By Jack R. Nerad, Executive Editorial Director, KBB.com
KBB Expert Rating:
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The new-for-2014 Jeep Cherokee SUV has more off-road capability than most of its buyers will ever think of using. In classic Jeep fashion, it will take on boulders and swamps that other vehicles in its class dare not confront. But even as we were effortlessly negotiating the precarious cliffs of the Moab, Utah, landscape, we had to wonder, "Does it make any difference?" You might be able to answer that based on your own expectations, but if you are considering a Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4 or market-leading Honda CR-V, you should be aware that the Cherokee is different animal: Not only can it climb mountains, but it offers creature-comforts that might well be the best in class. That's why we named it one of the 10 Best SUVs Under $25,000 for 2014.
You'll Like This Car If...
If you want Jeep off-road capabilities in your small SUV and are willing to sacrifice a little room to get them, the Cherokee is for you.
You May Not Like This Car If...
If you don't give two hoots about off-roading or if the Cherokee doesn't look enough like a classic Jeep to you, you might well make another choice.
The Jeep Cherokee is all-new for 2014, replacing the late and largely unlamented Jeep Liberty.
Driving the Cherokee
The Jeep Cherokee is offered in four trims levels – Sport, Latitude, Limited and Trailhawk – and all but the Trailhawk are available in either front-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive (4WD) configurations....
... A very clever chameleon, its on-road behavior is in keeping with everything else in the class – perfectly acceptable but largely uninvolving. Acceleration from the 4-cylinder is adequate, and, as you'd expect, response from the V6-powered version is better. But when you get the Cherokee off pavement, the world changes. Equipped with any of its three 4WD systems – Jeep Active Drive I, Active Drive II and Active Drive Lock – the Cherokee offers class-leading off-road prowess. One key reason is the standard Selec-Terrain traction-control system, which allows the driver to choose settings for optimum performance, including settings for Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud and Rock. It also has an "Auto" setting that decides for you, based on what the Cherokee's systems sense. All models offer good approach and departure angles plus reasonable ground clearance, while the Trailhawk version ups the ante in each department. Bottom line: the Cherokee performs very well as a daily driver, while at the same time offering you more traction enhancement than you'll probably ever need.
948TE 9-SPEED AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION Developed by global transmission giant ZF, Chrysler Group's 9-speed automatic transmission is standard equipment in all models of the new Cherokee. We appreciated its smooth launches and excellent power delivery, and the biggest plus is fuel economy that is vastly improved over the Liberty's 4-speed automatic.
SELEC-TERRAIN Instead of relying on sheer muscle and torque multiplication, Selec-Terrain electronically coordinates and optimizes up to 12 separate vehicle systems to deliver control tailored to the environment you are traversing. Among the systems that get its special touch are the drivetrain control module, electronic brake controller, electronic stability control, transmission, and powertrain controller.
2014 Jeep Cherokee Details
Both Jeep heritage (the trapezoidal "center stack") and Americana (an instrument panel layout that mimics the spread wings of an eagle) are represented in the 2014 Cherokee's attractive, upscale interior. The ergonomically designed seats offer good support and are trimmed with attractive cloth or Nappa leather. The top-of-the-line seats are power-adjustable, heated/ventilated and feature memory settings. The 60/40-split 2nd-row seats move forward and backward for increased passenger comfort and cargo flexibility. Among the coolest features are an available wireless-device charging pad and a glovebox so large "you could put a turkey in it," joked the Cherokee's lead interior designer, Winnie Chung. We also liked the optional 7-inch full-color configurable instrument cluster that functions like a smartphone.
The exterior design of the Cherokee is nothing if not controversial. Some critics have slammed the "kink" in the iconic 7-portal grille, but chief exterior designer Mark Allen noted that other Jeeps featured a somewhat similar front-end treatment. Fact is, this SUV looks much better in person than in photographs, and we warmed up to it quickly. The Cherokee is built off the same front-drive platform as the Dodge Dart, and we think the design and engineering team did a remarkable job in turning it into a vehicle that can truly be called a Jeep. The Trailhawk version kicks up the macho up a notch with a higher ride height, red-painted front tow hooks, skidplates and more aggressive front and rear fascias. For those who like to add open-air to their off-roading, the Cherokee offers a CommandView panoramic sunroof or the Sky Slider full-length-opening canvas roof.
The base Cherokee Sport is powered by the new 2.4-liter MultiAir2 Tigershark 4-cylinder engine offering praiseworthy fuel economy and a range of some 500 miles on a tankful. Standard equipment includes Uconnect 5-inch touch-screen media center with Bluetooth for hands-free phone and streaming audio, a media hub that offers USB, SD and auxiliary ports and charging capability, a 3.5-inch full-color center cluster, 10 air bags, anti-lock disc brakes, electronic stability control, traction control, Hill-start Assist, electric power steering, an electric park brake, cruise control, air conditioning with rear outlets, and remote keyless entry. The Jeep Cargo Management system includes standard hooks and a storage tote, and accessories are available.
