Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited

Living up to the Cherokee name, most of the time.

By: Andrew Krok

Web2Carz Contributing Writer

Published: February 3rd, 2014

The Jeep Cherokee of old - the XJ, as the purists call it - is a different beast than Chrysler's Cherokee of new. The old model was far more utility-based, and it looked the part, as well; the XJ was no more aesthetically pleasing than the mailbox that your Cherokee-driving mailman just filled up. You could choose between four-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive, maybe a manual transmission, and some trim levels that added a hint of luxury and nothing more.

But oh, how the times have changed since then. No longer are people searching for dedicated off-roaders or hardcore utility vehicles to complement their current garage; instead, they'll want to buy something that has a healthy mix from several different genres, resulting in a vehicle that's a jack of all trades, yet a master of none. Say hello to the new Cherokee.

The Limited-trim Cherokee is the luxury model - if you want to sip a glass of fun on the (literal) rocks, the Trailhawk is where you should look. In order to keep with the safety-minded sensibilities of the modern car buyer, the rear-drive offering has been scratched in favor of front-wheel drive. Yes, you read that right. Take a moment to grab a tissue and weep before I remind you that this is how the market operates, folks; we did this to ourselves.

If you start ticking options boxes, your Cherokee will be loaded with all sorts of computerized trickery that would seem pointless in anything but a vehicle that's meant to be driven exclusively on-road - lane-departure warnings, blind-spot monitors, and active cruise control are all available. Even if you stick with the standard suspension (although off-road suspension is available at no cost, even on the Limited), you get a four-wheel-drive system that outperforms every all-wheel-drive system from its competitors without a ride so harsh that it comes with a chiropractor's license.

Even though most auto aficionados will poo-poo the new Cherokee, instead choosing to kiss the XJ's ring as it sits on a gilded marble pedestal, the new Cherokee hits all the marks in its segment and stands a good chance to take a bite out of the sales figures of Toyota, Honda, and Ford. Yeah, the Limited is a total mall-crawler, but if you bought the Limited instead of the Trailhawk and wanted an old-school off-road experience, that's your own fault, dummy.

  • Interior

    Jeep has been big on throwbacks in its current interior, and there are plenty of easter eggs along those lines in the Cherokee - the "Since 1941" badge on the steering wheel, the outline of a Willys built into the windshield's heating element, and vintage-looking gauges are part of the equation that remind you that, yes, there is plenty of the old Jeep inside the new Jeep. The seats are comfortable, with a range of adjustability that provides plenty of sight, although the steering wheel could afford to tilt a few extra degrees downward. It's a generally pleasant place to be, with switchgear that makes sense in terms of both layout and labeling, as well as materials that you won't mind touching. The shape of the dashboard around the HVAC vents gets a little too organic-looking in comparison to other shapes and contours in the interior.

  • Exterior

    This is the single most polarizing feature of the new Cherokee. Not everybody likes the design, which leaves the turn signals and LED running lights in the squinty-looking part, with the actual headlamps positioned in the notch below. That said, the radical departure from XJ Cherokee styling (we're just going to ignore the fact that the Jeep Liberty ever existed as a bridge-gapper) shows that Chrysler is taking the Cherokee in a new direction - one that's meant to appeal to a wide crowd by standing far away from its boxier competition. The wheel arches are filled nicely, even with the barely-fit-for-asphalt all-season tires fitted to our tester. It's got a tough look for something that, in Limited trim, doesn't necessarily need to look that tough.

  • On the Road

    n off-roader, this ain't. The Limited is a mall-crawler through and through, but it's a very capable mall-crawler. The adjustable four-wheel-drive system gives you a big advantage over the all-wheel-drive systems that don't come with options for snow or mud, things you are very likely to encounter unless you're living in a perfect climate somewhere (and if you are, why are you buying this car?). The UConnect infotainment setup is the second-best domestic system on the market, and it trounces what Honda and Toyota bring to the table. The remote-start system is linked to the steering wheel and seat heaters, so it'll be a nice and toasty ride to work through even the most polar of vortices.

    The ride is very SUV-ish, as to be expected, but if you're in the market for a small crossover, you know that a bit of pitch and body roll are par for the course. The Pentastar V-6 is very eager to get going, and it provides V-6 power and response in a segment dominated by small four-bangers, a big benefit for fans of cylinder count and displacement. Sadly, the pedals don't contribute to the fun; the brakes require effort typically seen in much heavier trucks, and the accelerator seems to deliver messages to the throttle with a great degree of inconsistency - it's just way too soft for a pedal that's supposed to be used sparingly in low-traction conditions. Also, while Jeep has done a great amount of work to smooth over the ZF nine-speed automatic transmission, upshifts are still occasionally rough, and it takes a fair bit of pedal travel to get the car to downshift through enough gears to pass on the freeway.

    Also, our greatest exultation for this car is also a send-up to every other automaker out there. Jeep got the manu-matic function right - push forward for a downshift, pull backwards for an upshift. That's how they do it in motorsports, and your arm isn't busy fighting the forces of physics like it is with every other manu-matic out there. How is it that the only car to get this right is the one car that isn't meant to be driven in a sporty fashion?!

  • Final Thoughts

    The Cherokee will be fighting an uphill battle against other small crossovers in its segment, but thankfully this is also the only car in that segment capable of getting up the hill without being winched up by another vehicle. Even if the Cherokee sells 15,000 units each month (as it did in December 2013), it will still lag behind the biggest-sellers in the segment, the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape. That said, those cars don't have the option of a V-6, nor do they have a drivetrain that's this well put-together, so the Jeep should be able to pry away buyers that are looking for an experience not spent entirely upon asphalt. But, again, if off-roading is what your heart desires, give up the chase for electronic nannies and fancy interior trims, and just buy the Trailhawk.

  • Specs & Price

    Engine: 3.2-liter naturally-aspirated V-6

    Transmission: Nine-speed automatic

    Power Output: 271 hp / 239 lb-ft

    Fuel Economy: 19 city / 27 highway

    Base Price: $29,995

    As Tested: $37,030 (not incl. $995 destination)

    Optional Features: Luxury Group (bi-xenon headlamps, power liftgate, leather-trimmed seats, ventilated front seats, memory settings for the radio, seats, and exterior mirrors), Technology Group (adaptive cruise control, advanced brake assist, automatic high-beam headlamps, blind-spot detection, forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, parallel/perpendicular park assist, rain sensitive wipers), Trailer Tow Group (seven and four pin wiring harness, class III receiver hitch, full size spare tire, trailer tow wiring harness, 180-amp alternator, 3.517 final drive ratio, additional engine cooling), dual-pane panoramic sunroof, off-road suspension, UConnect infotainment system with navigation, nine-speaker premium audio with subwoofer

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