Road Warrior

2014-01-15T00:00:00Z Road WarriorBy Jim Gorzelany CTW Features nwitimes.com
January 15, 2014 12:00 am  • 

The 2014 Jeep Cherokee is a stylish and comfortable five-passenger crossover SUV, with solid on- and off-road capabilities and a long list of high-tech options

Jeep has long been known as purveyor of rough-and-tumble off-road ready vehicles, including the iconic Wrangler that traces its lineage to World War II. While the brand has enjoyed its greatest success with the large and luxurious Grand Cherokee sport-utility vehicle, its forays into smaller crossover wagons have been less distinguishing.

Until now that is. Replacing the lackluster Liberty model in Jeep’s lineup is a new midsize crossover SUV that brings back a hallowed Jeep nameplate, Cherokee. While the original (last sold in 2001) was basic and boxy, the new Cherokee is technologically sophisticated and comes wrapped in dramatically curvaceous styling that’s capped by a swept-back treatment of Jeep’s signature seven-slot front grille with narrow slit-like projector headlamps. The look may be too extreme looking for some brand loyalists, but it sure stands out in a crowded parking lot.

Starting at $22,995, the new Cherokee comes powered by a choice of either a Fiat-supplied 184 horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine or a new Chrysler-designed 271-horsepower 3.2-liter “Pentastar” V6, with an advanced nine-speed automatic transmission included across the line. We recently spent a week behind the wheel of a top-of-the-line Limited model and can attest to the smoothness and power-on-demand those six cylinders deliver. The automatic, however, with nine speeds at hand seemed to be a busy gearbox, working hard to find just right gear in around-town driving and occasionally delaying a needed downshift when we’d punch the throttle after cruising to a slower speed.

The Cherokee rides on a sophisticated four-wheel independent suspension that delivers a well-balanced ride and handling manners, soaking up pavement imperfections nicely while taking the corners quickly and confidently and remaining solidly planted at highway speeds. It rides almost as well as the larger Grand Cherokee, but feels quite a bit more nimble and athletic overall.

While we didn’t get a chance to venture away from the pavement, when properly equipped the Cherokee is said to deliver stalwart off-road prowess. In addition to no less than three separate four-wheel-drive systems, Jeep’s Selec-Terrain system is available that maximizes the vehicle’s traction according to selectable modes, including those for snow, sand and mud. The Trailhawk model is especially equipped to tackle the toughest trails and includes some additional body cladding and trim that helps give it a more burly appearance.

What’s more, the Cherokee offers a plethora of the latest high-tech accident avoidance safety systems including adaptive cruise control that works in stop and go traffic, automatic high-beam headlamps and lane-departure, blind-spot and forward-collision warning systems, the latter with an auto-braking function.

While taller drivers and passengers might scrape their heads entering the Cherokee, given the slope of the roofline, once inside they’re treated to a roomy, comfortable and quiet haven. The dashboard is attractively designed with a large and legible LCD gauge cluster, and extensive use of high quality plastics. The available touchscreen-based Uconnect infotainment system remains one of the more intuitive to use in the industry, and leaves analog controls for the radio and climate control system that are large enough to be used while wearing gloves. There’s plenty of room for rear riders, with second-row seats that can adjust fore and aft and can recline for added comfort, with split-fold seatbacks that team with a fold-flat front passenger’s seat for complete cargo carrying flexibility.

Top-shelf options include a heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats and a self-parking function, though packed with features the Cherokee can easily top the $35,000 mark.

© CTW Features

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