Jeep figures the Latitude model will be the best seller, and its prime calling card is the availability of the 3.2-liter Pentastar V6 engine. It also offers two 4WD systems: Jeep Active Drive I, Jeep Active Drive II. Added standard niceties include a fold-flat front-passenger seat with under-cushion storage space, 17-inch aluminum wheels and a 115-volt outlet. Options include the Uconnect infotainment system with an 8.4-inch touch screen, Alpine premium audio with nine speakers and a subwoofer, and the CommandView dual-pane panoramic sunroof with power sunshade. The Cherokee Limited adds leather, heated power seats, a heated steering wheel, Keyless Enter-N-Go, automatic headlights, and 18-inch aluminum wheels. The trim level also features the Uconnect 8.4 system with SiriusXM Radio, ParkView rear backup camera, remote start, and dual-zone automatic temperature control. The Trailhawk isn't the traditional top-of-the-line trim model. Instead it concentrates on a variety of equipment that add off-road capabilities.
Under the Hood
While many models in the segment are ditching their 6-cylinder variants to concentrate on the fuel-economy of the 4-cylinders, Jeep is adamant about offering a V6 version of the Cherokee. Its 3.2-liter Pentastar V6 engine produces 271 horsepower, 239 lb-ft of torque and delivers best-in-class V6 towing of 4,500 pounds. The 16-valve, 2.4-liter Tigershark MultiAir2 4-cylinder engine, standard in the 2014 Jeep Cherokee, is the more technically interesting of the two engine choices. Using an electro-hydraulic fully variable valve-lift system, the 2.4-liter engine produces 184 horsepower and 171 lb-ft of torque. Perhaps more important, it offers an estimated 31-mpg highway fuel economy rating. That's more than a 45-percent improvement versus the outgoing model. The 9-speed automatic transmission, a first in the segment, is standard equipment in all models of the new Cherokee.
Given the fact that the Jeep Cherokee is landing smack-dab in the middle of one of the hottest segments in the American auto market, it's not too surprising that its pricing is right in line with its competitors. Key among them are the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and Toyota RAV4, but none of those worthy competitors currently offers a V6 option. Both the Escape and RAV4 previously offered V6s, but both went the 4-cylinder-only route after recent re-designs. In making your choice, you might look to what is most important to you. If you want the Jeep name, serious off-roading chops and reasonable towing capabilities, the Cherokee is the choice. If you do light-duty off-roading or no off-roading at all, other vehicles offer more interior space. That said the Cherokee is a good all-around SUV, and we expect it to deliver average to above-average resale value in its class.
"Bought a Cherokee Sport with the 4 cylinder engine and 4 wheel drive, as my wife's primary vehicle. It's exceeded all expectations. It's been great on snow and ice, and averaged 27-28 mpg on a recent road trip from South Dakota to Arizona. No problems whatsoever, including no transmission/gear-hunting problems that others have had. I've owned a couple of RAV-4's, and I'll take this vehicle over both of them."
"Pros: Incredible interior which is laid out well. The Uconnect radio is great.
Cons: Horrible transmission. The cars shifts poorly at best under 35 mph and lunges through gear shifts. This is intermittent behavior and you never know when it is going to happen. Over 40 mph, it acts like a normal transmission. I have had it in for service 5 times including once with the regional service person. They say that these are the "characteristics" of this transmission. I have repeatedly asked if these characteristics would be acceptable in another transmission. It has had 3 "software updates" for the transmission already. Filed the "lemon law notice". Regional guy stated that this car has a 96% satisfaction rate. You really don't want to be the 4% then."
"We have now put almost 6,000 miles of pleasurable local and highway driving on our 2015 Cherokee limited and have found it to be a great little car so far. Our last vehicle was a 2011 Grand Cherokee Limited and this 2015 Cherokee has and does virtually everything the 2011 Grand Cherokee did, plus it is lots easier to get into and out of. We thought we would be giving up some feeling of luxury and some storage capability as compared to the Grand Cherokee but, while it is a little lighter feeling, this Cherokee also feels luxurious, is more nimble and it can surprisingly handle pretty much the same amount of stuff for our trips to the beach as did the old Grand Cherokee. Further, the acceleration is quite a bit quicker, it is more responsive overall and gets 5 mpg + better gas mileage. The nav and Uconnect Bluetooth are especially useful and enjoyable and are our favorite features. The only reservations we could have from giving it a perfect 10 in every area at this time is not yet knowing if it will hold its value well (as did our Grand Cherokee) and how it will hold up mechanically in the long run. We are otherwise enjoying this car."