2014 Jeep Cherokee Review - Building BridgesS

In all vehicle reviews there is a paragraph at the beginning with an analogy to something other than cars to frame the rest of the review. Something like; if the 2014 Cherokee were named after another native American tribe the cake song might be apt - come Comanche come on, if you want to build bridges you have to build roads. This new Cherokee is Jeep's renewed attempt to build important bridges into the lucrative small suv market, dominated by the rav4, crv and escape where the liberty has been a relative failure. But is this new jeep just treading on sacred ground, or is there a new chief? I've found, however that these paragraphs usually don't contain any good information or writing and so i usually skip them and move on to the next paragraph where the meat starts.

[full disclosure - Hearst publishing, in conjunction with Ray Wert and co flew me and 9 others like me out to Jackson Hole, WY at the behest of Jeep to do a comparison test of the aforementioned SUV's. I was fed well, and it was cold]

Let's get this out of the way right now, this is not an XJ. I owned a 91 limited with the 4.0 HO and the 5 speed manual and it's still dear to my heart. The new Cherokee, or KL, doesn't have a single solid axle, or 60s era inline 6 or even manual transmission, however, given that all people want to talk about are the new nose job (yeah, it's not great) and the weight of the name I'll oblige and Taylor this review to reflect that with categories scored in Cherokee's...XJ Cherokee's. 1-5. 5 being most bestest. Also, as both a rabid car nerd and a purveyor of fine automotive literature, I understand that most people don't enjoy the same level of detail as I do so for convenience; super nerdy technical deep dive stuff will numbered and featured as footnotes after the bulk of the review.

Exterior -

2014 Jeep Cherokee Review - Building BridgesS

Photo credit: Jesse Fretag

If there is one thing a design shouldn't be, its boring. I like to call it "polarizing" you either have grown to like it, or it still makes you swallow your barf. Truth is, they could have made it a 5/8th grand Cherokee and they didn't do it and I think its better for it. Love it or hate it, you'll know one when you see it. I think its perfect...aside from anything forward of the front wheels. Honestly, from the back, sides, ¾ view...its really stunning, but the long nose coupled with an...um...distinctive frontal treatment leave me saddened. It could have been a little more Grand Cherokee and been better for it. as for hitting their "love it or leave it" design target...they nailed it, and given that I typically don't care what a utility vehicle looks like as long as it brings the game...I think its mostly a win. BTW, all their paints are metal flake and look quite good, especially red and black. 4 XJ's

Interior -

2014 Jeep Cherokee Review - Building BridgesS

photo credit: car and driver

If Jeep is indeed going to build roads (see what I mean about that first paragraph?) its going to need to start here. To say that Chrysler interiors have been cheap is to be kind, fortunately, things are starting to change with the Italian Stallion at the helm and this is one Chrysler purchase you don't first qualify with, yeah the interior isn't great but… Everywhere my eye went my hand followed to find that yes, its really that soft dash material of VW fame, or yes, those are real buttons...yes to this and that…the interior is full of yes. Having said that, I also spend some time in the back seats where headroom is severely limited with the super sunroof, there is no map pocket on the back of the passenger seat and there were clear signs that the money started up front and tapered towards the back. Also, cargo space is sparer than the others in this class. This is an interior for the driver and 3 friends' tops...and pack light. (1 cool buttons) Other oddities included a menu driven seat heater control vs hard buttons. HVAC...thankfully...is controlled by a separate system. 4 XJ's mostly because I love this interior.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Review - Building BridgesS

