2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Review

A worthy successor or a poseur in disguise?

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2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Review
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Jeep revived a legendary nameplate for 2014. The Cherokee is back from extinction, but is it better than before? Riding atop a front-wheel-drive architecture and featuring four-wheel independent suspension the new iteration is worlds – no, galaxies – apart from the old XJ model that bowed out of the North American market nearly a decade and a half ago. In spite of its advanced technology and fancy new features does this Alfa Romeo-based utility vehicle deserve to wear the vaunted Cherokee name?

FAST FACTS

Engine: The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine offers 184 hp and 171 lb-ft of torque.

Transmission: The Cherokee is only available with a nine-speed automatic transmission.

Fuel Economy: 21 MPG city, 27 MPG highway or 23 average.

Price: The 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk we evaluated stickered for $36,820, including $995 in destination fees.

No matter how capable it is, dyed-in-the-wool Jeep fanatics are almost certain to sneer at it for the abovementioned reasons. But going a long way toward mollifying these maniacs, the top-of-the-line Trailhawk model features true off-road capability.

Four-by-Four Capability

Giving it street cred... or rather legitimate off-road credentials, the new Cherokee is available with three different four wheel-drive systems. The first one is called Jeep Active Drive I. It features a single power transfer unit, PTU for short, and is fully automatic in its operation. It goes into and out of four-wheel drive as necessary and no intervention is required.
 
Stepping up from there is Jeep Active Drive II. Capability is enhanced thanks to a two-speed PTU with low-range gearing. Additionally vehicles so equipped feature a ride height that’s been elevated by one inch; that’s not a bad thing to have when you’re out bashing rocks on the trail.

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Finally there’s Jeep Active Drive Lock, which includes everything offered in Active Drive II and throws a locking rear differential into the mix. This setup is designed for severe off-road driving and is standard on the high-dollar, range-topping Trailhawk model.
Like its Grand brother, the Cherokee can be equipped with the company’s Selec-Terrain traction control system. It features five special modes that tailor a variety of vehicle attributes to different driving conditions. There’s Auto, Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud and Rock. Oil Slick and Tartar Sauce settings are not offered at any price.

Lastly if you want to completely defeat the purpose of a Jeep you can opt for a Cherokee with front-wheel drive, though it does pay significant fuel-economy dividends. But do you really want to be “that guy (or girl)”? Perhaps a Geo Prizm is more appropriate for you; they’re fuel efficient and styled for the 21st century motorist.

In addition to advanced four-by-four technology, aggressive approach and departure angles help the Trailhawk earn Trail Rated status. These measurements indicate the kinds of grades and obstacles a vehicle can tackle. Up front its approach angle clocks in at 29.9 degrees; around back its departure score is 32.2. The break-over angle is 22.9 degrees and ground clearance is 8.8 inches.

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Further validating its rough-and-tumble credentials, the Trailhawk’s got a trio of bright red tow hooks that could be a lifesaver at times when Active Drive Lock gets overwhelmed by stones, mud or irresponsible inclines. Additionally it’s equipped with skid plates so you don’t leave skid marks in your drawers as you climb over rough terrain or jagged rocks. Nobody wants to put a hole in their oil pan, unless of course it’s a rental and you bought the extra insurance, then it might be cool!

Dressed to the Nine-Speeds

Aside from tow hooks and underbody armor there are many other features to talk about. Pop the hood and you won’t find an old-school AMC straight six no matter where you look or how nostalgic you wax; that indestructible torque monster has gone the way of Walter P. and the Willys Whippet. In its place is a pair of high-tech powerplants that are as refined as they are muscular.

The base engine is a 2.4-liter Tigershark four-cylinder. It delivers 184 very-smooth horses and 171 lb-ft of torque. The optional unit is a 3.2-liter version of Chrysler’s Pentastar V6. It puts out 271 hp with 239 lb-ft and supposedly provides a best-in-class tow rating of 4,500 pounds. No matter the engine, a cutting-edge nine-speed automatic transmission is standard.

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Fuel consumption with our four-cylinder Trailhawk is pretty reasonable. According to the EPA it will deliver 21 miles per gallon city and 27 on the interstate. Its combined score is 23 MPG.

Base price for a front-wheel-drive Sport model, the cheapest version available, costs $22,990 including delivery. The example we’ve been evaluating costs nearly $36,320, which isn’t cheap, even by today’s standards.

Interior Inclinations

Of course its window sticker was inflated by a number of pricey options. An entry-level Trailhawk can be had for $29,990.

