Jeep has made a big deal about “Trail Rated,” a designation for as one might assume, a readiness for going seriously off-road. Who certifies vehicles as “Trail Rated”? Jeep does. And do any vehicles other than Jeeps get that designation? Nope. So clearly it’s a marketing ploy for Jeep.
Well, not entirely. By listing its own vehicles Trail Rated or not, Jeep informs potential buyers which Jeeps might be equipped to handle significantly dirty duties. All four-wheel drive Jeep models, from Compass to Wrangler, can be so equipped. All versions of the Jeep Wrangler are.
And so is the new 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk. Not only does the Cherokee need the street cred—well, trail cred—to be a “real Jeep,” there are drivers out there who might want Jeep Grand Cherokee comfort in a smaller package. So we reported on the Cherokee Trailhawk,
But not everyone wants to go or is willing to pay for the equipment that would make the Jeep Cherokee ready for the Rubicon Trail, but still wants to be able get to Grandma’s house, even if Grandma lives through the river and over the woods. Hence the non-Trail Rated Cherokees: the Cherokee Sport, Cherokee Latitude and Cherokee Limited. Just as the Jeep Grand Cherokee is available with two-wheel drive—rear-wheels, because of the source of its platform—the Cherokee is available with two-wheel drive too, though with front-drive, built on the same basic platform as the Dodge Dart.
Though only the Cherokee Trailhawk comes with Active Drive Lock, the Cherokee Sport, Latitude and Limited are available with either Jeep’s four-wheel drive Active Drive I or Active Drive II, the latter equipped with a low range transfer case for slow off-road operation; it must be manually engaged, locking the front and rear drive shafts for low-speed power or towing. Because Cherokees equipped with Active Drive II is more likely to engage in more rigorous than one with Active Drive I, they also come with an inch higher ride height for increased ground clearance.
Our test 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited 4×4, however, was equipped with Active Drive I. It’s intended primarily for day-to-day all-wheel drive use, and for the most part requires no extra effort from the driver on your typical slippery road. The system does have a mode switch, however, for drivers wanting to get involved. Choices for this system, called Selec-Terrain by Jeep, include Auto, Snow, Sport and Sand/Mud. As might be expected, the various modes modify the various electronically-controlled vehicle features, including traction control, front-rear toque split, transmission shift pattern and whether the drivetrain is allowed to fully disengage from the rear wheels to improve fuel economy.
During our weeklong test, we left Selec-Terrain in Auto most of the time, however, as in Sport we could feel the extra drag from the all-wheel drive setting, and it also held lower gears longer, though it also kept the transmission from shifting up and down as it might otherwise when driving on winding roads. We didn’t have sand and mud to test in, but snow we did, though we found that Auto worked well there, giving all-wheel traction when the front wheels slipped. Maybe we needed deeper snow.
The transmission in question has enough gears to choose from. It’s a “segment-first” nine-speed automatic. In our Cherokee Limited, it can be shifted manually by moving the gear lever to left and tip-shifting up and down. Jeep credits the nine-speed with helping to increase the fuel mileage 45 percent “compared with the outgoing model.” Since the Jeep Cherokee is essentially an all-new model and a name that hasn’t been used since 2001, that “outgoing model” apparently refers to the Jeep Liberty, Jeep’s mid-size SUV dropped from the lineup (note: the budget compact Jeep Patriot continues).
Two engines are available in the 2014 Jeep Cherokee, the 2.4-liter Tigershark MultiAir 2 four-cylinder and a new 3.2-liter version of Chrysler Group’s ubiquitous 3.6-liter V-6. The 2.4 is rated at 184 horsepower and 171 lb.-ft. of torque, and has electro-hydraulic fully-variable valve timing and lift.
Our tester was equipped with the V-6. The engine was downsized for improved fuel economy versus the larger displacement version, the new 3.2 bettering its predecessor by 30 percent, according to Jeep, which is impressive, better than the outgoing Patriot’s 3.7-liter V6 that produced 210 horsepower and 235 pound-feet of torque. A four-speed automatic was the only transmission offered. Its EPA fuel rating was a mere 15/21/17 city/highway/combined when equipped with four-wheel drive The Cherokee’s V-6, on the other hand, makes 271 horsepower and239 lb.-ft. of torque. Even with the V-6, the 2014 Jeep Cherokee has an EPA fuel economy rating of 19/27/22 mpg for city/highway/combined. (More about that later). That’s the classic win/win big. The V-6, by the way, is the choice for pulling a trailer, tow rated at 4,200 lbs.