Ride/handling - Impressive. No seriously, if you've ridden in an XJ, this will make you swear you're in an LS400. You're not though; you're in a cute ute in the year 2013 where all the competitors are 100 miles ahead of the XJ. On hand for comparison was a Rav4, Escape and CR-V; The escape handled nicely but was too sharp, the Rav4 and CR-V wallowed as expected, same goes for the Forester XT I tester earlier in the year. The jeep is the proverbial Goldilocks; not to hard, not too soft. It was a ride that made you remember you were in something substantial, with distant heavy wumphs instead of thwaks or pings. In the handling department I am only marginally qualified to comment as the warmest is got in Jackson Hole was 20 and while I was at the wheel, Ray was making sure he didn't have to explain to the Jeep people why their shiny new jeep was ¾ embedded into a confused bison. I will say that throwing it at corners on an icy road at 20 degrees at extra legal speed with the traction control off was totally confidence inspiring...at least it was for me. Having owned the very sporty 2005 forester XT 5 speed, and driven the very sharp and tenacious escape ecoboost titanium as references, I was pleasantly surprised how well it took to corners given how much better a ride than the escape it was and how much more solid the suspension felt. on and off road, this rates a 4 and 1/2 XJ rating.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Review - Building BridgesS

the rear control arms are a special process of cold work extruded aluminum

Go/Stop -

2014 Jeep Cherokee Review - Building BridgesS

Photo credit: trucktrend

I'm going to qualify my impressions by the fact that at 6800 feet the engine is down on power ~20% due to the loss of air density at altitude, which means that means 55 of the 271 angry Detroit horses that started off in the 3.2 liter Pentastar were now roaming the pastures giving the local horses a hard time about the UAW. (2 details on the 3.2) Even with these qualifiers, it was pretty pokey...when revved. I didn't get any instrumented data, but it's a much faster ride at this elevation than anything in class that's not turbo-charged. The only other vehicle close was the ecoboost and the power delivery in that engine was so much worse that I would take the v6 every time. A forester XT would walk over this thing at high elevation, but that's about it. (3 what about power to weight or torque?) The 9 speed helps keep the engine in the sweet spot longer though it felt really tall geared for something with 4 overdrives in addition to a standard 5 speed. Speaking of that transmission, no, I didn't get into 9th, or maybe I did...I wasn't paying attention. The thing I can say most about this transmission is that it's pretty transparent. It's just as good as any very well programed modern planetary transmission; smooth, quick, accurate. The manumatic "sport" function is of the VW autostick design, but is reverse polish in nature (towards you is upshift and away is downshift)...I.e. wrong. It works reasonably well, and it will hold gears and bounce off the redline all day long if you want. It does not rev match on downshifts. I wish I had more info to elaborate on this amazing transmission because a brief summary hardly does the technology justice, but the engineers should feel proud of the calibrations that are, I'm told, complete and ready to rock. (4 yeah, what about those calibrations?) Are you sad you can't get a manual? Me too, but that's the reality of the world we live in. On the plus side, it means amazing in class mileage and its decent fun for its type. Brakes? They work. A little wooden on initial bite, but otherwise strong and dependable; what is there to complain about? A hellavalot better than any brakes the XJ ever came with. In terms of go, and stop, it's a very competent package and the 3.2 works very well here…though it does beg the question why the 3.6 could slot it, being the same size as the 3.2 externally; My guess is a toque limit on the transmission. I would say 3.5 XJ's for the engine and 4 1/2 for the trans, lets call it 4.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Review - Building BridgesS

photo credit: motor trend

Toys - The Limited and the Trailhawk have got em, but they should, they match or exceed the priciest vehicles in the segment at this level; Having said that, no one else has an adaptive cruise that will fully panic stop and start in this group. It works well, check out the videos that should be up in about a month to see. It also has fancy automated parking that will do parallel and perpendicular. But It's my opinion that if you can't park your own car...maybe driving isn't for you. Also, I have to wonder who is using these systems. I see two possible scenarios:

1. You are a nerdy button pusher like me and you want to show your friends your cool party piece.

2. You think this will stop your significant other from backing into cars and running up your insurance premium.

In either case, it's not going to work: 1. because if you are a nerdy button pusher you don't have friends to impress and 2. Because your significant other is going to totally forget or never bother to learn how the system works and it will go unused. It also has lane departure which works by letting you know when your mom is driving. The stereo is okay, but the Ford's and Toyota's systems are better. At least the UI in the infotainment is easy to use and straightforward. In 30 seconds I had it mastered, a true feat in and of itself these days. (5 what about off road toys?) 4 for Toys

