The 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk: Functional, Fun But….WTF (Why The Face?)

The 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk: Functional, Fun But….WTF (Why The Face?)

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 –

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So let’s get right to it. I REALLY liked EVERYTHING about the 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trail Hawk except the front end styling. It isn’t as bad as the Nissan Juke, but I simply cannot get on board with it. The styling from the front wheel back is great…the nose? Not so much in my opinion.

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The Cherokee is based on the Dodge Dart but without me telling you that you’d never know otherwise. It feels substantial to drive and you never get the feeling that the Cherokee is a “cute ute”. Body cladding and dimensions are great…except for the nose.

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I especially liked the short rear overhang. The back of the Cherokee looks fantastic. The wheel and tire package has some aggression to it and the bumped ride height adds to the feeling that the Cherokee Trailhawk is not a wuss-UV.

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Apologies on the streaks of salt on the rear of the Cherokee. We ran through a carwash about five miles before we stopped at this location and even in that short distance the northeast roads were already caking back onto the poor thing. Dual exhaust tips add nice symmetry to rear.

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The spoked wheels and Firestone Destination All-Terrain tires are cool. We wouldn’t want a Cherokee with the “all season” tires on it. These add some toughness.

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Jeep claims to have some standards before slapping this badge on stuff. The company says that all “trail rated” vehicles have been tested for traction, water fording ability, maneuverability off road, articulation, and ground clearance before being “certified”. Our wheeling was mainly of the urban type (you’ll see in a minute) but we’d not hesitate to take this Jeep off road.

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There is again…that face. Every time we saw it, the look was jarring and we never really got over it. With three levels of lights and the “bent” grille slats, it is just too much all at once…for us anyway. The red tow hooks are pretty cool, though.

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From this view you can see the front skid plate under the nose. Non Trailhawk Jeeps sit an full inch lower than this one.

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Is our opinion wrong? Do you dig the nose?

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One thing we did like was the flat accent panel on the center of the hood. That was a cool touch that gave the hood a more muscular look and it knocked down potential glare into the passenger compartment.

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After zipping around on some sand and rocks at the beach, I had a hankering to test out the electronic locker and low range crawling ability of the Cherokee, not to mention the approach and departure angles…but where to do that?

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Behind a shopping center! There are ample snowbanks all over the area here as winter has been hammering us for quite a while with snow. With low range engaged and the rear locker engaged, the Jeep climbed near vertical on this bank. We had to back down to climb out and shoot this photo but the thing was a mountain goat.

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The very short first gear of the nine speed transmission combined with the low range setting in the transfer case meant that gearing was optimal for climbing.

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After hopping back into the Jeep we proceeded to get the whole thing up on that snowbank much to the delight of our kids and the chagrin of shopping center security.

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The five spoke “split fork” (we just named them) wheels are handsome and cover large disc brakes.

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Here’s the heart of the Cherokee, a 3.2L V6 engine that is rated at 271hp and 239 lb/ft of torque. Now you see why there’s nine gears. At higher revs the motor makes good power. With the torque number being what it is, this mill will not fake anyone into thinking it is a diesel.

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Yes, that is a transverse mounted engine in the front of a Jeep Cherokee. We live in strange times.

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Now we are just rubbing it in. Remember, this Cherokee is based on the Dodge Dart, hence the layout.

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Our tester had the “leather interior group” option which would set you back to the tune of $1,295 if you clicked the box at your dealer. We were very impressed with the interior quality of the Cherokee. We’e reviewed far more expensive stuff with far less interior quality.

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Baby-seat installation was breeze in the Jeep and the Jack man had plenty of room.

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With the seat removed you can get a better look at the rear seating area of the Jeep Cherokee and it is pretty roomy. Full sized adults would have no trouble settling in for a road trip back here. Red highlight stitching on the seats is a nice classy touch.

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Very high marks for the Jeep in the touch screen department. The layout and usability of the screen is top shelf and among the best we have used in any vehicle we have reviewed thus far. There is minimal redundancy with “real” buttons below the screen. All vehicle functions can be controlled through the screen.

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Yes, this thing had all the right goodies to help stave off the winter weather, although the day we shot these photos it was a balmy 42-degrees. The polar vortex was off that day.

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Here’s the HVAC screen layout. Very easy to use and again, very well laid out.

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The nine speed transmission (man, that is weird to type) can be manually up and downshifted. We didn’t spend a lot of time doing that because with the available power it wasn’t going to do a whole lot to change the driving experience.

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Here’s the small button cluster below the touch screen for those people who want to grab onto things and punch buttons. In a few years, even these will be toast.

