Todd Lemire

Sat Sep 21 2013 02:36:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)

Inasmuch as the 2014 Jeep Cherokee is all new, you’d be excused if you didn’t quite know how to pack for your first road trip in one. Tip: you might want to sneak something along the lines of a pair of Salvatore Ferragamo slip-on driving shoes into your travel bag alongside the trusty old Danner Crater Rim GTX hiking boots. Sure, being a Jeep, you can expect 4WD versions to perambulate bad roads and worse weather in stride, and should you purposefully exit the pavement (particularly in the lifted and off-road-tech-gifted Trailhawk—see our first drive) to tackle steep ascents, descents, and seriously scary two-tracks without reaching for the winch and tow straps, you’ll still be in business.

But the front-drive Cherokee is a whole new deal for 2014, even with the base 2.4-liter Tigershark Multiair2 four-cylinder. Built upon Fiat’s modular CUS Wide platform, it drives way smaller than the boxy, upright Liberty that it supplants in Jeep’s lineup. The 2014 Cherokee feels planted on-road, more carlike than trucklike, with crisp steering, well-damped body motions, little or no roll in corners, and pinpoint braking control. The structure is solid, with no creaks or groans, even over seriously uneven terrain. Think engaging, balanced sports wagon rather than lumbering, bobblehead sport-utility. It’s light on its feet like no Cherokee/Liberty before it, despite its 3600-plus pounds of mass.

So Many Speeds, So Little Shifting

While a featherweight compared to the old Liberty, the new Cherokee still hits the scales a few hundred pounds harder than top-selling competitors such as the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, and Toyota RAV4. So even though the Cherokee four-holer’s 184 horsepower and 171 lb-ft of torque are commensurate with the output and oomph of the CR-V, RAV4, and naturally aspirated Escape four-cylinders, power to weight suffers a bit. Jeep’s all-new ZF-sourced nine-speed automatic transmission—standard equipment and a segment first—addresses the power-to-weight deficit versus the competition with a fusillade of ratio scenarios (9.81:1 ratio spread) to meet the requests of the driver’s right foot. Not only is the ZF ’box quick to find the best available ratio for any given road load, vehicle speed, or throttle position, it easily skips past ratios it doesn’t want.

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