“Evolve, or die.” –Eckhart Tolle
With the all-new 2014 Jeep Cherokee, it appears that, despite bringing back the name of the Jeep that everyone loved, Jeep has finally given up on trying to recreate the mojo of the 1984-2001 XJ Jeep Cherokee. God knows they tried; the wrapped-in-an-American flag Liberty of 2001 tried, the boxy Liberty of 2008 tried harder, the 2006-2010 Commander tried, and even the car-based Patriot tried. But none of these vehicles captured the classic, Dick Teague-styled looks of the XJ Cherokee.
So now that the 2014 Cherokee gets its name back, it has otherwise completely broken with the past. It does not look like any Jeep ever made before. And that may be a good thing. After all, if people really want a classic Jeep experience, the company would be more than happy to sell you a Wrangler, believe me.
Based on Chrysler Group’s Compact U.S. Wide (CUS-wide) architecture developed from Fiat roots, the new Cherokee certainly doesn’t look as tough as the XJ Cherokee, or even the Liberty for that matter. But the car-based architecture allows Chrysler to take advantage of lower costs, quicker development time, and less-expensive tooling. The CUS-wide platform will underpin many other U.S.-bound vehicles, both Chrysler LLC products and others in the Fiat empire, in coming years, including Chrysler’s long-awaited midsize sedans that will replace the unloved and uncompetitive Avenger and 200.
But back to the Cherokee. If you’re worried that a wimpy new Cherokee will tarnish the Jeep brand image, don’t fret. First of all, those ships sailed years ago. They were called the Compass and Patriot (or ComPatriot, if you prefer). But it’s also worth noting that the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk model carries Jeep’s Trail Rated badge. Yes, that means that it’s capable of surviving the Rubicon trail. And what a difference the large, knobby tires, red tow hooks, underbody skid plates, and model-exclusive aggressive front and rear fascias. Despite what may or may not happen when an wheel twists the wrong way on a rock on the Rubicon, we saw the Cherokee climb a pretty rough simulated trail, at least for a few feet, at its press conference.
The major benefit of moving to a new platform, aside from the aforementioned cost and development savings (which don’t necessarily help car buyers) is that fuel economy savings will be significant compared to what the Liberty was capable of. The base Cherokee engine is a 2.4 liter four cylinder, equipped with MultiAir and rated at 184 horsepower and 171 horsepower. Optional is a new 3.2 liter Pentastar V6, rated at 271 horsepower and 239 lb-ft of torque. You may have noticed that every prior application of the Pentastar V6 displaced 3.6 liters, but in the fairly small Cherokee, the larger size is not necessary for adequate performance. Properly equipped V6 powered Cherokees can tow a class-leading 4,500 pounds.
Jeep has really stepped up its technology game with the Cherokee, especially if you happen to check all of the option boxes. There’s a large 8.4-inch LCD touchscreen in the middle of the center stack, and either a 3.5 inch grayscale (standard) or 7 inch full-color (optional) instrument cluster display. The larger color display has virtual gauges as other newer Chrysler Group vehicles such as the Viper and Dart have.
The Cherokee also has adaptive cruise control, which for the first time in a Chrysler Group vehicle can bring the vehicle to a complete stop and start again if traffic conditions require it. The system has the capability of “aggressively” applying brakes if needed to prevent a collision as well (the older system in my wife’s former 2008 Toyota Sienna would only dare apply the brakes up to about a third of maximum force, no matter what was happening in front of the vehicle).
Other technological goodies available include self parking (both parallel and perpendicular), lane departure warning, forward collision warning, and more. The latest UConnect infotainment system is offered, and the interior really leaves a positive impression, with soft-touch materials and an array of technology. The seats are fairly comfortable, and there’s a reasonable amount of space inside for passengers. It’s important to note, though, that despite Jeep’s characterization of the Cherokee as a “midsize sport-utility,” it is much smaller than the [porky] Ford Explorer. It’s slightly longer and wider than the 2012 Liberty, but not as tall as either the Explorer or the old Liberty.
The 2014 Cherokee hits dealers in the third quarter.