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The little pie cut buttons fire up the low range in the transfer case, the electronic locker, and the descent speed control. Twisting the knob into the different modes changed the shift points and driving dynamic noticeably.

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This nifty storage compartment was built into the dash, presumably for sun glasses.

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Hey, what? This is a catchy tune!

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The heated wheel was wrapped in leather and had nice thick grips. The steering had plenty of weight to it and added to the substantial feeling of the Cherokee.

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There’s a bunch of cargo room in the rear of the Cherokee. We don’t have anything of value to hide with the privacy screen so we left it rolled up.

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Here’s the full sized Firestone Destination spare.

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The rear gate is power up and power down.

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The front seats were super comfortable, had lots of bolstering in the sides and enough in the hip area to make them good off-road for anchoring someone into the seat during weird angle situations.

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The red stitching looked good and we could have eaten up lots of road trip miles in these seats for sure.

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Here’s another detail that comes with the “leather interior group”. The heated seats and wheel are also a part of this package.

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The dash layout is basic with “real” gauges left and right and a center area that can be changed to any number of things by the driver. We were watching fuel economy for lots of the week.

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Kicking the shift lever over to the left got the transmission into manual mode. It is kind of weird to knock up and down through nine gears.

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This was a cool feature. The passenger side front seat doubles as hidden storage. Looks like a normal seat, right?

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Here’s the storage area that is exposed when the seat is flipped up.

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Despite being the dreaded cavern of blackness, the interior was better than we expected and felt like it belonged in a higher end truck. That’s not an insult or a jab, it is a compliment. This baby feels richer than the price.

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So there you have it. Our tester had a sticker price of $36,120 which was a base price of $29,495 and about $5,000 in options. It is important to note that all of the options were for comfort and luxury. The bones of this Trailhawk are the same at the $29,495 base price. You’ll be shorter on the comfort but still as capable. EVERYTHING outside of the styling impressed us about this vehicle. It drives great, gets stout mileage, is more capable than virtually anything else in its class and is very competitively priced. We just can’t see ourselves having to stare down that nose every day. Can you?

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28 thoughts on “The 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk: Functional, Fun But….WTF (Why The Face?)

  1. john

    UGH! Transverse engine, Jackie Chan headlight, more electronics than BestBuy, someday soon will Sergio be changing its name to “Jeepo”?

  2. Beagle

    What is the duck switch for? One of them looks like a duck going downhill and the other looks like a duck on water.

  3. Matt Cramer

    The question nobody asked: What would it take to stuff the 271 hp V6 in a Dodge Dart? And will it bolt up to any manual transaxle?

  4. TheSilverBuick

    Far cry from my old ’87 Cherokee for sure. Has more power than my old ’87 too, and that thing only had 4 speeds. I am impressed with the seats and FULL sized spare.

    Bring back the box, it looks too Pacifica to me =P

  5. Brian Cooper

    Looks like an old Subaru, which is to say that it is ugly.

    But it will soon be clogging Target and Kohls parking lots full of moms who think they have an off road vehicle, but really have an inefficient minivan with less room.

    HUZZAH Fiathrysler!!

  6. Gary Smrtic

    Hideously ugly front end, and I had no idea they mounted the engine sidways. I guess simply waiting for them to change the ugly appearence isn’t going to cut it. I’ll just scratch that one of my “next purchase” list.

  7. Andy

    I guess I accepted the styling….cause I bought one!!
    The wife and I call it the anteater, pointy nose, round body.
    Am I in love with the styling, not really but looking at other vehicles in the segment, this one fit out needs best.
    We needed decent highway mpg’s because we commute 300-350 miles a week. We are seeing a calculated 23-24 which isn’t too bad. (nontrailhawks are supposed to get better)
    The transverse motor is because this thing is front wheel drive 95% of the time.
    The wife wanted something that has light trailering ability to haul a tiny European style two horse trailer. With the tow package, it gets 3.50 gears (the nontow gets 3.25’s) engine & trans coolers, sway stability control and a 4500lbs tow rating.
    The 3.2 is better with the lower gears. In manual mode where you can keep the revs up it moves out pretty good….but the “manual” shift takes so long you’ll tag the limiter if you actually shift it when you want it to happen.
    We are coming out of an 4.7 ’04 WJ that we LOVED!! This has less room in the cargo area, but the rear seats have MORE space.
    Unlike Brian…. I HATE the touch screen!!! I hate the fact that I have to maneuver though screens to turn off the heated seats by taking my eyes off the road, rather than just feeling a switch and turning them off. Not to mention the dealer claimed screen is $4000 if it needs replacement…. (I’m praying that the aftermarket will offer refurbished units by the time this one fails….)
    Over all we have been pretty happy. We have 3500 miles on it.
    But I’m guilty….we’ll probably never really take it off road….just like 90% of Rubicon owners, we bought the trailhawk cause it looks cooler….

