 standard airbags. Also found amongst the Cherokee’s generous assortment of safety features are 4-wheel antilock disc brakes, hill-start assist, the rear-view camera, front active head restraints, bright LED taillights that aid visibility and emergency response services available through the Uconnect system.
If that doesn’t quite satiate your appetite for safety goods, perhaps the optional Technology Group will do the trick. This package bundles together blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure and forward-collision systems, intelligent cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, and a rear cross-traffic alert. It also incorporates a parallel and perpendicular self-parking feature, a first for Jeep.
Out of 10
With the launch of the all-new Cherokee, Jeep joins a crowded field of crossovers that includes long-standing favorites like the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, not to mention completely redesigned Ford Escape and Subaru Forester models, among others. Advantages include a competitive base price, 5 years or 100,000 miles of powertrain coverage and roadside assistance, genuine off-road capability and projected resale values similar to rides such as the Chevy Equinox, though less than the CR-V. Unfortunately, neither Consumer Reports nor J.D. Power and Associates has yet had a chance to compile reliability data.
Fuel economy for the 4-cylinder engine is about average, while EPA ratings for the V6 are considerably better than those tied to the Equinox’s optional 6-cylinder mill. With its coupling of power and decent efficiency, the Cherokee’s 3.6-liter engine may be most folks’ first choice, but getting it means laying down an extra $1,495 and selecting the Latitude trim or above. Tack on $2,000 for the Active Drive I 4WD system and $495 for the towing package, and you’re looking at a very reasonable $28,985 for a capable crossover with lots of utility. The safety-oriented Technology Group is another attractive option, yet it’s restricted to Limited and Trailhawk models.
Thom Blackett is a lifelong car nut, owning cars ranging from Datsuns to Mustang GTs and, currently, a Ram 2500 plow truck. He has spent the past decade writing objective, thorough vehicle reviews and consumer-focused feature articles for Autobytel.com, Kelley Blue Book, The Boston Globe, Cars.com, and other leading websites and publications.