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First Drive: 2014 Jeep Cherokee

Posted in Vehicle Reviews on August 16, 2013 Comment (0)
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The name Cherokee has identified a Jeep product for nearly 40 years, and every time the moniker was attached to a new breed of Jeep, the faithful clamored for the old. “Heresy,” they wailed, “to use such a fine name on such a lowly vehicle.” Yet after the initial Cherokee introduction in 1974 using the fullsize Wagoneer chassis, the opinions of the masses changed due to a beast of a machine with wide track axles and potent engine and drivetrain offerings. Having reigned supreme for 10 years, the second coming of the Cherokee was the seemingly lowly XJ in 1984, ridiculed and shunned for its unibody construction and diminutive size. But after 17-some years of XJ production the rank and file of believers have confirmed that both prior versions are indeed magnificent. And like an illegitimate child of yore, the Eurospec Liberty bore the Cherokee name in silence, waiting for acceptance into the fold.

With independent suspension the new Cherokee Trailhawk features a real mechanical locker in the rear and brake-based traction control up front. The Hawk also features a wider track and less fascia for better clearance. Real towhooks are included in the package front and rear. With independent suspension the new Cherokee Trailhawk features a real mechanical locker in the rear and brake-based traction control up front. The Hawk also features a wider track and less fascia for better clearance. Real towhooks are included in the package front and rear.

Now enter King Cherokee IV, the latest and (according to Chrysler) greatest Cherokee ever made. “How dare they!” chant the faithful, unwavering in their singular preoccupation. “It doesn’t have round headlights (or low range). It can’t be a Jeep!” But little do they know that many miracles have made their way into the body of the beast. While unfamiliar to the eyes and unknown to the trail, this new 2014 Jeep Cherokee is not only worthy of the title but truly a game changer.

If you are not familiar with the Jeep lineage or the Cherokee moniker you might not understand the words above. Let us explain. The new Jeep Cherokee (code KL) is unlike any Cherokee before and is truly a revolutionary Jeep. While many may not appreciate what the Jeep engineers hath wrought (sorry), they have taken what could have been the end of an empire and deftly created a Trail Rated Jeep from car-based (and Fiat-based at that) underpinnings. They started with the mandate to create a vehicle that would fill the void between the Liberty/Compass/Patriot and the Wrangler/ Wrangler Unlimited. It needed to have good fuel economy, use existing world platform components, comply with emasculating governmental interventionist laws, and still be capable of crossing the Rubicon Trail without road engineers. With a clean design slate it was easier in many respects to create the new Cherokee. Here’s how it works.

Taking the Compact U.S. Wide modular platform, which is shared with the Dodge Dart (yes, really), the vehicle comes with a transverse engine arrangement, which means a front wheel drive system. FWD minivans have been around forever, so that wasn’t the big issue. But making a low-range vehicle to separate it from the Honda CRV and Toyota RAV4s with power and suspension was a big deal. The trick was to integrate a low-range unit inside the transmission, a nine-speed ZF unit at that, and not forget about the rear.

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With three different 4x4 systems the engineers found a way. With the Active Drive 1 system you are upgraded out of the 2WD status, but no low range is available. It is best for cute-ute buyers and mall cruisers or the occasional dirt road or trip to the ski resort. Next comes the Active Drive 2, which incorporates a low range of 2.92:1, effectively giving the Cherokee a 56.1 crawl ratio with the four-cylinder engine, which is even better than the (non-Rubicon) JK Wrangler. Finally, the Active Drive Lock 4x4 system (standard on the Trailhawk model) incorporates a locking center differential, sort of, a mechanical coupling instead of a viscous or clutch plate unit. But the best news, and the vehicle’s saving grace, is that the Trailhawk model also has a true mechanical locking differential (made by AAM) in the rear.

It is all controlled by a Select Terrain knob on the console for whichever function you want in Auto, Sport, Sand/Mud, Rocks, or Snow mode. We found Sport to be happy on the road, while Auto was good around town.

