Jeep goes retro this year, dusting off the fabled Cherokee nameplate and affixing it to an all-new compact crossover.
The recipient, the 2014 Jeep Cherokee (from $23,990, including destination), doesn’t possess its namesake’s off-road cred, but a properly equipped Cherokee goes places most other compact crossovers won’t.
Other competitive advantages include a roomy, tech-festooned cabin and available six-cylinder engine. It’s a heavyweight among compact crossovers and has a stable, big-car feel on the road.
The original Cherokee debuted in 1974. A two-door variant of the Wagoneer, it gave rise to the term “Sport Utility,” which appeared that year in a Cherokee print ad.
In a quirk obscured by time, the second-generation Cherokee (XJ) was the world’s first crossover, its unibody replacing the traditional body-on-frame structure. It retained the front-engine/rear-drive convention, though, and possessed legendary off-road chops. Today, the XJ remains the purist’s choice.
The Cherokee was replaced in 2002 by the Liberty, which failed to flourish and was decommissioned in 2012.
The new Cherokee offers a choice of engines and 4WD systems. The base 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine makes 184 hp and 171 pound-feet of torque. An optional 3.2-liter V-6 is rated 271 hp and 239 lb-ft of torque.
Jeep mates both engines with a new nine-speed automatic transmission.
Either engine can be paired with either 2WD or 4WD systems. A light-duty 4WD system called Active Drive I is standard on all trims but the trail oriented Trailhawk. An available Active Drive II system includes low-range gearing for improved off-road performance. It’s standard on the Trailhawk, which also adds a locking rear differential.
All 4WD Cherokees get Jeep’s Selec-Terrain system, with its driver-selectable Auto, Snow, Sport and Sand/Mud modes. The Trailhawk adds a Rock mode and hill descent control.
Four-cylinder models equipped with Active Drive I are rated at 21 mpg city/28 mpg highway and 24 combined; V-6-powered Cherokees are rated at 19/27/22. Active Drive II produces 21/27/23 and 19/26/21.
My tester included options packages that added the larger engine, leather upholstery, navigation and a tech bundle that included parallel and perpendicular park assist, adaptive cruise control, rain-sensitive wipers and more.
The vulnerability of such technology surfaced during periods of heavy snow, when blizzard-like conditions threw the adaptive system into a frenzy, setting off warnings, applying the brakes and generally misbehaving until I figured out how to shut it all down.
I suspect all radar-based systems would be equally useless in serious weather.
On the other hand, Selec-Terrain worked like a champ in deep snow.
The Cherokee’s attractively designed cabin features an especially roomy second-row seat, though behind-the-seats cargo room suffers as a result. Ride and handling are very good, but heavy A and C pillars compromise driver sight lines.
Jeep would be foolish to let a name as rich in heritage as Cherokee sit on the shelf, collecting dust. How well the new rig lives up to the promise of its name is a matter of what you want from it.
Contact Don Adair at email@example.com.
2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited 4x4
Vehicle base price: $22,995
Trim level base price: $29,995
As tested: $37,030
Options included V-6 engine; Technology Group; Luxury Group; Uconnect with premium navigation system.
EPA ratings: 19 city/27 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified