Preview by Justin Pritchard, photos by Jonathan Yarkony and courtesy of Jeep

The fact of life in the 4×4 utility vehicle scene is that most shoppers want machines that focus less on all-out capability, and more on car-like driving dynamics, fuel efficiency and everyday friendliness.

Preview: 2014 Jeep Cherokee car previews jeep auto shows 2013 ny 2013 autoshows
Preview: 2014 Jeep Cherokee car previews jeep auto shows 2013 ny 2013 autoshows
Preview: 2014 Jeep Cherokee car previews jeep auto shows 2013 ny 2013 autoshows
2014 Jeep Cherokee. Click image to enlarge

But, with off-road capability as the central pillar of the Jeep brand, products like the all-new Cherokee have to do a bang-up job of blending the best of both worlds. This new model is a mid-sized SUV after all – which means it’s competing in North America’s hottest utility vehicle segment.

Set for a 2014 model year launch, the questionably styled new Jeep Cherokee will bring the brand’s penchant for tackling mud ruts and trails into a marketplace full of ‘me-too’ soft-roader models. Remember folks: this will be the only model in its segment to wear a ‘Trail Rated’ badge on properly equipped models. That badge amounts to a seal of approval from Jeep engineers for meeting a minimum standard in a variety of off-road tests.

“The all-new 2014 Jeep Cherokee will be the benchmark for mid-size SUVs with a new level of on-road driving dynamics and fuel economy, while at the same time improving the 4×4 capability that customers expect from Jeep,” said Mike Manley, President and CEO of the Jeep Brand.

Cherokee is a machine that will set itself apart in numerous ways—starting with an, er, interesting look that resembles a robotic Martian grasshopper from the front, and a shrunk-down Subaru B9 Tribeca from the rear. But more so, it’s the Cherokee’s unique list of powertrain hardware and industry firsts that will help set it apart.

For instance, three four-wheel-drive systems will be available to fine-tune the Cherokee to a variety of tastes. A one-speed transfer case (READ: All-Wheel Drive) system will be joined by a two-speed unit with low-range, and a locking rear differential–equipped version thereof. Cherokee will also package the Selec-Terrain dial from its big-bro, the Grand Cherokee, allowing drivers to optimize vehicle systems by selecting ‘modes’ like Snow, Sand/Mud and Rock.

Firsts? You got it. How’s about a nine-speed automatic transmission? Since six-speed automatics are for suckers, Jeep’s specified a new nine-speed autobox to help turn in improved performance and fuel mileage. Expect robust off-the-line launches and low cruising revs.

Rear-axle disconnect technology is also on board, which eliminates parasitic drivetrain loss when four-wheel drive isn’t needed by uncoupling the rear drive axle. This fully automatic system is invisible to the driver and works away in the background to incrementally reduce fuel use.

The Cherokee will be the first home for Chrysler’s new 3.2L Pentastar V6—which is a smaller alternative to the currently available 3.6L unit. The new mill will create 271 horsepower and 239 lb-ft of torque while turning in 30 percent better fuel economy than the ‘outgoing’ engine—namely the old-school 3.7L, 210-hp V6 last used in the Dodge Nitro and Jeep Liberty. Standard will be a 2.4L ‘Tigershark’ engine running Fiat’s acclaimed MultiAir technology for full optimization of engine breathing on a cylinder-by-cylinder, stroke-by-stroke basis. Output? 184 hp and 171 lb-ft of torque.

Preview: 2014 Jeep Cherokee car previews jeep auto shows 2013 ny 2013 autoshows
Preview: 2014 Jeep Cherokee car previews jeep auto shows 2013 ny 2013 autoshows
Preview: 2014 Jeep Cherokee car previews jeep auto shows 2013 ny 2013 autoshows
2014 Jeep Cherokee. Click image to enlarge

Fiat’s influences extend beyond greasy bits of the Cherokee’s four-cylinder engine, too, as the Italian brand’s underpinnings are the basis of Jeep’s upcoming model. Dubbed “Compact U.S. Wide” (CUS-Wide) by the engineering guys, it consists of a modular architecture that allows numerous models to be created on the same basic platform. Chrysler says the result is better quality and reliability, as well as lower costs, less development time and tooling.

The architecture Cherokee is built on is comprised of common, modular and interchangeable components and allows for modularity of the wheelbase, front track, overhang and overall length and width. Translation? This platform could easily house other Jeep models in the future.

Officials say shoppers can expect a top-notch cabin complete with high quality trim and materials, and a full selection of connectivity, multimedia and safety features. Notably, adaptive cruise control that functions right down to a full stop, and a self-parking system that can handle both parallel and perpendicular parking jobs.

Manufacturer’s Website:
Jeep Canada

Photo Gallery:
2014 Jeep Cherokee

Lane departure warning functionality has been enhanced and applied to the Cherokee too. Go out of your lane sans signal, and it can even apply a little snudge to the steering wheel to warn drivers to move back over. Other interesting touches will include a full-colour, reconfigurable LED instrument cluster, a cargo management system, and the same fold-flat front seat with in-seat storage you’ll find in the super-handy Dodge Journey.

Cherokee trim levels will work thusly: a Sport is the entry model, with Latitude and Limited grades populating the model lineup. Capping the range in terms of capability is the Trailhawk model, which is Trail Rated. Expect the first Ohio-built Cherokees to arrive at dealers late this summer.

About Justin Pritchard

Justin Pritchard is a full-time auto writer, consultant, broadcaster and AJAC member based in Sudbury. When not writing about the latest new models and industry trends, you'll probably find him fixing his Dodge Viper.