  8. Andy

    Oh, one other neat, but kind of gimmicky thing…. If you look around it, there are hidden “willys” in the thing. At the base of the windshield what looks like a glob of windshield glue is actually a little picture of a willys jeep climbing a pile of rocks. The little “shopping bag clips” included in the cargo area have the grill, head lights and windshield frame of a willys embossed on them
    There are little things like that throughout the vehicle.

  9. Johnny V

    OK , I feel you , but is this an electronic Nightmare waiting to Happen ? How did you really like ? Concerned Bang Shift Fans want to know ?

    1. workhorse 401

      you seriously dont want to now. evap (duh) issues from coming off of the transport trailer. bad o2 sensors with 1 mile. flashes for every imaginable module in it. and the radio… i wont even go there . i worked for chrysler til two weeks go. every one of these we sold came right back. three diff check engine light issues within 350 miles. the poor woman was there every week. if i dropped 32k on a loaded “trailhawk” edition, id be pissed as hell. it looks like a whale shark. the good news is fiatchrysler is geared up to re-do the whole nose in thirty days for retooling if sales numbers go to shit. the only thing this has in common with the old cherokees…. the name. i do not like them. still driving my 4.0 gc awd at 147k. sorry, but the end of the four liter was the end of jeep imho.

  10. Don Stone

    I actually like pretty much everything about it. Other than the touchscreen. As the owner of an F250 Superduty which has hauled tractors and skidsteers effortlessly, this is something I’d really consider. I will never haul equip. again, due to health reasons. So having the ability to go offroad, be comfortable and look good…Its perfect. Maybe lift it another inch or 2, and go up a tire size to fill the wheel wells. I think Jeep has hit an inside the park homerun for maybe the 55 year old plus age group.

  11. 'Vid S

    Funny, the front end doesn’t bother me near as much as the “crossover” looking rear end, yech. Looks like a Japanese mini van from the rear. In my opinion, a Jeep should maintain it’s iconic rugged, squarish looks and like “TheSilverBuick” said, not imitate a Pacifica.

    Coolest feature on the car? Oh, that hideaway passenger seat storage is awesome! I could use that. The biggest goof is the sunglasses compartment on the dash. Where I live (SoCal), they’d be too hot to wear for at least several minutes. I’d have to hold them in front of the A/C for a few minutes, and that would be a pain.

    Great write up! I feel like I really know what this vehicle is all about now.

  12. threedoor

    Its ugly and poorly named, if Fiat had called it the Eagle they would have had a hands down winner, its not a Cherokee

  13. sbg

    painting tow hooks red to get trail credibility will only result in the opposite. Plus, a CUV, with all the styling characteristics of an egg screams “mall” not “4×4”

  14. Don

    That thing is fugly ! Designed and built by dooby smokin, hard drinking Chrysler engineers and line workers. Kids, don’t try this at home. This is your brain on weed and alcohol.

  15. loren

    I seriously doubt the Chrysler we are currently familiar with will be able to build those in production numbers, with all the trick new stuff, and have it be reliable in any way near what we’d expect for the bucks we’d be shelling out. Especially considering what we know repair costs are going to be when the warranty runs out. That is the single main reason I wouldn’t buy one… So prove it over some time guys and we’ll be back to have a look.

  16. GuitarSlinger

    Ugh ! Get a grip . Its a decade old FIAT cum Alfa Romeo FWD platform … with a Suzuki SRX AWD system and that multi speed tranny thats been giving them fits from the get go crammed in … all under the pretense of a JEEP body

    So … pray tell …. exactly how much fun you think this POS will be after an excursion or two like this one ?

    Not much at all … unless of course extensive and expensive repair bills … not to mention replacing the thing after a year or two of moderately hard use is your idea of …. fun 😉

  17. el_jefe

    I wonder how hard it would be to transplant the entire drivetrain into a Dart? I’m not impressed with it as a truck, but methinks it could be a cool rally car.

  18. Anthony

    Really ugly and the tranverse motor kinda turns me off, I could not buy it though just because of the nose,no way, Id get a FJ or a small pick up.

  19. ColinV

    Not a fan I really kind of wonder though if the designers set out to make it look like Sid from the Ice Age movies or if it just kinda happened?

  20. Anna

    I LOVE the new look! And I love everything else about the new Trailhawk. I’m putting in an order for mine in just a couple of weeks. Fyi, long-time Jeep lover here. I also own a 79 CJ5 Renegade and I love the fact that the nose of the TH is updated with a modern look to it.

  21. nissanlongbien

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