A proper SUV makes its return | It has the rugged looks that I’ve been longing for and all the off-road goodies.
When the folks at Jeep started teasing the idea that the Cherokee nameplate would be making a return, they definitely caught my interest. While there are plenty of really great crossovers and SUVs perfectly suited for suburban life and family highway travel, I miss the plethora of “real” SUVs that were so popular in the 80s and 90s. Examples like the Ford Explorer, Chevy Blazer and of course the Jeep Cherokee were rugged, go-anywhere, do-anything trucks. Sure they were overkill for hauling the kids to soccer practice, but they had the versatility to be as much at home on a hunting trail as they were in the mall parking lot.
The ugly truth is however, that the bulk of buyers out there today are not nearly as enthusiastic as I am about outdated gas-guzzling trucks and would much rather have something comfortable, practical and efficient. Jeep knows this, so what they’ve done is reinvent the Cherokee to be much closer aligned to what today’s buyers are looking for. During my week with a new 2014 Jeep Cherokee North Edition, I wanted to see if its modern edge could win me over.
Before I start talking about my impressions of my mid-range North Edition 4×4 tester, I would like to point out that Jeep did in fact build the Cherokee TrailHawk with buyers like myself in mind. It has the rugged looks that I’ve been longing for and all the off-road goodies such a rear axle locker and proper off-road suspension. Anyhow, back to my North Edition, with its mid-range MSRP of $33,300, the easy-to-use Selec-Terrain 4×4 system and heating elements in just about everything. I expect it will be the volume seller here in Canada and a favorite among young families looking for affordable yet capable transportation.
During my week with the Cherokee, one major topic of conversation was always its controversial styling. I found it’s about 50/50, with half of the people I spoke to loving the styling, while the other half didn’t find it attractive at all. This is a perfect example of beauty lying in the eye of the beholder. What I liked is that its large front grille, while edgy, is unmistakably Jeep. The headlamp arrangement is also very unique with the LED daytime running lights up high, regular low beam and high beams in a separate housing below, and the fog lights below those. The three stacked lamp housings do look rather strange at first, but I like the uniqueness of it and when it’s all lit up at night, it has an authoritative look to it.
Looks aside, where today’s modern SUVs really surpass those of the past is on the road, and the new Cherokee does not disappoint. The steering and ride feel just “Jeep” enough to remind you that you are driving a vehicle with a prestigious off-road pedigree, but not nearly enough that you’re inconvenienced by it. I do think that the steering ratio could be tightened up a little bit, as making tight turns, say in a parking lot feels a little cumbersome. Gone are the days of the “Jeep death-wobble” as the new Cherokee remains very stable and cruises along the highway with grace. Noise levels are also kept in check and it’s as quiet as any premium sedan.
I did not get the chance to try my test Cherokee in any off-road situations during my week with it, but through a heavy downpour that flooded parts of the city, the Cherokee soldiered through without the slightest hint of trouble. It handled large bodies of standing water on the highway with confidence. The Selec-Terrain knob has settings for Snow, Sport and Sand/Mud in addition to the Automatic mode. These settings put the four-wheel-drive system into the optimal setting to handle the conditions without any input from the driver beyond turning the knob.
My tester came equipped with the 3.2L Pentastar V6 pushing 271 horsepower and mated to Chrysler’s 9-speed automatic. From a performance perspective, 9 speeds may just be a few too many as the transmission doesn’t do a very good job keeping the RPMs up in the powerband. Therefore, throttle response appears to be slower than it actually is. However, the offsetting factor is the economy I was able to achieve with the extra gears. Through the course of my usual mixed rush hour commute I averaged a very healthy 9.3L/100km. When you think about the fact that this is a mid-sized SUV with a heavy 4×4 system, those are pretty impressive numbers. Clearly, what the new Cherokee lacks in power it makes up for in efficiency, a trade-off that I am sure many buyers today are willing to make given the recent trend in fuel prices.
While maybe not glamorous-looking at first, the Cherokee North Edition’s interior is filled with versatile and easy-to-clean material. The plastic does lend itself well to the utilitarian purpose that has always been at the core of the Jeep brand, and that does come through in many ways inside the Cherokee. There is ample storage everywhere including a handy compartment under the passenger seat which flips up. The two-toned cloth seats are comfortable for the long haul and all controls are well placed and intuitive. I am also a big fan of the LCD display built into the gauge cluster which clearly and easily displays useful data such as fuel economy and trip information. Chrysler’s well-sorted Uconnect infotainment system is also available, and was equipped on my tester. The system, one of my favourites in the industry, simply works well and is easy for anyone to jump in and use without a learning curve.
The rugged TrailHawk model might be an answer to the question enthusiasts like me have been asking, but the Cherokee North is the answer for the masses. At the end of the day, for someone who sticks to the pavement, the 4×4 North has the right stuff to get you and your passengers where you need to be, anytime and anywhere. In the process, it’s not going to break the bank at the dealership or the pumps either – the Cherokee is all function and utility with just enough frills to keep everyone happy, That folks, is what the new Jeep is all about.
2014 Jeep Cherokee North Gallery