With a luxury cabin and 3.2L V6, the 2014 model plows through the paces at ‘Jeep Hill’
The Jeep name has a long and storied history in North America and it is one of the few American brands that is recognized around the globe.
The decision makers at Chrysler are well aware of Jeep’s popularity, but it became apparent that it would be easier to market the Jeep brand worldwide if the product catalogue was revised to better suit all markets.
As a result, when it came time to update the aging Liberty compact sport utility vehicle, the decision was made to revisit the Cherokee name, a moniker that was carried on the fender of the capable five-passenger vehicle back when it was initially introduced in the mid-1980s.
During this period, the wide acceptance of the concept of the sport-utility vehicle began to take hold, as North American consumers were introduced to a new category of small, go-anywhere vehicles fitted with four-wheel-drive and rugged all-terrain tires.
Toyota’s 4Runner had invaded our shores, the Bronco II had left the Ford corral and General Motors had rolled out the Chevrolet S-10 Blazer and the GMC S-15 Jimmy. The Jeep Cherokee was AMC’s entrant into this burgeoning category, and for the most part, proved to be a value leader and the most capable off-road.
In 2003, the Cherokee name gave way to the Jeep Liberty, a vehicle that while still capable of engaging in off-road adventure, had been engineered to be deliver a more refined ride and a higher level of amenities. Two generations of these more urban friendly models roamed our streets for over a decade, but now the Liberty experiment is over, and the Cherokee is back.
Or is it? The architecture for the new Cherokee is loosely based on that of the Dodge Dart sedan, which itself is an evolution of a platform derived from corporate cousin Fiat. While platform sharing helps a company save money and better manage resources, it can also be detrimental to some models if shortcuts have to be made in the design department to make the plan work.
In the case of the 2014 Jeep Cherokee it is evident that many Jeep fans are worried that the new model may have lost some of it off-road prowess with the redesign, especially given the fact that it is built on a passenger car foundation rather than that of a truck.
My test vehicle was a fully loaded Cherokee Limited 4×4. With its sleek new bodywork and top-shelf interior, it would be easy to believe that this new Cherokee might be afraid to get dirty. I was determined to prove that this was not the case.
Jeep offers four distinct models of the Cherokee: Sport, North, Limited and Trailhawk. The first three are available in either front-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive variants, while the Trailhawk model is only available in four-wheel-drive form, and is the only one of the bunch to receive the Trail Rated designation. Jeep models carrying the Trail Rated badge have been specifically designed and outfitted to perform in a variety of challenging off-road conditions identified by five key consumer-oriented performance categories. These include traction, ground clearance, manoeuvrability, articulation, and water fording.
While the Cherokee Limited does not hold such a rating, it is still a Jeep, and there are expectations that most consumers will feel need to be met. The typical Cherokee owner is likely to be an active individual who may enjoy getting back to nature or engaging in a wide array of outdoor pursuits. As a result, there will be times when the roads to the destination might be rather steep, littered with hazards, and probably slippery.
Jeep has developed three innovative 4×4 systems for the Cherokee. The single speed Active Drive I 4×4 system with brake traction control is available on the Sport model. This system has been designed to ensure that the vehicle will maintain traction in all weather conditions.
The North and Limited models can be ordered with the Active Drive II 4×4 system which features a low-range setting which is great for rock crawling, and a neutral mode which permits flat towing behind an RV.
The Cherokee Trailhawk gets its mountain goat agility from the Active Drive Lock 4×4 system which features a 4-Low setting and a rear locker.
In preparation for my attempt at climbing Jeep Hill, I put the vehicle into low range with the touch of a console mounted button. The Limited 4×4 model is equipped with the Jeep Selec-Terrain system which allows the driver to select from four operational settings —auto, snow, sport and sand/mud. I decided to leave it in the Auto mode for my test run up the hill to see how it would adapt to the traction challenges
I began my ascent on the narrow trail that runs the length of Jeep Hill, and I must admit that I wasn’t expecting to get past the smattering of deep ruts that had been carved in the road surface by the huge truck tires that rip at the earth as they clamber up the steep grade. The Cherokee Limited was riding on Continental street tires that had no purpose being on this hill, so I half expected to be backing out in short order.
As my driver’s side rear wheel fell into a deep rut, the nose of the Cherokee rose and my outside front wheel took to the air. Despite having a wheel suspended a full 14-inches above the gravel surface, the Active Drive II system kept the other wheels moving forward as I put steady pressure on the gas pedal. While it looked somewhat dramatic, the vehicle made its way up the grade with obvious ease and damage free.
I was made even more impressed with this performance when I passed by this location a couple of hours later on my return home. There was a small group of people working hard to extract a tricked out, full-sized pickup truck that was stuck in that same rut. And it was sporting a lift-kit and very aggressive off-road tires!
The descent was equally impressive, as the lane down the side of Jeep Hill is a mix of sand and loose loam. I activated Hill Descent Control, which left me in charge of the brakes and the steering. The journey down the steep face left me feeling very confident in the capabilities of the Jeep Cherokee as it was controlled, and slip and slide free.
On paved surfaces the Cherokee Limited was a star, as its nine-speed automatic transmission worked to distribute power as efficiently as possible. Handling is very car-like, and the ride was quiet and comfortable. The Cherokee Limited features a level of luxury usually reserved for very high-end automobiles, and the long list of safety features made it an excellent touring vehicle.
Rugged and refined, the all-new Jeep Cherokee is an impressive piece of hardware. So impressive that it was named the 2014 Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada