Jeep Cherokee: Go Anywhere Crossover

By Frank A. Aukofer, August 16th, 2014

Like contestants in the World Series of Poker, the designers and engineers of the new Jeep Cherokee went all in.

They could hardly have played their hand any other way, given the intense interest from Cherokee fans who lovingly maintain favorites from the 1980s and 1990s. Those Cherokees were the rugged precursors of modern compact and midsize sport utility vehicles. They delivered comfort with capabilities similar to the austere Jeep Wranglers.

Even with its full suite of modern features and engineering, it doesn't mean the new Cherokee is going to win the championship in the compact/midsize sport and crossover utility market. Nevertheless, it has a good hand to play successfully for a long time. And for customers wedded to the old styling, well, Jeep still offers the Wrangler.

The Cherokee's strength lies in its diversity. Where its competitors are mainly pleasant crossover utility vehicles (CUVs) that are little more than tall station wagons, the new Jeep encompasses all of that with extra trump cards: Three models, two engines, front-wheel drive or a choice of three different four-wheel drive systems, a unique nine-speed automatic transmission and a rugged Trailhawk model that can travel off road almost anywhere.

The Cherokee Trailhawk is a go-anywhere challenger to the best boondocks bashers around -- and that includes some models from the far more expensive Land Rover and Jeep's own Wrangler and larger Grand Cherokee.

Standard equipment on the Trailhawk includes a two-speed transfer case and a locking rear differential. A ground clearance of 8.7 inches, along with generous approach, departure and break-over angles contribute to its off-road prowess.

strong>It also features driver-selectable performance settings: automatic, sport, snow, mud/sand and rock, each of which calibrates the transmission, brakes and drive system for different conditions on- and off-road.

The Trailhawk is aimed at serious off-road enthusiasts who also want everyday paved road comfort and performance. The rest of the lineup, in Sport, Latitude and Limited models, is intended more for the same sort of customer who might buy a Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4 or Chevrolet Equinox.

The unique nine-speed automatic transmission is standard on all Cherokee models. With so many ratios, the steps between gears are small, making for nearly unobtrusive shifts. All four top gears, from sixth through ninth, are overdrive, which enhances fuel economy and helps reduce noise and harshness.

Buyers have a choice of a 184-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine or a 271-horsepower, 3.2-liter V-6. Front-drive versions with the four-banger deliver 22/31/25 mpg on the EPA's city/highway/combined test cycles.

The front-drive Sport starts at $23,990 with the four-cylinder. Add $2,000 for all-wheel drive. Tested for this review, in addition to the V6 Trailhawk, were the four-cylinder, front-drive Latitude model, which starts at $25,490, and the V6 Limited 4X4 model, with a base sticker price of $30,990. The Trailhawk starts at $30,490.

On the road, both the Limited and the front-drive Latitude exhibited good manners, though the ride was choppy on rough surfaces because of the relatively stiff suspension system. The steering was nicely weighted with secure straight-line tracking and a responsive feel around corners.

The interior was quiet, with little intrusion of wind, road or mechanical noises. Seats delivered decent support and comfort for four persons, with adequate head and knee room, though the passenger in the center-rear seat suffers from a hard cushion and an intrusive center console.

Most customers likely would be happy with the four-cylinder engine, which provided good power, strong acceleration and decent fuel economy. In fact, the only reason to choose the V-6 would be for the 4,500-pound towing capability.

Passenger space of 103 cubic-feet is similar to that of a midsize sedan and the Cherokee offers 25 cu.-ft. of cargo space that expands to 55 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded.

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