When the people at Jeep made the decision to revive the Jeep Cherokee name in crafting an all-new compact SUV, they knew they had big shoes to fill. The Cherokee models of days past were the perfect embodiment of what the brand stands for: trail-rated capability and features, without sacrificing day-to-day driveability. Now replacing the outgoing Liberty for 2014, the newest member of the Jeep family looks to hit all the right notes, if its polarizing exterior styling is for you, that is.
The new 2014 Cherokee will compete with the likes of the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape in the compact crossover class, and shares a platform with the Dodge Dart and upcoming redesigned Chrysler 200. On the outside, designers went for a streamlined, forward-thinking look, with a rounded take on the traditional 7-slot grille along with gunsight headlamps and a body that's a mix of soft curves and butch flat surfaces. Overall, you'll either love it or you won't like it at all.
Power is quite ample for the class, coming from either a 184-horsepower, 171 lb-ft. torque 2.4-liter Tigershark four-cylinder, or Chrysler's ubiquitous 3.2-liter Pentastar V6 with 271 horsepower and 239 lb-ft. of torque. A class-first 9-speed automatic transmission helps with fuel efficiency, up to 31 mpg on the highway.
Front-wheel drive is standard on the base "Sport" model, but Jeep also offers one of three 4WD systems: Active Drive I, Active Drive II and Active Drive Lock, the latter coming with the go-anywhere, top-of-the-line Cherokee Trailhawk model, and allowing the rear axle to disconnect completely for better efficiency while still offering a true low-range mode and several settings for all terrain types. Other features on the Trailhawk include a 1-inch lift, skid plates and an exclusive suspension setup for a 56:1 crawl ratio and 20-inch water fording capability.
But we all know most Cherokee drivers will stay on paved roads the vast majority of the time. The five-seat interior sports 2.2 inches of added rear legroom compared with the outgoing Liberty, plus a full complement of competitive interior tech features, like Chrysler's 8.4-inch touchscreen UConnect infotainment and navigation system, one of the strongest systems on the market and much easier to use while driving than MyFord Touch. You'll also find a rearview camera, active parking assist technology, a collision mitigation system, and even a dual-pane panoramic sunroof.
If you're sold enough to go have a test drive, the Cherokee is in production now and will hit Jeep dealers nationwide in August 2013. Pricing will start at $22,995 for the FWD base "Sport" model, rising on up to $27,995 for the luxurious Limited and $29,495 for the purpose-built Trailhawk.