Capability -

Let's get the bad over with:

Articulation – Not a solid axle in sight and the ramp score shows it which...according to an engineer...is in the low to mid 300's on a 20 degree ramp. (6 what's a ramp score) Ramp scores aren't everything...ask a hummer H1...but more is generally better.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Review - Building BridgesS

photo credit: fourwheeler.com

Aftermarket - I asked the Jeep engineer what considerations were given to the aftermarket, or if it was possible to lift it? Not really. There isn't much in it, though it seems like the CV angles are low enough for it. She said a lift is possible, but it would mean…essentially…a body lift where you would drop the sub-frames away from the body to get another inch for bigger tires. Short answer: don't bother.

The Cherokee is available in 4 flavors of drive:

  • Fwd – for people who think stick on portholes are awesome.
  • Active Drive I which is single speed AWD pretty much just like the rest of the segment. Power is routed to the rear in times of need through clutches in the Power Takeoff Unit (PTU) – pretty much all anyone needs for bad weather capability
  • Active Drive II which gives you low range, terrain select and Hill Decent Control (HDC) – more or less what you get with the Trailhawk.
  • Active Drive lock which is active drive II with a true rear differential locker, crawl control and "rock" is added to the terrain control knob's normal "auto, snow, sport, sand/mud" settings.

Now the great - Why build bridges when you can just cross the river?

2014 Jeep Cherokee Review - Building BridgesS

photo credit: Jesse Fretag

First off, this is way better off road than it has a right to be and secondly, for rock crawling you are better off buying used, since it's going to be about body damage at a certain point and you'll have more fun not feeling like your tipping over all the time (articulation). Durability may also be an issue given the nature of the platform and construction, but on that front ask an XJ owner how their doors close after a few years of off-roading. The traction management system worked well without obvious intrusion and traction was never an issue in the snow and ice, even up stupidly steep icy road.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Review - Building BridgesS

photo credit: Jesse Fretag

We took a limited with the active drive II system and the Trailhawk with active drive lock through the same stuff and both were masters, including a few frozen river crossing a little above the 20 inch max with not problems at all.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Review - Building BridgesS

photo credit: Jesse Fretag

You get a true low range with an astounding 56:1 crawl ratio which means plenty of control and power to boot. (7 More on that crazy crawl ratio)

The PTU clutches are locked in 4lo but even in 4hi the system can fully lock as well if needed. For the record, I couldn't tell the difference between auto, snow, sport, sand/mud". The Rock mode in the Trailhawk is unique because it's the only setting where you can activate the rear locker; which is a genuine mechanical locker.The other important numbers on the Trailhawk are pretty impressive.

29.8 approach, 23.3 break over, 32.1 departure, 20 inches of water fording.Better than most in its class and good enough for all but serious rock crawling, ground clearance is 8.7 in the Trailhawk, up from 7.7 in the limited. (8 caveats on numbers) Oh yes, I nearly forgot, the off road ride is sublime, not Range Rover smooth, but LEAGUES ahead of anything else in its price point. Off road it gets a legit 3 and 1/2 XJ's, which...considering the scoring matrix, its pretty great.

Value - It costs a lot, but you do get a lot. 4 XJ's

So the big question; What is it?

The tough part about these suv's is trying to figure out their place in the off-road world: They are way more hardcore and capable that any of their competition, but not strong enough for truly demanding adventure travel like crawling and mudding. The thing I kept asking myself was; "how far am I willing to push it, knowing that it is, after all, just a dart underneath."My limits, in the end, were lower than the vehicle only because I knew that when I did reach those limits, it was going to get ugly. Now let me say that being conservative meant taking me to some pretty remote and wonderful places with genuine challenges that would have stopped lesser vehicles along the way.In terms of how much terrain you could tackle, I would say 95% XJ, which is pretty damn good considering how much better a car on the road the KL is.