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Our test machine featured the Technology Group ($2,195), which gets you a number of high-end features including blind-spot monitoring, forward-collision warning, adaptive cruise control, rain-sensing wipers and much more.

Beyond all that we were coddled by the Comfort/Convenience Group ($1,895). This package adds a backup camera into the mix along with an eight-way power driver’s seat, a universal garage-door opener and a handful of other helpful additions.

Rounding things out, the Trailhawk in question was also equipped with the Leather Interior Group ($1,295), a black hood decal ($150) and the company’s Uconnect 8.4 infotainment system, which seems like a steal at just $795.

But enough numbers! Even if two-plus-two added up to steak dinner I’d still hate math, and my calculus professor would probably fail me again. Anyway, like many recent Chrysler models the Cherokee’s interior is really well done. There’s a plethora of high-quality soft surfaces and the dash-top is covered in a leather-like material that’s accented with contrast stitching.

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The company’s Uconnect system is as responsive and easy to use as ever. Additionally all of the other controls fall right to hand and are as simple to operate as a coffee mug; the various knobs and buttons are relatively large and easy to grab or poke. Beyond the generously sized center console, there’s a concealed storage space on top of the dashboard.

The front chairs are quite comfortable but legroom is a little tight in the second row, even with those seats moved all the way back. Headroom is generous front or rear, as is cargo volume, which measures about 55 cubic feet with the rear bench tucked away. As an added bonus, the front passenger seat folds flat for even more space. This is especially useful when carrying long items such as pipes or boards.

One downside is the design of the Cherokee’s rocker panels. They’re fairly bulbous and trimmed in plastic cladding that has a predilection for assaulting your trousers with dirt and mud. You have to be extra careful getting in and out, especially if you’ve been tearing it up off road and the body is dirty. If you’re not vigilant you’ll inadvertently slide your calf against the trim and sully your britches. Perhaps capris are the answer… wait, they’re never a solution, only a problem.

On-Road Agility, Off-Road Ability

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Performance with the four-cylinder engine is good; it delivers all you could ever really need and it’s about as smooth as can be, though it’s not muscular enough to make the Cherokee feel fast. A little more oomph, a touch more fire in its belly would be welcome, especially if you’ve got a load of people on board. This engine was tuned for midrange performance and gets a little winded as it spins near redline.

The nine-speed transmission is a technological achievement that mostly gets the job done without fuss. However, when it’s cold the shifts feel quite a bit firmer than they should, almost like it’s banging into gear. Fortunately things smooth out a bit once everything warms up, but it’s still not quite as smooth as I’d like it to be.

As with other Chrysler products the Trailhawk’s steering wheel is nice and chunky, which makes it easy to grip. Handling performance is good with no egregious faults, though the knobby Firestone Destination tires seem to impart a slightly rubbery feel to the steering. This sensation is especially noticeable on rutted asphalt; the vehicle tends to follow road grooves at times, inexplicably shifting in its lane.

Forward visibility is slightly compromised by portly A-pillars and a high hood, though blind-spot monitoring and a backup camera help alleviate vision issues. The Cherokee’s adaptive cruise control is very effective and will bring the vehicle to a halt as traffic dictates. Just tap the accelerator to resume.

Regrettably I did not have an opportunity to do any proper off-roading with the Trailhawk, though I did test it extensively over some horrible dirt two-tracks and a number gravel roads that had been devastated by the spring thaw. Some of the potholes looked like they were a foot deep and twice as wide.

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The Cherokee handled it all without breaking a sweat. Time after time, pass after pass, the vehicle made zero indication that it was stressed in any way. Giving it that super sturdy feel, its overall structure is made of about 65 percent high-strength steel, something that’s about as flexible as a piece of fine china . Suffice it to say, this thing brushes off washboard surfaces and potholes with ease.

The Verdict

Aside from its controversial exterior that you’ll either love or hate, the 2014 Jeep Cherokee is a very likable utility vehicle. It’s got a high-quality interior, it’s nice to drive and when properly equipped it should perform well off road. Additionally, it offers a host of effective and easy-to-use technologies as well as a pretty good four-cylinder powertrain. But has this car-based vehicle earned the right to be called a Cherokee? Well, ultimately that’s up to Jeep enthusiasts to decide.

LOVE IT
  • Off-road capability
  • Rock-solid feel
  • Refined engine
  • Nice interior
LEAVE IT
  • Harsh transmission
  • Feels a little slow
  • Exterior styling

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