EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 12, 2014

New Cherokee enriches Jeep tradition

Motor Mouth
Jeffrey Zygmont

---- — 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.

Sure, that’s a good step above the new Cherokee’s starting list price of $23,990 for a more basic, front-drive model. But it still doesn’t make the new Jeep a luxury sport-utility vehicle that you might get from the likes of Land Rover, BMW or Mercedes-Benz. The Cherokee remains a Jeep, a brand for everyday people.

The 2014 Cherokee is a completely new vehicle. It replaces the Liberty as Jeep’s mid-size SUV. Don’t mistake it for the Jeep Grand Cherokee, which is a wholly different model, larger than the Cherokee.

The impressive new Cherokee arrived in Methuen at Clark Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram in October, reports Antonio Martins, the dealership’s sales manager.

“It’s been selling strong ever since it hit the ground,” he said.

What’s more, the most popular versions at Clark are the Limited trim levels, Martins said. The Cherokee Limited loads in the most features, making the most luxurious Cherokee available. Limited is priced $5,000 above the base-level Cherokee Sport and $3,000 above the Cherokee Latitude.

Another popular model at Clark is the Cherokee Trailhawk version, Martins noted. Like the Limited, Trailhawk is in Cherokee’s upper price range. It adds features and equipment that optimize it for off-road trail running.

“People want the goodies,” Martins explained. “They put so much technology into this car that a lot of people are asking about it. They want the technology.”

The new Cherokee returns a respected name to the Jeep model line-up. Jeep introduced a rugged, early four-wheel-drive passenger wagon called Cherokee in 1974. With a redesign in1984, Cherokee morphed into a more consumer-friendly model that helped turn SUVs into popular, mainstream vehicles. The Cherokee was so successful that Jeep applied the name Grand Cherokee to a separate, larger sport-utility in 1992.

In 2002, the Cherokee name disappeared from the Jeep line when the brand replaced it with the Liberty, though the full-size Grand Cherokee SUV continued uninterrupted.

Along with the sleekly rugged, contemporary design and the fresh, capable features available in the new model, the Cherokee’s fuel economy is stacking up as a welcome improvement over the out-going Liberty, said Martins, of Clark.

A primary reason for the improvement is the model’s efficient, nine-speed automatic transmission, he noted. According to Jeep, this is the first nine-speed available in this vehicle type.

Another boost to fuel economy comes from the four-cylinder engine available in Cherokee, said Martins. Last year’s Liberty came only with a larger, six-cylinder engine. In Cherokee, the 184-horsepower four-cylinder returns a government fuel-economy rating of 22 miles per gallon in city driving, and 31 mpg on the highway, in front-drive Cherokees. Four-wheel drive drops the rating to 21/28 mpg.

With its optional, 271-horsepower V6 engine, a four-wheel-drive Cherokee rates 19/27 mpg. At Clark in Methuen, demand for four-cylinder and six-cylinder engines splits about 50/50, said Martins.

Even though it resurrects a significant name in the Jeep brand history, the new Cherokee is not a retro car. Its appearance is wholly contemporary, not a throw-back that echoes the past. But Jeep didn’t forget its heritage, either. The model incorporates some design cues that display the company’s traditions, Martins pointed out.

For example, he said, the angular, trapezoid-shaped cutouts around the wheels are distinctly Jeep, giving the Cherokee a more rugged, hard-working aspect. Its prominent front end is defined by the brand’s distinctive grille of seven vertical bars, with the bars meant to represent the seven continents, because, as the company advertises, Jeep conquers them all.

“They put in key elements that people associate with Jeep,” Martins said. “Jeep has such a great following that the name attracts all ages, all types of people. The Cherokee is selling to anyone, from people just getting out of college to people just getting ready to retire.”

All of them want the premium features and advanced technology that make the new Cherokee richer, he said.

Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction and non-fiction books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Vehicle type: 4-door, 5-passenger, front- and four-wheel-drive mid-size SUV Price range: $23,990 to $30,990 (plus options) Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles basic warranty; 5 years/100,000 miles powertrain warranty; 5 years/100,000 miles corrosion warranty; 5 years/100,000 miles roadside assistance Base engine: 2.4-liter I4 Power: 184 horsepower at 6,400 rpm; 171 lb.-ft. torque at 4,600 rpm Transmission: 9-speed automatic Fuel economy: 21 mpg city; 28 mpg highway (with 4WD) Wheelbase: 106 inches Length: 182 inches Width: 73 inches Height: 66 inches Weight: 3,775 pounds Fuel capacity: 15.9 gallons Turning circle: 37.7 feet