I grew up Jeeping in real SUV's (Cherokee, rodeo, etc) in Moab and the surrounding areas and I loved it but I knew I would eventually need a car meant for the road where I spent most of my time, I would trade capability for economy and ruggedness for cornering and ended up in a Subaru like most people did.What these jeeps represent, to me, is a ticket back into the game; Where you can have all the capability you might reasonably need, but if won't cost you an arm and a leg to drive there, and it doesn't mean giving up a fun drive on the roads.The truth is, there is no Wrangler MX5 and there never will be, but if you still believe in the idea that you can have it all, without robbing a bank, The Cherokee might be worth looking into.I recommend the Trailhawk because it looks better, you get the skid plates and that inch of height, but the limited with active drive II did everything the Trailhawk did without complaint and would serve you well.If you just need the most bang for the buck and your idea of off-road is a gravel path to a cabin, then a forester XT is your car. If you think that real adventure is in your future, but you aren't crazy enough to give everything else to drive a true off-roader for those 1 or 2 times a year…Look no further. No its not an XJ, and frankly better for it. All in all, it gets a rating of 4 XJ's

This is the last line in the review where I tie in the first paragraph with something lame like: Well Comanche, you may have a lot to learn about building bridges and roads, but This Cherokee sure doesn't.Quality stuff right?

Pros –

As capable as you are willing to risk body damage

Comfortable

Good road manners

Good fuel economy

Cons –

Not easily upgradable

Not as spacious as others in its class

No manual

Still a rancor face

Not an XJ (seriously, can we just get over this?)

NERD CORNER

1. The most impressive thing was the buttons that turned of the traction control (true off) was front and center, as were the buttons to disable the lane departure systems and park assist. Buttons that didn't even exist in the others. Sadly, a tiny two way button replaces the handbrake.

2. The 3.2 liter pentastar is, more or less, a de-bored (91x83 vs 96x83) version of the 3.6 Pentastar V6 found in other jeep products. Like the 3.6 the 3.2 is smooth and modern and as a bonus, revs to nearly 7000. The downside is that it needs to, with only 239 ft-lbs at 4400 rpm and peak hp at 6500 rpm a low end stump puller this aint.

3. Progress sees 15.5 lbs/hp in the KL to the old…but still damn impressive…17.9 lbs/hp for the XJ. Interestingly, torque is a different story, with the KL showing 17.6 lbs/ft-lb of torque to the superior 15 lbs/ft-lb of torque for the XJ (239 vs 225). Good news is, the gap is largely taken care of with a great transmission.

4. I'm told that the reason this transmission held up deliveries of Cherokees was due to...as usual...VERY aggressive delivery dates. In other words, they did the best they could do, but a little more time in the oven was necessary; Props to Jeep for allowing the engineers to finish the job properly, even if it took them a little longer to realize it.

5. The trailhawk also gets a true locking rear differential, a feature called select speed and hill descent control that all work as advertised. Select speed works like a low speed cruise control, modulating throttle and brake to keep a consistent speed off road. Check of the video of the trailhawk in action. Notice the brake lights? No brakes were applied in the shot. It's a neat and novel technology …Toyota calls it crawl control and it's been on the land cruiser for about a decade.

6. A ramp score represents axle articulation and is measured by driving up a 20 degree ramp with one wheel until one rear wheel comes off the ground. A liberty did mid 400's, and a Rubicon does well over 600.

7. The transfer case in the ptu reduces gear ratio and then a planetary reducer before each differential reduces the ratio even further resulting in a mind blowing 56:1 crawl ratio. That means that at 4400 rpm (about 4 mph in 1st) you can put down over 13,000 lb-ft of torque to the wheels. That's a lot. It also means the Active Drive II system has 3 gear reducing "transfer cases"

8. These are for the Trailhawk with its different fascia's and higher clearance, expect 1 inch less for other models in fording and worse approach and departure. The limit on fording is mainly the breather tubes for the transmission and gear reducers though the intake and body breather holes are not far behind.