Every once in a while an automaker needs to really step out of the box with a popular model and that was exactly what Jeep did with their new Cherokee. While the Cherokee name had been out of production for a few years, this new Cherokee hit the market with a tremendous amount of anticipation, as the boxy Jeep XJ was one of the company’s most popular models of all time. However, when the new Cherokee was introduced with the unusual headlight design, all of the attention was focused on the controversial looks and because of that, all of the positive aspects of this new Cherokee are lost in the subjective disappointment in the exterior styling.
I will admit that at first, I was taken aback by the front end of the 2014 Jeep Cherokee, but I understand and appreciate the Chrysler Group’s out of the box approach to exterior design. Over time, the look has grown on me and in the right trimlines, I like the look of the new front end. It is definitely different – vastly different from the rest of the Jeep lineup – but sales numbers suggest that this was a move in the right direction. Through the end of October, the new Cherokee has quickly become one of the Chrysler Group’s bestselling vehicles, outselling the Ford Edge by some 50,000 units.
The 2014 Jeep Cherokee Altitude begins with a Latitude trimline carrying a base MSRP of $26,495. When you add in destination ($995), the Comfort/Convenience Group ($1,995) the black-trimmed Altitude appearance package ($500) and the big infotainment system without navigation ($500), the price as tested comes to $30,495. This price includes the Jeep Active Drive I All Wheel Drive system, the standard 2.4L 4-cylinder engine and the industry-first 9-speed automatic transmission – in addition to the long list of standard features that come with the value-oriented Altitude trimline.
The 2014 Jeep Cherokee is a great vehicle, but some people discount the modern Cherokee before ever giving it a real chance due to the striking exterior design. While the old school XJ Cherokee was known for its timeless, squared off exterior design that drew obvious inspiration from the older Jeep models like the Grand Wagoneer, the 2014 Cherokee is unlike anything else in the Jeep lineup. In fact, it is unlike anything in the industry and while sales have been strong, this new Cherokee has faced a great deal of criticism over the unusual front end. In reality, this front end is only unusual in its lighting design and while it is indeed different – I like the look of the Cherokee with the black accents Altitude package.
First off, let’s talk about the front end styling of the 2014 Cherokee Altitude. Like all other new Cherokee models, this includes a set of fog lights mounted in the lower fascia, a set of low-beam halogen bulbs mounted in the middle of the front end and an LED-trimmed high beam setup mounted atop the front end. It is this split headlight design with the LED trim and high beam units in the slim upper light housing that creates the controversial front end design and I strongly believe that if Chrysler had added a more tradition one-unit headlight design, this new Cherokee wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near the criticism over the exterior design. However, I understand the need for new directions and I think that this new face is one that has clearly grown on people, which is reinforced by the strong sales numbers.
The “meat” of the Altitude package for the 2014 Jeep Cherokee is a collection of black accents including the black upper and lower grilles, black headlight bezels with a smoke low beam lens, black badges all around, black 18 inch wheels, black roof rails and black cladding along the entire bottom of the vehicle and around the wheel openings. The combination of the bright white paint with the heavy dose of black trim makes the Cherokee Altitude one great looking SUV from every angle. This package takes a value level trimline and makes it look like a premium package.
The 2014 Jeep Cherokee Altitude is based on the Latitude trimline, which means that it is just one step above the base model, but the addition of both the Comfort/Convenience Group and the UConnect infotainment system goes a long way in giving this Jeep a very un-base model look. The front and rear seats are all black cloth with white contrasting stitching and grey inserts, so while you don’t get the jazzy look of leather, these cloth seats look good for cloth seats and they are very comfortable with plush, padded surfaces and bolsters that are significant enough to make a difference, but not stiff enough to make the seats feel tight and narrow.
The new Jeep Cherokee cloth seats in the front and rear are great as cloth seats go, and regardless of where you are sitting in the 2014 Cherokee, you should have plenty of space. For the driver and front passenger, there is a ton of leg, knee, hip, elbow, shoulder and head room while the outboard rear riders get tons of hip, elbow, shoulder and head room. For a tall adult seated in the back behind a taller driver or front passenger, leg and knee space can be a little tight, but not tight enough that it is uncomfortable – just too tight to expect a 64” guy from sitting in the back seat for a long car trip. As is the case with so many vehicles of this size, the rear center seat is pretty much useless for anyone but a small child, but the back seat can comfortably accommodate grandma, grandpa and a small grandchild while mom and dad are seated up front. You will also find plenty of space in the rear cargo area, with more than enough room for a month worth of groceries or a week’s worth of luggage for a family vacation. There is also plenty of space in the rear cargo area to hold ten 50 pound bags of horse grain, which can be hard to do with SUVs of this size.
The 2014 Jeep Cherokee Altitude is a value priced model, so while you won’t find a ton of modern technology, you will find an amazing amount of passenger and cargo space for a vehicle of this size. When you add in the available options like the Comfort/Convenience Group and the $500 UConnect infotainment system, you have a low price, midsized SUV that will hold the family in comfort while saving plenty of space for cargo – just like the original XJ Cherokee. In addition to the big, bright touchscreen infotainment system that offers full control of the sound system, the HVAC system, the hands free phone system and the UConnect Apps. Really, the only thing missing from this system compared to the most expensive infotainment systems in the industry is navigation and someone who really wants nav, can add it on as another fairly low cost option.
