First Drive: 2014 Jeep Cherokee | The Chronicle Herald

9 May 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on First Drive: 2014 Jeep Cherokee | The Chronicle Herald
Jeep Cherokee

First Drive: 2014 Jeep Cherokee

WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. There is a new player in the compact/mid-size SUV segment and it is a serious contender right out of the box.

The 2014 Jeep Cherokee replaces the Liberty in the Jeep lineup, giving Chrysler Canada its first real entry in this ultra-crowded and competitive class.

The Liberty was never much of a factor on the sales front and went out of production in mid-2012. The Compass and Patriot are car-like crossovers, more like wagons than SUVs.

The new Cherokee is a multi-talented newcomer with a foot in both crossover and SUV camps. Depending on trim and equipment level, it can be an urban family car or tackle the toughest off-road situations.

The Jeep Cherokee pretty much invented the mid-size SUV segment when it was introduced in 1984. By the time it went out of production in 2001, consumer tastes had shifted and the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Santa Fe, Chevy Equinox and others now count for 16 per cent of the total Canadian market.

Jeep wants a bigger piece of that pie. It is bringing back the highly-respected Cherokee name, putting it on an entirely new vehicle aimed at the 95 per cent of the segment who have not to this point considered a Jeep.

While it wears a nameplate widely respected in the off-road world, and in some derivations has similar off-road capabilities, the 2014 Jeep Cherokee is a different vehicle, one much more in tune with the times and consumer interests.

The new Cherokee is based in a platform originally developed by Chrysler’s owner, Fiat, for Alfa Romeo. It was stretched and widened for another Chrysler nameplate resurrected from the past, the Dodge Dart. This ultra-stiff and light platform is the core of the 2014 Jeep Cherokee.

The skin has a number of traditional Jeep styling cues, including trapezoidal wheel arches and a seven-slot ‘waterfall’ grill.

The upright, right-angles are gone and those grill slots flow up unto the hood and are flanked by slit-like LED daytime running lights. The actual headlights are lower down.

The laid-back grill, which is certainly the most controversial aspect of the new Cherokee comes as much from the wind tunnel and safety regulation as it does from the designer team led by Robb Burns.

Aerodynamics play a major role in fuel economy and wind noise. A square upright grill is also not amenable to meeting pedestrian impact regulations

The wheelbase of the new Cherokee is within a whisker of the Liberty, but the newcomer is longer, lower and wider. It also boasts a great deal more passenger room, especially in the rear seat which has more legroom than big brother Grand Cherokee.

The interior is where the new Jeep pulls furthest away from the Liberty. Comfortable, well laid out, and well-appointed, it is more Grand Cherokee than Compass or Patriot. There are close tolerances and soft touch points and visible stitching throughout.

It has a duo of analogue gauges bracketing either a 9.0-cm touchscreen with another full-colour screen atop the prominent center stack, measuring 13 or 17 cm, depending on trim and options selected. The seats are comfortable for most sizes and those in the second row slide fore/aft through a generous 15-cm range. They also fold flat, as does the back of the front passenger seat, creating a flat floor from dash to tailgate for those occasional long items.

There are storage provisions everywhere including beneath that front passenger seat and atop the dash. The cargo area does not appear as large as the competition from Toyota and Honda on hand here for comparison purposes, but the Cherokee has a spacious and segmented provision for items away from prying eyes beneath the cargo floor.

The 2014 Cherokee comes in Sport ($23,495), North ($26,495), Trailhawk ($30,695) and Limited ($29,995) trim levels.

The standard engine across the line is the 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine introduced on the Dodge Dart, coupled to the industry’s first nine-speed automatic transmission. No manual is available.

All except the Trailhawk can be had with front or four-wheel-drive a $2,200 option. A new 271-horsepower, 3.2-litre version of the award-winning Pentastar V6 is available on all but the base model. There are three new 4 x 4 systems, all with Selec-Terrain (more on this in a moment).

Active Drive I: a single speed system that changes seamlessly from FWD to 4X4 according to available traction, ambient temperature, yaw and throttle application speed.

Active Drive II: adds a two-speed transfer case. Low range locks the front and rear driveshafts. It also includes a neutral setting for flat towing and boasts a crawl ratio that is 90 pr cent better than was available with the Liberty.

Both these systems disengage the driveshaft at both the front and rear ends when in FWD mode to maximize fuel economy.

The third system, Active Drive Lock, is simply astounding in its ability to get power to the wheels that have grip.

It includes a lockable rear differential and adds a rock mode to the Select-Terrain system. It also includes Selec-Speed Control, a remarkable cruise control for serious off-road situations.

You can set the speed ranging from 1.6 mph to 5.5 mph! I crawled through canyons and over boulders and powder-like silt, up and down steep hills never touching the throttle or brake pedals.

On the other trim levels the Selec-Terrain system has auto, snow, sport and sand-mud settings. The Trailhawk model sits 2.5 cm further above the ground and has unique front and rear fascias to allow much better approach and departures angles.

It also comes with skid plates, the Active Drive Lock system and a pair of big bright-red tow hooks protruding through the front bumper. The 2014 Cherokee has been equipped and priced to attract attention and lure consumers, who bother to check out competing vehicles, to a Jeep store.

The ‘base’ front-wheel-drive model comes with the ZF nine-speed automatic, air conditioning, Uconnect infotainment system with colour touch screen, 10 air bags, power windows, locks and mirrors, cruise control and remote keyless entry with panic alarm.

The 4×4 system is a $2,200 option on all models. In either FWD or 4×4 guise the Cherokee is hundreds to thousands of dollars less expensive than the competition. It is a Jeep so you expect and get off-road capabilities when equipped with one of the 4X4 systems.

What was not expected was the smooth and quiet on-road performance.

Jeep Cherokee

The Alfa Romeo genes show when you dive into a turn with verve and the electric power steering and nice fat steering wheel combine to provide feedback and linear response.

The Active-Drive systems contributed further to this type of enjoyment, feeding power to the rear wheels as needed.

The four-cylinder engine offers acceptable power and performance but the sweet spot is the six. Both get by on up to 40 per cent less regular gas than the Liberty.

The second coming of the Cherokee may not only impress hard-core enthusiasts, it should attract a while new breed of customers.

It can compete on all fronts with any if the myriad of small SUVs on the market and teach them all lessons off-road.

2014 Jeep Cherokee, five-passenger, four-door SUV

Price: $23,495 base – $32,195 Limited 4X4

Engines: 2.4-litre DOHC four-cylinder, 184 horsepower/171 lb.ft. of torque; 3.2-litre DOHC V6, 271 horsepower, 239 lb.-ft. of torque

Transmission: 9-speed automatic, FWD or 4WD

Fuel economy (Transport Canada, litres/100-km city/highway): 9.6/6.4 FWD four-cylinder; 11.1/7.7 V6 4X4

Length: 4,623 mm

Width: 1,860 mm

Wheelbase: 2,870 mm

Weight: 1,705-1,864 kg

Competition: Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorrento, Toyota RAV4.

Jeep Cherokee
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