Auto Review: The Italian/ American Connection

By Bill Heald - ReminderNews
Featured Article - posted Thu., Feb. 20, 2014
- Contributed Photo

Snow. Lots of snow. An Arctic Vortex. Plows. Sand. Ice. Even some of our dogs are getting a bit tired of the winter of ’14, and I can’t really blame them. As these conditions can be a challenge on the automotive front too, this week we have not just an SUV that is aimed to handle the winter conditions, but a completely new model from bumper to bumper. Yet, it arrives with a very familiar name: the Jeep Cherokee.

Considering that the model that last had this name first appeared in the early ’80s, obviously there’s no surprise in that the new version is completely different. What is a bit surprising is the Cherokee is not only a new, ultra-modern unit; it has relations in Italy thanks to the fact that Chrysler is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Fiat. The new Cherokee is based on a car platform with roots in the Italian automaker’s inventory (and also found on the Dodge Dart). But the Cherokee is designed to be all Jeep in terms of capability (especially the Trailhawk model), and is a fresh competitor in a compact SUV category that includes the Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester and others. The Cherokee is unique, though, in that it offers a substantial number of drivetrain options, including one that is aimed at more rugged trails than the other vehicles.

The all-new Cherokee replaces the outgoing Liberty model and comes in four versions: Sport, Latitude, Limited and Trail Hawk. There are two engines available depending on model, including a 2.4-liter Multiair Tigershark Inline Four with 184 horsepower and a 3.2-liter Pentastar V6 with 271 horsepower. The first three grades are available in either two-wheel or four-wheel drive, and the latter drivetrain has three variations including one with a two-speed transfer case and a locking rear differential for more serious off-pavement excursions. All come with a segment-first nine-speed automatic transmission for greater fuel economy and versatility. We tested a V6-powered Limited 4X4 with Jeep Active Drive I, which is a fully automatic single-speed system that engages the rear wheels only when necessary, and comes with Selec-Terrain traction control system that includes Auto, Snow, Sport and Sand/Mud settings to fine-tune the drivetrain to conditions. The V6 and nine-speed gearbox are smooth and refined, but what really impressed on our Limited was the ride quality (a great mix of firmness and compliance). Performance in snow was adequate, but otherwise not as sophisticated compared to other 4WD vehicles we’ve tested recently.  More winter-oriented tires would no doubt help here. Properly equipped, the V6 Cherokee can tow 4,500 pounds.

Like the smooth ride, the interior was impressive with good materials and large, clear Multi-View central display. The leather on the Limited was stout and supportive, and despite the Cherokee’s fairly modest dimensions, interior room was good. With the rear seats folded, cargo capacity is 54.9 cubic feet.

The 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited 4X4 is EPA rated 19 MPG city/27 highway and has a base price of $29,995. With options, the MSRP came to $37,030.

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