By Frank S. Washington
WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif., — Purists are grumbling about the all-new 2014 Jeep Cherokee. Its curves, bent seven-slot grille and overall sleekness are not Jeep, the complaints go. But the very characteristics that purists are complaining about are the attributes that most likely will make Jeep’s Cherokee a hit.
The hood was a waterfall design and with a peaked seven-slot grille, it was a one piece effort that helped insure a quality build. The daytime running lights looked like headlights and the headlights looked like fog lamps. The 2014 Jeep Cherokee had a steeply raked windshield and of course it had Jeep’s iconic trapezoidal wheel openings.
In the back, there was a rear spoiler, LED tail lamps and rear fog lamps. It was a clean design. The 2014 Jeep Cherokee looked good. Designers wanted to get away from the box look of the old Jeep Liberty that the new Jeep Cherokee will replace as well as the flat sided look of Cherokees past.
They succeeded. In an area dotted with all sorts of exotic and expensive automobiles, the Cherokee made heads turn in Southern California. But despite its curves the mid-size sport utility is a Jeep; that means it lived up to the brand’s off road tradition.
Buyers have a choice of three, four-wheel-drive systems. All three featured a rear-axle disconnect to improve fuel efficiency when 4X4 is not necessary.
There are two engine choices. A 2.4-liter four cylinder makes 184 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque. The 3.2-liter Pentastar V6 makes 271 horsepower and 239 pound-feet of torque. But the real news is that either one of these power plants can be mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission.
The four-cylinder engine mated to this gear-box, which can be shifted manually, gets 31 mpg in the city. Trim lines are the Sport, the Latitude, the Limited and the trail rated Trailhawk. Base prices start at $22,995 for a 4X2 Sport to $29,495 for a 4X4 Trailhawk.
We first got into a 2014 Jeep Sport 4X2 equipped with the four cylinder engine. In other words, this was the entry level model and we were really impressed. The cloth interior was black; Jeep has subtly changed from a center stack dominated interior to a central control pod area.
The dash was lower. Combined with the raked windshield the passenger compartment was airy, sight lines were expansive, the Cherokee felt more like a car even though the seating position was higher it wasn’t pronounced.
Even more impressive was how well the four-cylinder engine that is branded Tigershark MultiAir handled the terrain. The engine worked to get up and down through the canyons here. But it didn’t work hard. The mountainous twisting two- lane roads of Southern California can be a graveyard for four cylinder engines, but the normally aspirated Tigershark engine barely burped as it powered the 2014 Cherokee up and over as well as through these mountains.
The same was true of the automatic transmission. Cherokee’s new nine-speed gear box never wavered. Gear selection was decisive; it held gear going up and down the steep descents when it was supposed to and it did so smoothly without any hitches.
Jeep took care of the little things like the bottom of the cupholders and other storage areas were padded. The base in the sound system thumped. And even though our test vehicle didn’t have a navigation system, it did have a black and white touch screen to control some surprising equipment.
A compass, a heated steering wheel as well as heated seats were among our 2014 Cherokee’s creature comforts. It also had USB and auxiliary jacks and a slot for an SD card. There was Bluetooth, satellite radio and a wireless charging pad for mobile phones.
Once we got to the Canyon Ranch for lunch and some off road testing, we took a Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk on an off road course. It was equipped with the Jeep Active Drive Lock system with rear locking differential, a low gear and approach and departure angles of 29.8 and 31.1 degrees, respectively. And that was just some of the off road running gear.
The ranch was at about 2,000 feet altitude. And though the trail was dusty, dry and moderately difficult, it wasn’t the place for a driver to make a mistake or for the vehicle to be in over its axles so to speak. In a word, the 2014 Cherokee is a Jeep.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com.