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Just In: 2014 Jeep Cherokees rock crawl into our test fleet

Four-cylinder and V6 models cover a broad price and personality spectrum

Published: December 09, 2013 11:30 AM

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After an eight-month delay, the ballyhooed Jeep Cherokee has finally gone on sale, and we rushed right out and bought two of them: a basic four-cylinder Latitude and a loaded Limited. We’re driving them a lot, working to build up break-in miles before we start our formal test regimen. And, thus far, our impressions are decidedly mixed. (Read our Jeep Cherokee first drive.)

Chrysler held back the Jeeps by the thousands at a lot outside the Toledo, Ohio, factory, while its engineers fine-tuned the programming of its all-new nine-speed automatic transmission—the first of its kind. So far, the results don’t seem worth it. The standard nine-speed boxes in both of our test cars shift roughly, and neither one ever engages its ninth gear in normal driving. A six- or eight-speed transmission could have done the job, and possibly for less money.

That’s too bad, because Jeep sorely needs this replacement for the aging and uncompetitive Liberty to be a success, and consumers would welcome a competitive American offering in this popular class. It’s no secret that Jeep has never had a competitive contender in the growing small SUV segment.

All Cherokees come with the same transmission, but you can choose from three all-wheel drive systems: Active Drive I is a basic full-time system; Active Drive II (which comes standard on Trailhawk models) adds a low range, and Active Drive Lock adds a locking rear differential for really tough going.

What sets the Cherokee apart from other modern small SUVs is its V6 engine, potential off-road capability (even more so with the specially designated Trailhawk), 4,500-lb. towing capacity with the V6, and the number of available advanced driver safety aids and other upscale options.

When shopping for our test cars, we first found our top-trim Limited with the 3.2-liter V6. It has lots of bells and whistles, including the well-designed Uconnect 8.4-inch touch screen and a wireless charging pad for your phone. The comprehensive Technology Group option package adds not only forward-collision and lane-departure warnings and blind-spot monitoring, but it can also autonomously brake the car to help avoid a collision and nudges the car back into its lane if you go over the painted road markings.

Thus equipped, our Cherokee Limited V6 was sticker priced at $37,525. Since Jeep seemed to build the Cherokee in a fairly limited number of configurations initially, our test car lacks a few features that we wanted, such as a moonroof and the trailer tow package. Maybe skipping those was for the best; they would have propelled the price tag over $39,000. That’s a whole lot of money for a small SUV without a luxury badge on the hood.

Behind the wheel, though, it feels like a baby version of the $41,000 Grand Cherokee we tested earlier this year.

Our more basic Cherokee Latitude, with its 184-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder and tiny touch screen is less compelling. We paid a segment-typical $27,490, but for that we got a rather basic SUV without even power seats or backup camera. Most other SUVs give you more conveniences for that amount. We had to travel a little farther to find it, since most dealers seemed to stock more V6s.

In both cases, our price negotiations went something like this:

CR: "So, what can you do for me on price?"

Dealer: "It’s sticker. This is the first Cherokee in the state." [Probably a slight exaggeration, but close.]

CR: "C'mon. No one has ever paid sticker for a Chrysler product." [Another slight exaggeration, but close.]

The result: A few hundred dollars off. Not much, but it shows that it pays to negotiate.

Both Cherokees are logging break-in miles, and we look forward to putting them through our tests, on and off road.

—Eric Evarts

   

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