In addition to the upgraded infotainment system, the 2014 Jeep Cherokee Altitude sports a good looking and easy to read driver information center with a small digital speedometer display in the middle of a large analog speedometer and tachometer. That gauge cluster combines with the optional UConnect touchscreen, the dual zone climate control system, the leather wrapped/button clad steering wheel and some simple leather accents on the door panels, the center armrest and the shifter to give this low priced package a not-so-low priced look and feel.
One of the things that I like the most about a value model like the 2014 Jeep Cherokee Latitude (and my Altitude test model) is that t is a very blank slate, so buyers can pay for the options that they want and avoid any costly tech features that they do not – all with a room and comfortable interior that is great for daily driving or a weekend getaway.
My 2014 Jeep Cherokee Altitude test vehicle was fitted with the standard 2.4L 4-cylinder engine, which sends 184 horsepower and 171lb-ft of torque to all four wheels via an industry-first 9-speed automatic transmission and the Active Drive I All Wheel Drive system. Chrysler took a big gamble introducing this new 9-speed gearbox in the Cherokee and while some early models had shifting issues, my test vehicle didn’t display any sort of transmission problems. The transmission moves smoothly enough through the numerically higher gears that you do not feel like it is always shifting around so while you can feel the lower gears when accelerating away from a stop light, you will only notice the higher gear shifts when you step down to a “passing gear”. Other than that, during normal cruising at speeds, you won’t notice the shifts between 6th and 9th gear so those folks who don’t like the idea of a 9-speed transmission due to the constant shifting – you won’t need to worry about that.
Two areas where the new 9-speed transmission really benefit the 2014 Cherokee is in acceleration and fuel economy. The many gears allow Chrysler to set up the lower gears more aggressively for strong low end acceleration while the higher gears are set up specifically to keep RPMs low and MPGs high. In fact, with EPA fuel economy figures of 21 city, 28 highway and 24 combined, the Cherokee with the 4-cylinder engine is among the most fuel efficient midsized SUVs on the market today and I not only found those numbers to be achievable, but I believe that someone who lives in an area where the speed limits are lower than my local 70mph limits will be able to get close to 30mpg under normal highway driving circumstances. That is a mighty impressive figure for a four wheel drive SUV of this size and thanks to the 9-speed transmission, those fuel economy numbers are possible without killing drivability. Mind you, the 4-cylinder Cherokee is far from fast, but it doesn’t have any problems accelerating with traffic around town or out on the open road. Some of the Jeeps with smaller engines have been criticized for being a little too sluggish in exchange for strong fuel economy, but the 2.4L mill really works nicely with the 9-speed transmission to deliver a solid level of power and great MPGs.
As for the handling and ride quality, the 2014 Jeep Cherokee is engineered to be just as highly trail rated as the rest of the modern Jeep lineup, but the engineering team understands that the vast majority of Cherokee owners will spend more time on the highway than in the woods. Because of that, the suspension setup has been tuned to optimize ride quality during normal driving situations, but when you need to hit the unpaved roads, the Cherokee can hold its own. I didn’t do any offroading with the Cherokee, but I spent some time tackling some of the roughest unpaved public roads in my area. Some of these roads get rough enough that your average sedan has to go 10 miles per hour to avoid bottoming out in the ruts and these are the roads where I take all of my utility vehicles during testing. The Active Drive I all wheel drive system has four drive modes – Auto, Snow, Sport and Mud/Sand – and these modes allow the driver to adjust the all wheel drive system for the specific surface conditions. While I was testing the Cherokee, the weather was warm and dry, so I really only got to experience the Auto mode, but even on the loosest gravel and dirt roads, this new midsized Jeep had no issues getting me from point A to point B. Also, the suspension did a great job of cushioning the blow of the rough roads without reducing the level of control. In short, the Cherokee is best on-road, but if you live in an area like I do, with rough unpaved “natural beauty roads”, the new Cherokee will get you to where you need to go regardless of any inconsistencies in the road surface. Best of all, the Cherokee is nowhere near as stiff as the Wrangler, so those who are more concerned with on-road ride quality will likely find the Cherokee to be a great daily driver option.
The 2014 Jeep Cherokee Altitude with the 2.4L 4-cylinder isn’t the most powerful midsized SUV on the market, but it is one of the most efficient models while still packing enough power to make for a great daily driver. Acceleration is solid in all driving situations, the ride quality is impressive for an SUV of this size and capability levels, and the fuel economy is very good so when it comes to efficient midsized SUVs – the new Cherokee has everything needed to be a segment leader.
The Final Word
There are a ton of midsized SUVs on the market today that will blow you away with every bit of high end technology that you could ask for from a luxury sedan, but in this trimline, the 2014 Jeep Cherokee isn’t one of those SUVs. While the pricier trimlines do pack in all of those expensive features, the Latitude and sportier Altitude derivative tested here does an awesome job of doing everything that you expect from a modern Jeep. The 2.4L 4-cylinder engine combined with the new 9-speed automatic transmission provide a great mix of power and efficiency, making the Cherokee one of the most fuel efficient SUVs in America without killing the drivability or the versatility.
This new Cherokee is an incredible budget buy for someone who wants an SUV that can face the roughest winter elements or the muddiest back country roads while still getting almost 30mpg on the highway – all with a price around $30,000 with a few higher end options. Anyone prospective Jeep buyer who has thought that the Compass was just a touch too small or that the Grand Cherokee is a touch too expensive should find the new Cherokee to be a perfect choice – provided that they can look past the polarizing front end design. Ultimately, strange headlights are a small price to pay for such a great SUV at such a low price point…which is why this new Cherokee has quickly become one of the bestselling Chrysler Group vehicles and one of the bestselling midsized SUVs in America.