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2014 Jeep Cherokee Russ Review - Plus 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Diesel Preview

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2014 Jeep Cherokee


Remember the Jeep Cherokee? It's back! Well, here in North America, where the Cherokee name was discontinued in favor of Liberty in model year 2002. Elsewhere, Jeep's mid-size entry kept the iconic name.

The Cherokee name dates to 1974, when it was used for a two-door version of the Jeep Wagoneer, a body-on-frame utility vehicle. The more familiar second generation debuted for 1984, and was notable for being one of the first unibody SUVs, if not the first. Yes, Virginia, a unibody does not necessarily a crossover make -- that Cherokee integrated lower frame rails and cross-members into its unibody structure, making for a stronger, lighter, and quieter structure. Offered in both two- and four-door form, it was one of the few bright spots in the dying days of then-owner American Motors Corporation (AMC). And it, and the rest of the Jeep line, were likely important reasons for Chrysler buying AMC in 1987.

Even though that Cherokee has unibody construction, it still used rugged solid axles, and a dual-range transfer case in 4WD models. The engine was mounted traditionally, lengthwise, with rear drive for 2WD examples. It was a ruggedly capable offroad performer -- I have fond memories of stump-crawling and other silly off-road fun in one during a Jeep Jamboree in the early `90s -- but it also found its way into many a garage as a car replacement. And so contributed to the SUV boom of the `90s and `00s.

The new Cherokee, available later in the year, is even more car-like, as it's based on the "Compact US Wide" (CUS-wide) platform also used for the Dodge Dart. If that makes you think "wimpy crossover", wrong! Yes, the suspension is fully independent, MacPherson strut in front and multi-link in the rear. You have a problem with being comfortable? Minimum ground clearance is 8.7 inches. 2WD means front-wheel drive, as the engine is mounted transversely. 4WD means:

Active Drive I - has a fully-automatic single-ratio power transfer unit (PTU, equivalent to the transfer case in a longitudinal-engined vehicle) for seamless operation at all speeds. No driver intervention necessary. When needed, power goes to the rear, and not merely for slippery conditions, but for improved stability and traction on dry pavement as well. All-wheel drive, crossover… maybe.

Active Drive II - has a two-speed PTU with torque management and low range. Low range, with a 2.92:1 reduction, locks the front and rear driveshafts for better low-speed, bad-condition or off-road climbing and crawling ability. Ride height is increased by an inch. When in neutral, the Active Drive II system disconnects the driveline, allowing that 2014 Cherokee to be towed behind an RV. Dual-range 4WD, not a crossover.

Active Drive Lock - adds a locking rear differential to Active Drive II for even better performance in severe conditions. Definitely not a crossover.

All three 4WD systems have rear-axle disconnect, which automatically decouples drive to the rear when it isn't needed, improving fuel economy. The Selec-Terrain multi-mode control system is used with all. It combines input from the various engine, transmission, stability control, and brake control systems for enhanced performance and safety.

There will be two engine choices. Standard is the 2.4-liter "Tigershark" four-cylinder, a 16-valve single overhead cam design that utilizes second-generation Multi-Air technology, which more precisely controls intake lift and duration, improving efficiency and decreasing emissions. Maximum horsepower is 184, at 6400 rpm, with maximum torque of 171 lb-ft at 4600 rpm. Fuel is unleaded regular, and highway fuel economy is expected to be 31 mpg in 4x2 trim.

The option is a new Pentastar 3.2 liter DOHC 24-valve V6. Derived from the 3.6-liter version, it makes 271 horsepower at 6500 rpm, and 239 lb-ft of torque at 4400, on unleaded regular. Jeep expects 28 mpg on the highway in 4x2 trim.

Transmission for all is a new ZF nine-speed. With low lower gears and overdrive from sixth through ninth, it gets a large share of the credit for fuel economy improvements.

Styling: What would a 21st Century SUV look like? This. Forget the box that was the first two versions of Cherokee. Forget the cuddlier-looking Liberty. The 2014 Jeep Cherokee is lean and lithe, all the better for aerodynamics at highway speeds. Modern headlight technology allows unobtrusive lights to the sides of the seven-slot grille, just above the bumper, with foglamps integrated into the lower fascia and turn signals and LED running lights in the traditional headlight location. The sides and rear are more usual, but still far from the box they came in. Yes, the wheel arches are trapezoidal, and the lower perimeter has a protective textured-plastic coating. No, there's no place for a winch on the front bumper. If you need that, keep the CJ or older Wrangler!

Inside, the new Cherokee is contemporary and comfortable. It's at the small end of the midsize class, but will hold five adults, or four in more comfort -- just like nearly every other "five-passenger" vehicle made. Seat comfort is very good, but I'm getting ahead of myself… All models have multiple DC power outlets, Bluetooth connectivity, and some variety of external audio connectivity; upper levels get USB, 115VAC, and available navigation and Sirius/XM satellite radio. Adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning will be offered.

Jeep recently invited journalists to a presentation of the 2014 Cherokee in San Francisco, California. Two pre-production examples were available for a short drive route through the Presidio surface streets and on to the freeway. One was a Limited, the premium luxury-appointed model. The other was a Trailhawk, the premium offroad-ready model and the only one offered with the Active Drive Lock 4x4 system. Not present were entry-level Sport and mid-level Latitude models. All can be had in 4x2 or 4x4 trim, except for the 4x4-only Trailhawk. The Limited had the V6; a Tigershark was under the hood of the Trailhawk.

First impression? Good seats, even in the rear of the Trailhawk. Ditto for ride quality and responsiveness. It feels like a car, not a truck, and a good one at that. Bumps and potholes were dealt with effectively. Neither engine felt underpowered, and the transmission was smooth, with unobtrusive shifting. No opportunity for off-road excursions, alas. This is definitely on my wish list for a future test vehicle. Preferably Trailhawk.

Oh yes, not to forget -- the 2014 Cherokee sees the introduction of Parallel/Perpendicular Park Assist. Other automatic-parking systems do parallel; this one can also back the Cherokee into a parking space, steering automatically, with the drive controlling braking. Interesting! wonder how it'll do between pine trees?

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel Preview

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

The Grand Cherokee gets some notable new features for 2014. Most notable is 50-state available diesel power, in the form of of a 3.0-liter turbodiesel. Diesels own Europe, and are slowly gaining acceptance here. This one should further the cause.

How does 240 horsepower, 420 lb-ft of torque, a 7,400-lb towing ability, and EPA 21 mpg city, 30 highway mileage with a potential 700-plus mile range sound? It, like the gasoline 3.6-liter V6 and 5.7-liter V8 engine choices, is matched to a new eight-speed automatic transmission, all the better to improve both acceleration and economy.

How does it work? Very well, as far as I could tell from an all-too-short drive. As the old saying goes, horsepower is what you brag about, but torque is what you feel. And feel it you will, when acceleration is needed. It's quiet, smooth, and civilized. And gives the Grand Cherokee buyer a great choice if fuel economy and range are concerns. Yes I want to spend a week with one. It should be available now.