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January 12, 2014

New Cherokee enriches Jeep tradition

Once upon a time – a time, oh, only about 18 months or two years ago – if you wanted the latest, greatest, most interesting and sophisticated technology available for cars, you had to spend big and buy a luxury model.

No longer. You still have to spend more, purchasing high-end trim levels and often adding options on top. But today some mighty slick stuff comes in everyday cars that working stiffs like you and I can afford.

Driving the new, 2014 Jeep Cherokee sport-utility wagon made that fact crystal clear to me.

I saw some strong hints early in my one-week test drive. Especially on our frigid mornings, I appreciated the rapid seep of warmth from the model’s heated seats. Its heated steering wheel activated so quickly I could forget gloves. I liked the quick-fire accuracy of the Cherokee’s automatic highbeams, which click off automatically for an oncoming car. Its rain-sensitive wipers, sweeping on their own when the windshield grows wet, seemed to anticipate my needs. The navigation system provided prompt and clear video and audio directions, delivering me to a holiday party in an out-of-the-way neighborhood.

If any doubts about the Cherokee’s capabilities remained, its “LaneSense Lane Departure Warning-Plus” removed them. Like other lane-drift systems, it tells you if you unintentionally cross a line while driving. But LaneSense goes a step farther, using the power-steering system to give you a nudge by twisting the steering wheel slightly in the direction that will correct your drift. The first time it happened, the sensation was uncanny.

“This car is steering itself,” I said to my wife, a little alarmed. When I grew more accustomed, I liked and appreciated the feature.

Along with other slick technologies – like adaptive cruise control that can stop the Cherokee before a collision and Park Assist that takes a lot of struggle out of dropping the model into a curb-side space – most of those abilities came as part of a $2,155 technology option package. My test model also included a $1,595 luxury package that added items like leather upholstery, ventilated front seats and a power rear lift gate. And it was equipped with four-wheel drive, which boosts Cherokee’s price by $2,000 over front-wheel-drive versions. After some other add-ons, the final list price of my evaluation model was $35,535.

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