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New Cherokee is softer and curvier - but still climbs like a Jeep

The Cherokee has two new engines and a nine-speed automatic transmission.

Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

Rating
8.5
Overall Rating
8.5
Overall
A mid-size SUV that’s perfect for driving around town and the occasional off-roading adventure, if you dare.
Looks Rating
7
Looks
Gone is the traditional, boxy design, replaced with softer curves.
Interior Rating
9
Interior
A big improvement over the Liberty’s cheap and plastic interior. Fantastic rear seat space.
Ride Rating
8
Ride
Powerful 3.2-litre V-6 engine, but the 2.4-litre I4 is sluggish when pushed. Trailhawk trim is an incredible off-roading machine.
Safety Rating
8
Safety
More than 70 safety and security features, including available ParkSense parallel and perpendicular park assist and 10 standard airbags.
Green Rating
6
Green
The four-banger delivers a 45 per cent improvement in fuel economy over the Liberty.

The Jeep Cherokee is back; for 2014, Jeep is resurrecting the iconic nameplate.

Gone is the old truck-based Liberty. "We stopped building the Liberty in August of 2012. The Liberty really never resonated in the Canadian marketplace. But we think the Cherokee will resonate in the Canadian marketplace in the third-largest segment in the country," says Reid Bigland, president and CEO of Chrysler Canada.

Along with the name change comes two new engines mated to an all-new nine-speed automatic transmission, three all-new 4x4 systems, a revamped design and more innovative technology.

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The 2014 Cherokee comes in four trims: Sport, North, Trailhawk and Limited. The Sport 4x2 starts at $23,495 and has a long list of standard features including air conditioning, 10 airbags, power windows, locks and mirrors, cruise control, 17-inch steel wheels and remote keyless entry, while the Sport 4x4 is $25,695. Even the most expensive, the fully decked-out Limited 4x4 trim – at $32,195 – won't break the bank.

The two new engines are a 2.4-litre MultiAir2 Tigershark inline-four and a 3.2-litre Pentastar V-6. The standard four delivers 184 hp and 171 lb-ft of torque. Jeep officials boast a 45 per cent improvement in fuel economy over the Liberty and a driving range of 930 kilometres. The optional V-6 delivers 271 hp and 239 lb-ft of torque and an estimated driving range of 850 km. The nine-speed automatic shifts gears smoothly and seamlessly.

Front- or four-wheel drive configurations are available on all trims, except the trail-rated Trailhawk, which is only offered with 4WD. The three 4x4 systems are dubbed Active Drive I, Active Drive II and Active Drive Lock. Active Drive I is the standard, fully automatic 4WD system with a one-speed power transfer unit. Active Drive II has a two-speed power transfer unit with torque management and low range. And Active Drive Lock, standard on the Trailhawk, has a two-speed power transfer unit with low range and a rear locking differential to improve low-speed traction on any terrain. All 4x4 models get Jeep's driver-configurable Selec-Terrain system, which lets you chose between five settings: auto, snow, sport, sand/mud and rock.

I took the four-cylinder Cherokee Trailhawk ($30,695) off-roading on an amazing route carved into the mountains of Canyon Ranch. While in low gear, I switched between "sand/mud" and "rock" on the Selec-Terrain system, which changes the response of the engine, transmission and differentials. I climbed the rocks slowly as the SUV tilted awkwardly; it was a delicate balancing act between the wheels on the rock and the ones that were airborne. Down the steep grades, I used the Selec-Speed control system with hill descent and hill ascent control. I travelled gingerly downhill, the hill descent system kicked in, slowing the SUV to a crawl – between 1.6 to 8 km/h. I could increase or reduce the speed by small increments via the nine-speed shifter. There was no need to apply the brake or throttle – it does everything for you.

But, on the road, the inline-four in my Limited 4x4 tester was a bit sluggish. This SUV is heavy, so accelerating onto the highway was strained. When I switched to the Limited 4x4 with the V-6 engine, the difference was significant. It has plenty of guts and get-up-and-go; it was a refined, composed ride with loads of passing power, quick acceleration and little body lean when cornering.

The Cherokee has lost Jeep's edgy, boxy design and traded it in for a softer, curvier style. The front retains Jeep's trademark seven-slot grille. The rear, however, has nothing distinct about it. But the Trailhawk trim is bolder with red tow hooks, sharp off-road front and rear fascias, a one-inch increased ride height, off-road suspension, new 17-inch polished aluminum wheels, skid plates and red Trail Rated and Trailhawk badges.

The inside is a big improvement over the Liberty. Higher-quality materials and a roomier interior provide spacious quarters, especially in the rear.

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New technology is also available, including an 8.4-inch touch-screen infotainment centre, a blind spot monitoring system, adaptive cruise control with stop, and a parallel/perpendicular park assist system that I tried out at the hotel's crowded lot. Using ultrasonic parking sensors on the bumper, the system finds a parking spot between two vehicles. Once I put it in reverse, it guided me into the spot. The system controlled the steering, while I controlled the brake and throttle. It works like a charm.

Tech specs

2014 Jeep Cherokee

Type: Five-passenger mid-size SUV

Price: $23,495-$32,195

Engine: 2.4-litre inline-four or 3.2-litre V-6

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Horsepower/torque: 184 hp/171 lb-ft for four; 271 hp/239 lb-ft for six

Transmission: Nine-speed automatic

Drive: Front-wheel or four-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.6 city/6.4 highway for 2.4L four (4x2); 10.8 city/7.0 highway for 3.2L V-6 (4x2); regular gas

Alternatives: Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorento, Chevrolet Equinox, Mazda CX-5

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About the Author

Petrina Gentile is an award-winning automotive journalist - one of the few women who cover cars in Canada. Her life revolves around wheels. She has been writing for the Drive section since 2004. Besides auto reviews, she also interviews celebrities like Norman Jewison, Patrick Dempsey, Rick Hansen, Dean McDermott, Russell Peters, and Ron MacLean for her My Car column. More

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