The Cherokee. It’s the original sport-utility vehicle.
Jeep’s former Cherokee model (which we owned, by the way) was a bastion, a stalwart defender of the little people’s rights to go off-roading and survive. Of course, even back then, it wasn’t what most people wanted or needed. We just didn’t understand how to make crossovers properly yet. Yet the hard-liners cried foul when this new Cherokee arrived. It’s a car underneath, they bawled. It’s not a Cherokee – the Cherokee must be able to tackle the Rubicon trail to carry that heralded name, they blubbered through their tears. It’s not even a real Jeep, they sobbed.
After all the weeping and hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth was done, we finally met the new Cherokee. Well, they were right about much of their complaints. It’s no longer the Jeep Cherokee that it was. And for the most part, that’s a good thing because 95% of us don’t need the truck-based off-road capable 4×4 that it was.
Is the Cherokee important? You bet it is. As a matter of fact, it fills the gaping hole in Jeep’s model line-up – right smack dab in the middle where the awful Liberty used to reside. And how is it doing in terms of sales? Well, according to Good Car Bad Car (the only source you’ll ever need to check vehicle sales stats), the Cherokee accounted for 25% of Jeep’s U.S. January volume and a staggering 37% of Jeep’s Canadian January volume. Boom! Yes, it’s an important vehicle and yes, it’s doing well.
My review vehicle was absolutely loaded, so much of the good stuff here is optional, but keep in mind that the extremely well-equipped “base” Limited trim is available for nearly 10 grand less.
Pricing: 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited 4×4
Base price (Limited trim): $32,195
Options: $1,795 Technology Group; $1495 Luxury Group; $495 Trailer Tow Group; $1,250 9-speed automatic transmission; $1,300 3.2L V6; $1,495 Command View sunroof; $525 UConnect navigation/system; $400 speaker upgrade; $100 wireless charging pad; $225 single disc CD player
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $43,070
Oh boy, here we go. You’ll find people equally as divided over the new Cherokee’s exterior as they are over its off-road chops. I found its design to be mostly pleasing. The majority of the vehicle, especially its side profile, won’t throw anyone off. You’ll find boxed out square fenders, tall sides and not a whole lot of things that are different. It’s a tall, relatively non-descript crossover and there’s not much more to it.
Make your way to the front, however, and the very different grille and squinting-eye row of lights on the upper front corners are definitely getting people into discussions. This might sound lame, but pictures don’t do this vehicle justice. I couldn’t stand it until I saw it in the flesh. I will admit the grille styling isn’t my favorite, but it’s certainly a step into the future and nobody can fault Jeep for that.
The rear end also causes some anxiety and trembling among purists. There’s a giant expanse of sheet metal under the rear glass, and it seems as though the sides wrap around the whole rear end. It’s hard to miss the Cherokee’s butt and in my opinion, it’s the least flattering of the design’s angles.
The Limited’s 18-inch rims with 225/60-sized tires seem a bit small for this vehicle, mainly because the rest of it is so tall. As I said, the exterior is certainly not going to please everyone, but as we start to see more and more of them around, I think the haters will simmer down and everyone will realize it’s a look at Jeep’s future.
I was very impressed with the interior of the new Cherokee. The materials are great – soft touch plastics everywhere your hand falls – on the dash, door panels, etc. You’ll find lovely textures and contrasting stitching. I thought that the strange faux wood trim on the door panels was the one low point of the interior.
The design is simple and effective, and combined with the aforementioned materials, it makes for a very, very nice mid-range cabin. No, it’s not high-end luxurious, but this isn’t that kind of vehicle.
The seats are very comfortable, but the two-tone leather didn’t appeal to everyone. They’re power adjustable with driver’s side memory, heated and cooled. The chunky steering wheel is heated, and has controls for cruise, phone, the driver information screen and media. The Cherokee’s instrument bin has two main gauges – they’re not that easy to read, but thankfully there’s a large 7-inch super-sharp (and very useful!) driver information screen between them that lets you access almost any information you might want – your fuel economy, trip meters, speedometer, vehicle diagnostics, and audio information can all be viewed there.
In the center of the dash is the excellent 8.4-inch UConnect screen. It’s square (which is unusual), bright and sharp. The user interface to make your way around the media, navigation, phone and vehicle settings functions is outstanding – it relies mostly on touch, but there are a couple of knobs and a back button. Nice and simple. Oh, and the unbranded but optionally upgraded stereo system sounds fantastic – I preferred it to many sound systems that splash a brand-name all over the speakers. Of course there’s a dual-zone automatic climate control system.
The centre console houses the Selec-Terrain control for the different drive modes (more on that later), a strangely-shaped and mostly useless open storage space (along with USB, auxiliary, SD card slot and 12V plug), the gear selector and a padded armrest. Overhead are a massive panoramic sunroof with a powered sunshade and a universal garage door opener.
The Cherokee, optioned as it was here, is endowed with copious amounts of driver assistance technology: front and rear parking sensors with audible and visual alerts, front collision alert and mitigation (brake assist), rear cross path detection, lane departure control, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, backup camera and parallel parking assist. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a vehicle with more electronic safety technology stuffed into it to date.
There are three seats back here, each with seatbelt and headrest. They slide and recline, and I (and every passenger we had in there) found them very comfortable. Leg room is decent but the middle position loses out a bit due to the centre console sticking out. Surprisingly, head room isn’t that great – just enough for me at 5’10”.
The middle seatback folds down to become an armrest with two cupholders, and the back of the console has adjustable air vents and a regular 120V household plug – something that should be included in every vehicle.
We had all three of our kids in the rear seat, and they were all comfortable and quite liked their time back there. There are two sets of LATCH anchors for child seats.
