New Jeep Cherokee is a trailblazer

New Jeep Cherokee is a trailblazer

Consider me converted. I still prefer the styling when it’s paired with the Trailhawk trim level, but Jeep’s new Cherokee has finally won me over. The Trailhawk package really brings out the ‘VehiCROSS’ in this new Jeep, and I was a big fan of Isuzu’s funky ute back in the day.

It all started when Jeep revealed it would breathe life into its fan-favorite, originally boxy Cherokee. And then we saw the design. The front was jarring, mostly because it was so different from everything else on the market. And also because we thought it was just plain ugly.

I’ll admit it; until recently, I was openly against this design change for the Cherokee. Maybe because it was the nostalgia factor – I was missing the boxy frame that I associated with the regular Cherokee. Perhaps it was the bullnose fascia. Whatever it was, it disappeared once I got inside and spent a week with the 2014 Cherokee Trailhawk.

After spending weeks reviewing other vehicles with high-end infotainment systems (that don’t always equate to easier-to-use), I felt so relieved by the simplicity of the Cherokee’s interface. It had buttons with functions I immediately recognized! While I’m a fan of new technologies and gadgets, sometimes just being able to get in a car and not spend 20 minutes figuring out where buttons are and what does what can be such a treat.

Chrysler’s award-winning U-Connect system definitely proved easy to use. It was intuitive without being fussy.  The voice activation was straightforward and accurate, and calls were crystal clear.

Also non-fussy, was the Jeep Cherokee’s 9-speed transmission, which makes for smooth acceleration in even the most challenging of situations. (The most challenging situation we encountered was a little snow and mud.) Unlike my 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee, the 2014 Cherokee accomplishes a smooth ride on the highway. It also avoids tossing around passengers like a washing machine at street speeds.

Second impressions (because the first one wasn’t great)

We took the Jeep out to the Virginia countryside on the one Saturday this winter that was warm enough to peel off our layers. It was a beautiful, sunny day and we couldn’t spend it indoors. (I know I’ve got some Michigan peeps saying, “Amen!”) My husband and I packed up Bandito (our adorable pup), a picnic of charcuterie, and we headed West.

Road noise was minimal and the ride was quiet on our nearly two-hour drive. The Trailhawk came trimmed in practical-but-pleasant materials and options, including charcoal leatherette, heated seats, a sunroof/moonroof combo that really opened up the cabin, and all-weather mats to handle it all.

The biggest challenge when driving the Cherokee was its proneness to blind spots in the rear corners. This is pretty standard across this class of vehicles, however, and the large side view mirrors, backup camera and sensors pretty much make up for that lack of visibility.

#Batenpup really enjoyed the Jeep Cherokee!

There are four things that make the Cherokee a serious contender for the biggest flip-flop I’ve had on a vehicle. If I’m being totally honest, I’d consider swapping my city-living X3 for this rugged trailblazer:

1)  It’s nice without being fussy. The Cherokee has all the finishes and options that the modern-day driver needs (and some that we really want), but it accomplishes it all without blinding you with chrome and lacquer.
It’s practical. Jeep has made this car wonderfully simple inside and out.

2)  The interior is straightforward. There’s nothing to figure out – nothing to confuse me. Yet, it is still packed with all the modern conveniences and technologies that today’s driver wants. The Cherokee is well-sized for the compact SUV group. It’s petite without being too small to be functional.

3)  The sunroof. Can I just say that the best invention of the modern car is the ginormous sunroof/moonroof combo? There’s nothing worse then getting in a car or SUV with a low-slung roofline than realizing you can’t combat its cavernous feel with some natural light.

4)  I don’t have to ‘sweat it.’ When I’m driving the Jeep and mucking around in a bunch of dirt, dust, mud and snow, I don’t care. In fact, I encourage it! Why? Because it’s not my prissy little BMW with fancy carpets I need to keep clean. I don’t have to worry about having muddy or snowy shoes when I get in the Jeep. It begs for dirty shoes and paws.

What else should you consider if you’re looking at the 2014 Jeep Cherokee?

If you’re looking for an SUV that’s not too large and can handle some serious terrain, your choices are somewhat limited. I think the best and most comparable vehicle to the Cherokee Trailhawk would be the Subaru Outback.  The Cherokee higher off the ground, offers similar interior space, but may help Oregonians tell their car from their neighbor’s.

Conclusions

Driving the 2014 Jeep Cherokee is fun. We got lots of looks in parking lots. People didn’t know what kind of car it was; they were intrigued and wanted to learn more. The Jeep is also affordable at a fraction of the cost of our BMW X3 – about $20,000 less to be exact. Had this been on the market when my husband and I were shopping for compact utes that were city-, family- and dog-friendly, this would have made it a difficult choice for sure.

I really appreciated the chunkier tires, more aggressive and sporty styling of the Trailhawk trim, and the higher entry point for the tailgate. Jeep really put a lot of thought in to the practicality of this vehicle, too. For example, placing the button to the tailgate on the interior left-hand side of the trunk is smart because most women struggle to reach the top of the tailgate when it’s time to press the button to close it.

Also, Jeep didn’t shirk us in case we get stuck – there’s a full-size tire in the back and hook latches on the front for towing you out of that big swamp you found yourself in.

Bottom line, the 2014 Cherokee is just as much ‘Jeep’ as its predecessors, and in fact, it’s better. I encourage you to check it out if you’re looing for a fun-loving crossover utility that is actually capable of off-roading (the real kind).

So there you have it. This former Jeep GC gal has a renewed faith in the newer, quirkier Cherokee.

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Melanie Batenchuk founded Be Car Chic in 2009 as a way to help consumers make smart decisions when buying and selling their cars. Her prior work at the dealership, trade association and manufacturer levels has provided her a deep understanding of the complex facets within the auto industry, making her a leading woman in her field.