From 1984-2001 the Jeep Cherokee was a tough, indestructible, and basic SUV. In a stroke of what we will smart-assedly call “genius”, Chrysler killed off the Cherokee after 2001 and released the Jeep Liberty, which was absolutely nothing like a Cherokee in looks or performance and appealed far more to people looking for a car-like SUV than something boxy and truck-like. Off road enthusiasts still love the XJ Cherokee platform and there is ample aftermarket support for that machine. When we learned that Jeep would be bringing the Cherokee nameplate back to their model line we were optimistic that they would deliver an SUV that was sure footed, capable, and as basic as the times allow new cars to be. We also expected some sort of nod to the styling (or lack there of) of the original Cherokee. While we can say that the 2014 Jeep Cherokee gets high marks for both being sure footed and capable, we can’t get too far past what we consider a freakish nose on the vehicle.
Driving the 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk for about a week in multiple terrain scenarios gave us a clear picture of the driving characteristics that Jeep engineers were shooting for and the refinement that they were trying to build into the vehicle but we never got used to looking at it head-on. If you scan the 2014 Jeep Cherokee starting from the front wheel back, you will see an awesomely proportioned vehicle with bulges and curves in the right places. It never really lets on with how small it is, somehow tricking your eye into thinking that it is longer and bigger than it really is. The interior is fantastic with great seats and a driving experience that is shockingly good for an SUV. It corners flat, it is responsive, the nine speed transmission never hunts for the right gear and the 3.2L V6 provides enough power to scoot the thing down the road, but there are some dark secrets hiding in plain sight. This Cherokee is based on a Dodge Dart. This explains the handling prowess and great road feel of the thing, it also explains why the engine is mounted in a transverse (BLECK) layout under the hood. Despite those two scary things, we can report that the Cherokee feels substantial and “truck-like” behind the wheel. There’s a multi-speed transfer case with a stout low range, there is an electronic locker in the rear axle, there is multiple modes to shift the Cherokee into that’ll taylor it to your particular conditions, there’s hill descent control, there’s an additional inch of ground clearance, and there is a good set of aggressive Firestone all terrain tires on the corners. All of those things are part of the Trailhawk package. Subtracting all of the stuff we just mentioned and you have a Dodge dart with more ground clearance and a less pleasing face.
We found the 3.2L V6 to be a good engine that is certainly assisted by the nine speed automatic transmission backing it. There is a noticeable power surge between 5,000 RPM and redline where the mill really finds the happy place. This is not exactly an ideal spot for peak power while off-roading, but the low range in the transfer case and advantageous gearing of the nine-speed make the power wholly acceptable. It will never be a drag race star but the Cherokee gets up and moves pretty well and passing power isn’t anything you’ll have to worry about.
The thick steering wheel is attached to nicely weighted steering gear and that adds to the feeling that the Cherokee is beefier than it really is. Interior noise is virtually nil, once again adding to a vault-like feel which the XJ Cherokee never had. Those were certainly more “tin can” in their feeling while this current iteration feels a lot more grown up. Our guess is that old school Cherokee fans would be far happier in a Wrangler from the current lineup than they would be in a Cherokee if they are sticklers for the “feel” of that vehicle.
We’re going to shift gears into photo and caption mode to tell you the rest of the story on the 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trail Hawk –