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2014 Jeep Cherokee Pros and Cons: Why (Not) This Car?

Jeep Cherokee front quarter view
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Introduction

For years, Jeeps were purpose-built vehicles for hardcore off-roaders (or people attracted by the image of hardcore off-roading). When the brand introduced a couple of car-based compact SUVs for the 2007 model year, the Compass and the Patriot, the reaction from its fan base was...not welcoming. Yet for 2014 Jeep has replaced the truck-based Liberty, which never quite hit it off with these fans, with a vehicle based on a Fiat car platform. Not only this, but they've attached the hallowed Cherokee nameplate. This might seem a recipe for a massive brand equity-emasculating backlash. But the uproar I expected hasn't happened. What about the new Jeep Cherokee has been winning people over?

TrueDelta visitors most often compare the new Cherokee to the Ford Escape and Subaru Forester. This is like comparing an apple to an orange, and perhaps a pear. (From the glass half full dept.: credit Jeep for successfully designing the new Cherokee to appeal to a much broader market than off-roading enthusiasts.) In terms of aesthetics and size, the new Cherokee matches up most closely with the GMC Terrain, so I've selected it as the primary comparison vehicle.

Cherokee Reviews: Jeep Cherokee front quarter view

Long front overhang betrays front-wheel-drive chassis. more Cherokee photos

Cherokee Reviews: Jeep Cherokee Latitude interior

Contrasting stitching, satin trim appear suitably Jeep.

Tested: 2014 Jeep Cherokee

4dr SUV 271-horsepower 3.2L V6 9-speed shiftable automatic AWD

Compared: 2013 GMC Terrain

4dr SUV 301-horsepower 3.6L V6 6-speed shiftable automatic AWD

Why the 2014 Jeep Cherokee?

  Compared to the Terrain
Feature availability
Feature availability: Much better Better Worse

The tested Jeep Cherokee wasn't heavily optioned. Yet its list price of $31,480 included a powerful V6 engine, all-wheel-drive (AWD), dual power seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, remote start, proximity key, power liftgate, and a nav-ready infotainment system (for nav, pay the dealer to unlock the system's capability). You can also get heated seats without also getting leather upholstery, a sunroof, or other expensive, possibly unwanted features.

The Ford Escape's configuration is almost as flexible as the Jeep's. The Subaru Forester 2.0XT's isn't close. If you want even some of the above listed features, you need to step up from the $28,820 Premium to the top-of-the-line, $33,820 Touring.

Got deeper pockets? If someone in the segment offers a feature, the Cherokee probably does as well: all-speed adaptive cruise control, a full array of collision warning systems, a self-parking system, auto-dimming xenon headlights, rain-sensing wipers, memory for the drivers seat, ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, reconfigurable LCD instrumentation, panoramic sunroof, and on and on.

Then there are the features no one else offers. The Trailhawk variant (not tested) has a two-speed transfer case, a lockable rear differential, and crawl control. These features plus the ability to select from multiple traction and stability control modes based on terrain type (included with AWD on all trim levels) and hill descent control (also offered on the Subaru) make for off-roading capability well beyond other car-based crossovers. This capability might well explain the lack of a backlash from Jeep's fan base.

The GMC Terrain might look much more rugged than the Cherokee, but it's not designed for serious off-roading. Even in pricey Denali trim the Terrain lacks many of the features available on the Jeep.


Controls and instruments
Controls and instruments: Better Better Worse

Chrysler's latest control interface is perhaps the best in the industry, with a large, responsive, well-organized touchscreen plus large knobs and buttons for key functions--all of it within easy reach.


Cherokee Reviews: Jeep Cherokee rear quarter view

Rear end also curvier than the Jeep norm.

Cherokee Reviews: Jeep Cherokee instrument panel

Controls very well designed, but buttons and knobs could feel less cheap.

Rear seat room & comfort
Rear seat room & comfort: About the same Better Worse

The GMC Terrain and Subaru Forester have roomy rear seats, but no vents to keep people back there cool. The Ford Escape has rear air vents, but a much less roomy rear seat. The Jeep Cherokee has a roomy, comfortably high rear seat AND rear air vents.


Price or payments
Price or payments: Much better Better Worse

Equip a GMC Terrain SLE as close as possible to the tested Jeep Cherokee Laredo, and it lists for just $660 more, $32,140 vs. $31,480. But, as mentioned above, the Cherokee includes many features not even offered on the Terrain. Adjust for these feature differences and the Jeep's pricing advantage grows (and grows, and grows some more) to nearly $3,500. (On a feature-adjusted basis, the Cherokee Limited compares even better than the Laredo.)

