The term “sport utility” first appeared in the sales brochure of the 1974 Jeep Cherokee, forging a path soon to be followed by nearly every manufacturer. Today’s all-new Cherokee is a huge departure from the basic simplicity of that early vehicle. It drives with the relaxed comfort of a family sedan, yet one model, the Trailhawk, can be outfitted for rugged outdoor use. The combination of a tough persona and plush accommodations make it appealing to a wide audience.
By TOM STRONGMAN
The Cherokee replaces the Liberty in Jeep’s lineup, and it comes in several models with the choice of front-wheel or four-wheel drive, four-cylinder or V-6. Base prices start at $22,995 for the front-wheel-drive Cherokee Sport and top out at $29,995 for the all-wheel-drive Limited or four-wheel-drive Trailhawk.
The 3.2-liter engine delivers 271 horsepower through a nine-speed automatic transmission. Why nine? More gears balance a strong takeoff with relaxed cruising. Fuel economy is improved because the engine can spend more time at its most efficient operating speed. The front-wheel-drive four-cylinder model is rated at 22 miles per gallon in the city and 31 on the highway. A four-wheel-drive V-6 is rated at 19 in the city and 27 on the highway.
A Selec-Terrain knob on the console lets the driver choose Auto, Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud and Rock settings for the traction control system. There are three four-wheel-drive systems. Active Drive I is a fully automatic system that switches between front-wheel and four-wheel drive seamlessly. It does not have a low range. Active Drive II is a two-speed system with a low gear for climbing or towing, and vehicles so equipped have one more inch of ground clearance. Active Drive Lock adds a locking rear differential for severe off-road use.
I recently spent a week with a V-6-powered, four-wheel-drive Limited from Chrysler’s press fleet and found it to be one of the best in the midsize segment, even though it is a bit pricey when well equipped. The cabin feels like an upscale Grand Cherokee, with a seven-inch center screen for navigation, audio and rearview camera. Materials are rich and inviting.
The two-tone leather seats were quite comfortable for me, and I can’t say that about a lot of today’s seats with the mandated forward-leaning headrests.
The Limited test vehicle was equipped with adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitor, lane-keeping assist, forward collision alert, power liftgate, heated and cooled seats, cross-traffic alert (for backing up) and a parking assist system than can parallel park the vehicle automatically.
The lane-keeping function actually tugs on the steering wheel if you wander close to a highway lane marking. I found it a bit annoying on city freeways so I turned it off.
The rearview camera activates the brakes to keep you from backing over something, which is a terrific safety item if children or toys are about. After our recent snow, however, it would not let me back out of my driveway without continuously applying the brakes, even though nothing was behind the car except a freshly shoveled driveway. I had to turn that function off to proceed.
The seven-slot grille wraps around the pointed hood in a bow to aerodynamics. Slim, cat eye LED lights sit stop the fenders while the headlights are almost hidden down by the grille. The design can be polarizing, but I found that it looks much better in person than in photographs and by the end of a week I liked it. Little details, such as the very thin shut line of the hood that runs atop the crease in the front fenders, show careful attention to aesthetics.
On the road, the Cherokee was quiet and supple. The nine-speed automatic lets the engine spend a lot of time at low rpm, and the V-6 delivers smooth acceleration regardless of speed. Maximum towing is 4,500 pounds.
The base price of the Limited 4X4 test car was $29,995. Options included parallel and perpendicular park assist, blind spot and cross-traffic detection, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, premium leather, power liftgate, heated and ventilated front seats, navigation system, Sirius satellite radio and the 3.2-liter V-6. The sticker price was $37,425.
Three years or 36,000 miles, with a 5-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
Tom Strongman’s email address is email@example.com