Sampling History's Least Jeep-y Cherokee
We are on record as bullish on this new Jeep crossover’s prospects, based almost entirely on experience with the various all-wheel- and four-wheel-drive systems we’ve sampled. “It’s a real Jeep!” we sought to reassure the brand faithful after a day of rock climbing around Moab. Ah, but what do we think of the dainty, on-road, smile-state, EPA-number-crunching front-drive version?
Much of the staff recently cycled through a nicely loaded and chrome-bedecked 2.4-liter front-wheeler outfitted with the handsome indigo blue and brown leather interior and $2155 worth of Tech Package self-driving gear (forward collision mitigation, adaptive cruise and lane-keeping assist, blind-spot warning, and more). Reactions were largely positive, with special praise going to the way the body structure isolates ride inputs on bumpy roads without transmitting secondary vibrations and aftershocks. We don’t remember being wowed to the same extent by smaller versions of this architecture (like the Dodge Dart), so this was something of a revelation.
The 18-inch highway-biased Continental ProContact TX tires, with nice, tall 55-series sidewalls, undoubtedly contribute to the ride plushness and lack of road noise. Also contributing to that hushed cabin ambiance at highway speeds is the ultra-tall gearing that ninth gear brings, though it’s hard to coax the Cherokee into top gear at speeds below about 75 mph, as that ratio’s theoretical top speed is 289 mph(!).
That groundbreaking tranny falls a bit short of expectations the more we experience it. What should — on paper — endow this 3754-pound CUV with both brisk acceleration and impressive fuel economy disappoints a little on both counts. The 0-60-mph sprint takes 9.5 seconds, 0.2 second slower than a 2.4-liter front-drive Hyundai Santa Fe Sport with a mere six-speed. And yeah, it out-sips that rival by 2 EPA-combined mpg (25 to 23), but the longer, 3702-pound Subaru Outback 2.5-liter, with a 9-hp disadvantage and the added friction of all-wheel drive, gets to 60 mph in just 9.2 seconds and gets 28 combined mpg with the help of its standard continuously variable automatic. Subjectively, the trans is reluctant to execute manual shift requests via the lever, and it’s too quick to grab the highest gear whenever you lift off the throttle a moment, making it seem “busy” when it keeps downshifting at every corner exit. A bit more refinement, maybe some shift paddles, and/or an algorithm to detect sporty driving would greatly improve our opinion of this 948TE box.
Those quiet-riding tires generate respectable grip on pavement, hanging on for 0.79 g max lateral grip and stopping from 60 mph in 121 feet. The Outback’s lower center of gravity and AWD traction give it a big advantage in our figure-eight test (26.3 seconds at 0.63 avg g versus the Cherokee’s 28.2 at 0.59), but our Limited Jeep handily outmaneuvers that Santa Fe Sport (28.9 at 0.53). Oh, and of course this new Cherokee runs rings around its lumbering 3.7-liter V-6 Liberty predecessor (0-60 in 9.9 seconds, 60-0 in 130 feet, 0.69 max lateral g, 30.2 seconds at 0.50 average g). Those grippy Conti shoes are less adept at climbing steep, silty gravel hills, a feat some staffers believe even the two-wheel-drive Jeeps ought to excel at.
But the whole point of this Jeep is to broaden the appeal of the brand’s heart-of-market offering by attracting folks who know full well they will never go billy-goating up steep slippery hills. Toward that end, this Cherokee strikes us as an infinitely preferable option to the old rear-drive Liberty.
|2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited 2.4 FWD|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$32,670|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||2.4L/184-hp/171-lb-ft SOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3754 lb (58/42%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||182.0 x 73.2 x 65.7 in|
|0-60 MPH||9.5 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||17.2 sec @ 80.5 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||121 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.79 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||28.2 sec @ 0.59 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||22/31/25 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||153/109 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.77 lb/mile|