When equipped much like the tested Cherokee, the Ford Escape SE lists for $400 less. Pretty close. But the Jeep has about $2,000 in additional content. Much of this additional content is also available on the Escape, but only if you also spring for leather or step up to the Titanium trim level.

If you don't require much in the way of features, the Subaru Forester 2.0XT Premium lists for over $2,000 less than the tested Cherokee. But feature differences account for nearly the entire amount. If you want even one of the features lacking on the 2.0XT Premium, you must find another $5,000 for the 2.0XT Touring. A Cherokee Limited equipped like the 2.0XT Touring lists for $855 more ($34,675), but includes about $2,700 in additional features.


Why Not the 2014 Jeep Cherokee?

  Compared to the Terrain
Exterior styling
Exterior styling: Worse Better Worse

Many people dislike the new Jeep Cherokee's face, which oddly positions the headlights below the marker lights (which most people will mistake for headlights) and above the foglights.

Personally, I have a larger aesthetic issue with the Cherokee's lengthy front overhang and weak "chin" (more on the Trailhawk than on the Laredo in the photos, to enable a steep approach angle despite the crossover's distended nose).

If you find the new Cherokee's exterior styling attractive--some people complimented it--then ignore this "why not to buy."


Cargo capacity
Cargo capacity: Worse Better Worse

Due to a bobbed tail and high floor, the Jeep Cherokee's cargo volume stat, 55 cubic feet, ranks near the bottom of the segment. You can pack nine more cubes into the Terrain, 13 more into the Escape (maybe, Ford tends to get creative when measuring its vehicles), and 20 more into the Forester.

In the Cherokee's favor, it's the only vehicle in this bunch with a folding front passenger seat. If you need to carry especially long objects inside, it's the champ.


Cherokee Reviews: Jeep Cherokee front view

The new face of Jeep? The headlights are the bulbs just above the bumper.

Cherokee Reviews: Jeep Cherokee back seat

High, comfortable back seat a Cherokee strength. Plus rear air vents.

Handling
Handling: About the same Better Worse

Compared to the relatively sporty Escape and Forester, the Cherokee feels much larger and heavier, partly because it is significantly heavier (4,044 lbs. vs. 3,732 and 3,624). In quick turns the Jeep can feel clumsy as it plows toward the outside curb despite the intervention (with AWD) of a torque vectoring system.

The Terrain is even longer and heavier (4,188 lbs.), and its steering is more numb, so even with the additional stability provided by its especially long wheelbase it also lags the others when the road turns twisty.


Other features of the 2014 Jeep Cherokee

  Compared to the Terrain
Materials & workmanship
Materials & workmanship: Better Better Worse

Many of the new Cherokee's interior surfaces look and feel of high quality. If the knobs and buttons felt less cheap I'd place materials among the reasons to buy one.


Front seat support & comfort
Front seat support & comfort: Worse Better Worse

The Jeep's cloth seats feel mushy. The leather seats (not on the tested Cherokee) are more supportive.


Powertrain performance
Powertrain performance: Worse Better Worse

I first drove the new Jeep Cherokee with its base engine, a 184-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, and...waited until I could also drive the V6 before posting this review. While I liked the 2.4 in the related Dodge Dart, the Cherokee is too heavy for it, rendering acceleration sluggish and noisy.

The 271-horsepower 3.2-liter V6 is far quicker, sounds much better when revved, and is nearly as fuel efficient (more on this below). Spend the extra $1,495.

This said, the Escape with its turbo four is just as quick, and both the Terrain (with a 301-horsepower V6) and Forester 2.0XT (with a 250-horsepower turbocharged four) are even quicker. So no "why to buy" even with the V6. To possibly earn one, Jeep needs to fit the Cherokee with the 295-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 offered in the related Chrysler 200.

They also need to retune the nine-speed automatic transmission. As is, the ZF box too often bumps its way through shifts. The same hardware in the 2015 200 sedan shifts more smoothly.


Fuel economy
Fuel economy: Much better Better Worse

When I was especially easy on the new Cherokee's gas and brake pedals, its trip computer reported averages as high as 31.8 in suburban driving. I observed suburban averages around 27 more often--still quite good for a powerful all-wheel-drive crossover. The clunky nine-speed automatic deserves a lot of the credit, as it keeps engine speed below 1,500 rpm when cruising at up to 55 mph.

The Jeep Cherokee V6 AWD's EPA ratings are much better than those of the GMC Acadia V6 AWD, 19 mpg city, 27 mpg highway vs. 16/23. But they're not quite as good as the Escape's (21/28) much less the Forester's (23/28). Note that the Jeep is most competitive in highway driving, where the transmission's three additional ratios enable a much taller top gear. In city driving the much smaller turbocharged engines have an edge, especially when hitched to a CVT (as in the Subaru).