But what about the rear axle? Oh my, it is now called a rear differential module (RDM), and the driveshaft hooks the module to the power transfer unit (PTU) off the back of the transmission. That’s why there is no transfer case, or for that matter a transfer case with low range. It’s all inside the front unit, and the output from the transmission to the rear (via the PTU) has the same rotational speed as in high range!

The interior is well thought out and ergonomically pleasant. The driver’s information center is probably the best we’ve used in any new vehicle. It was so easy to use and see that other manufacturers should take notice. Great under-seat storage, nice fabrics, and useful appointments round out the inside. The interior is well thought out and ergonomically pleasant. The driver’s information center is probably the best we’ve used in any new vehicle. It was so easy to use and see that other manufacturers should take notice. Great under-seat storage, nice fabrics, and useful appointments round out the inside.

How the heck does that work for low range then? “Simple,” said the engineers, “let’s use a two-speed rearend!” (Excuse us; it’s called a rear differential module). Whatever it’s called, the concept is brilliant. Two-speed axles have been used in big truck for years. In this case it was a bunch of cool engineering that accomplished that, and the bottom line is it works.

Yes, everything is electronically controlled (the Jeep engineers proudly boasted “we control all aspects” of the vehicle’s drive system), but what modern 4x4 doesn’t have some electronic control that can’t be negated? Coupled with the new 3.2L Pentastar V-6 ( using the same architecture as the larger V-6 in the Wrangler), the Trailhawk package seems to make the vehicle more capable for its intended uses, as any Jeep should be.

With a variety of trim levels, a nicely appointed interior, and well-crafted touches inside and out (the vehicle information center is one of the best on the market), we think this new Cherokee will bring some naysayers back from the brink. Yes, it looks swoopy, squinty, and a bit over the top for a Jeep purist, but it will find favor with a whole new generation of buyers who still want the legendary capability the Jeep brand promises. Not only that, but the road manners are great. Our recent Moab foray showed it was highly capable in the dirt and rocks. We’ll have one for our 4x4 of the Year test in the Feb. ’14 issue, so you might want to see how well it fares then before throwing stones, as many purists may wish. Stay tuned!

The new Cherokee design harkens back to a real Jeep with seven slots, trapezoidal wheel arches, and four-wheel drive. While it does have a swoopier design than the original, the power, comfort, and speed of the new Cherokee move it into the future. And yes, it has round headlights! The new Cherokee design harkens back to a real Jeep with seven slots, trapezoidal wheel arches, and four-wheel drive. While it does have a swoopier design than the original, the power, comfort, and speed of the new Cherokee move it into the future. And yes, it has round headlights!

TECH SPECS:

2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk
Base price: $29,495
Price as tested: $35,515
Options as tested:V-6, $1495; amp and 9 speakers,
$395; black hood, $150; sunroof, $1,395; leather,
$1,295; trailer tow, $495; RA4 nav, $795

DRIVETRAIN:

Engine: 3.2L V-6 Pentastar
Horsepower: 271 @ 6,500 rpm
Torque (lb-ft): 239 @ 4,400 rpm
Transmission: ZF 948TE 9-speed automatic
Transfer case low-range Ratio: 2.92:1
Axle ratio: 3.517 (trailer tow V-6); 4.08 (I-4 Trailhawk)

SUSPENSION:

Springs & Such: IFS with McPherson
struts with long travel springs and A-arms;
rear multilink IRS with coil springs and
monotube shocks
Tires & Wheels: 17x7.5 polished
aluminum on P245/65R17 OWL All-Terrains

DIMENSIONS:

Overall length (in): 182
Wheelbase (in): 107 (4x4 Lock)
Overall height (in): 67.9 (4x4 Lock)
Overall width (in): 74.9 (4x4 Lock)
Min. ground clearance (in): 8.7
Curb weight (lb): 4,106
Payload capacity (lb): 1,000
To w capacity (lb): 4,500 (w/ Trailer Tow pkg.)
Fuel economy (city/hwy mpg): N/A

Comments? Please email 4-Wheel & Off-Road at: mailto:4wheeloffroad@sorc.com

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