I found a number of places to put my stuff, though perhaps less nooks and crannies than I expected. There are decent little door bins and an average glove compartment and the middle of the dash has a pop-up lid with a rubberized bin inside. There is a small bin under the armrest lid, containing a single CD player (oh hi, 2005!), as well as additional USB and 12V plugs. I like nifty things, like the little storage area under the passenger’s seat cushion.
The Cherokee has a power liftgate to get you into the trunk, which is smaller than I expected at 702 litres. I liked the high trunk floor – it makes for easy loading.
You can fold the rear seats down (they split 60/40) to access a significantly bigger 1554 litre cargo space. There’s a removable, retractable tonneau cover and Jeep makes a big deal about their cargo management system, but it seems like a pretty typical space to me.
Under the Hood
Pop the sculpted hood and you’ll find Chrysler’s Pentastar V6 in 3.2-litre form. It puts out 270 horsepower and 239 lb.ft of torque, though Jeep is quite coy about where in the RPM range those number occur.
A powerful V6 and a 4075-pound all-wheel drive crossover don’t combine to make a fuel miser, but it’s not horrifying either. The Cherokee, in this trim, is rated at 11.1 L/100 km (21 mpg) in the city and 7.7 L/100 km (31 mpg) on the highway. I averaged 12.5 L/100 km (19 mpg) driving normally – no effort to save fuel, mostly city commuting, a bit of highway and a bit of freeway. Not bad – as noted, we used to own a 1998 Cherokee Classic and would average about 17 L/100 km (14 mpg). The Cherokee has a 60 litre tank.
In this case, the power is routed through a 9(!!!)-speed automatic transmission to an all-wheel drive system.
Considering where the Cherokee originated, the driving experience in the new one is worlds apart. The V6 is smooth and powerful and for normal driving, I never needed more. As a matter of fact, I’d like to try the turbo 4-cylinder version to see what that would be like.
The ride in the Cherokee is simply outstanding and feels upscale and expensive. The suspension is very well calibrated – it is comfortable, easily soaking up big hits, and happily tackled a soft-roading winter trail I took on. I could see this thing being comfortable heading off the beaten path if adventure is on the menu.
I really enjoyed the high driving position – it affords the driver an excellent view of the road ahead. The vehicle does feel quite high and therefore a bit top heavy and tippy, but it’s not bad and nothing unusual for a taller crossover.
The all-wheel drive system definitely is front-wheel drive based – you’ll feel the front slipping a bit before the system kicks in, but for most applications, it’s all the driver needs. Traction was exemplary on Edmonton’s winter roads – neither rutted ice roads nor fresh, powdery snow were a challenge for the Cherokee. On dry roads, the all-wheel drive system is transparent.
Unfortunately, the automatic transmission wasn’t as smooth as I expected it to be. I found it heaving between shifts on occasion, especially between first, second and third gears. It definitely hunts for higher gears (obviously in search of posting better fuel economy numbers), but then it seems quite lazy to kick down when you need it to, say for passing on the freeway. I also found that the transmission didn’t always feel confident, occasionally looking for the right gear for that particular situation but not settling on one or another. The gears can be shifted manually using the gear selector – this doesn’t happen particularly quickly, but that’s typical for vehicles like this.
That drive mode business I talked about earlier is controlled by a rotary knob on the console – the different modes you can choose from are automatic, snow, sport, sand/mud, as well as low mode and a hill-descent function.
The Cherokee is relatively quiet – we were impressed by the lack of road noise during city and highway driving, and it was particularly impressive on the highway. It felt stable and wind noise was well controlled. Equipped with the trailering package and V6, the Cherokee can tow a surprisingly high 4500 pounds.
I like that the power liftgate button is on the side of the trunk instead of way up on the liftgate – it’s easier to reach, and almost always more convenient.
As much as I like the UConnect system, I don’t like having to dig into a touch-screen to get to simple functions like my seat heaters. That should always be a switch or dial that’s easily accessible.
We found the ventilation fan in the Cherokee to be exceptionally loud. On some of the colder days where the heater was blowing (and not even at its highest setting), we found ourselves practically having to yell over the noise. That is an irritating thing to deal with.
Well, at the end of the review period, I couldn’t help but be highly impressed with what Jeep has done with the Cherokee. Of course, much like those that bemoan the loss of the off-road capable Nissan Pathfinder, you’ll still have those that insist the Cherokee should have remained a trail-crushing rock crawler. Ironically, Jeep does offer a Trail-Rated Trailhawk version with true off-road grit and ability. But the vast majority of us don’t need that kind of capability – and the Cherokee provides everything we do need.
It’s a polarizing design, to be sure, but in terms of what it offers – a very reasonable entry price, an upscale ride and great around-town and highway performance, reasonable space inside and a machine that (optioned-up) absolutely bristles with the latest technology – it’s a winner. I give the Jeep Cherokee an 8.5 out of 10.
This vehicle got a ton of attention – people came to check it out wherever I parked it, whether I was there or not and people knew about it and people wanted to talk about it. So whether it appeals to someone or not, there is plenty of buzz around the Cherokee and that’s something that good marketing can’t always buy. Sounds like Jeep has a champ on their hands.
WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was very high. She wasn’t super excited about the exterior, but everything else really appealed to her. She really like the interior and the driving experience, and said it felt like an expensive vehicle on the road.
To top it all off, the 2014 Jeep Cherokee was just declared the 2014 Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year (CCOTY) by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC). A well-deserved victory in my opinion.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Jeep Canada.
If you enjoyed this review, feel free to check out my other vehicle reviews under the car reviews tab at the top of my blog.