Ride smoothness
Ride smoothness: Worse Better Worse

The Jeep Cherokee rides smoothly and quietly, but the GMC Terrain, with another half-foot of wheelbase and even more sound deadening, retains an edge in this area. The Escape's suspension tuning gives a higher priority to handling, so some people will find it overly firm. The Forester's suspension strikes a good balance, but by this token doesn't feel as sporty as the Escape or as luxurious as the Jeep or GMC.


Conclusion

On any comprehensive scorecard that doesn't heavily weight off-road capability, the new Jeep Cherokee can't match the Subaru Forester. The nine-speed automatic wrings decent fuel economy out of the V6 and the interior is well-designed from both aesthetic and functional standpoints. But the Jeep weighs much more--harming performance, city fuel economy, and handling--yet can't carry nearly as much.

On the other side of the ledger, Jeep's menu includes far more features than the GMC Terrain. Plus, unlike with the Subaru, you don't have to choose between a basic model and a loaded one. Pricing is aggressively competitive.

Ultimately, the best reason to buy the new Cherokee is the thing that made Jeeps Jeeps: off-road prowess. No other compact crossover offers a two-speed transfer case or a lockable rear differential. What this means: if you really want a Jeep, and like the size and price of the Cherokee, you don't want the tested Laredo. You want the Trailhawk.

You'll never leave the pavement, but badly want a Cherokee anyway? Attracted by the brand, the impressive features-per-dollar, or possibly even Jeep's new face? For reasons I don't entirely grasp, it is selling well.* Just be sure to get the V6 engine. And perhaps the leather seats as well.


* If you do understand, please fill me in in the comments.

Cherokee Reviews: Jeep Cherokee V6 engine

This is the engine you want, spend the extra $1,495.

Cherokee Reviews: Jeep Cherokee cargo area all seats folded

The Cherokee compensates for its most significant shortcoming with a folding front passenger seat.

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2014 Jeep Cherokee pros and cons, according to Michael Karesh: the best reasons for buying (or not buying) the 2014 Jeep Cherokee. Join TrueDelta to post your own impressions.

Response from vkehoe

3:17 pm June 22, 2014

One capability often not mentioned is towing. How easy is it to get a towing package, and for more than 2,000 pounds or so. Jeep ads usually point this out. On several forums I've seen new owners mention being able to tow a boat or a camper.

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Response from mkaresh

1:10 pm June 23, 2014

Midsize crossovers are usually rated to tow 5,000 lbs. I'm not sure about compact crossovers.

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Response from tocoti

11:20 pm August 15, 2014

MICHAEL, EXCELLENT COMPARISION CHOICE SINCE I AM CURRENTLY INDECISIVE BETWEEN THE TWO. REGARDING THECHEROKEE LOOKS (STYLING), I LEAN MORE TOWARD THE MANLY LOOKS OF THE TERRAIN. THE JEEP LOOKS KINDA FEMININE TO ME.

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Response from 91Pronto

4:21 pm September 21, 2014

Towing is a major factor many reviewers overlook. The Forester is a measly 1500 lbs barely capable of towing a utility trailer and much less than class normal 3,500. The Jeep is 4,500 lbs. Tested all the competition and settled on the Cherokee because it was capable of towing more than its class competitiors and do it with power, comfort and quiet.

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Response from mkaresh

5:15 pm September 21, 2014

Response from sgold

1:00 am April 4, 2015

To reach the 4500 lb tow rating, you must add the tow package to the V6; otherwise, it is only 2000 lbs. A little ridiculous, but for $450 or so, you get enhanced transmission cooling, a HD alternator, and the wiring. I believe the hitch is included, too.

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Response from mkaresh

6:58 pm April 4, 2015

Thanks for this detail. It's pretty common to require a tow package to get a maximum tow rating.

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Response from Member4850

1:03 am March 8, 2016

I took delivery of my 2016 Cherokee 3 days ago (0rdered vehicle), it is a North edition (Latitude in the USA). It has the 2.4 Litre Tigershark engine, for my wife and I this engine is sufficent and very responsive, we do not tow. Since Michael tested his Cherokee FCA engineers and programers now seem to have a firm grip on the workings of the transmission and I must say right out of the box the transmission is silky smooth now in all shifts and very responsive. The 8.4 radio is excellent to use and FCA premium sound system is very nice (Alpine) design. The 4 wheel Active Drive1 has a few settings like Auto-Sport-Snow-Sand/Mud.So far I am very happy with my purchase and the quality build. White-4X4-Beige interior-2.4 Litre engine-8.4 radio with backup camera-Premium speakers-Power drivers seat-Winter package.

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