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Cherokee shines off-road

by David Zatz on

Surprising many observers, the “KL” 2014 Jeep Cherokee was judged to be quite competent off-road during an event at Moab, despite less than ideal suspension travel and what some believe is a large front overhang. Both off-road and on-road specialist magazines rated the Cherokee highly, saying it was at the top of its class in both environments. Motor Trend summarized the general feeling: “”The Cherokee can compete head to head with any of the modern small crossovers on the road. Off-road, it will bury them.”

Given the power-robbing high altitude at which the cars were tested, the 2.4 liter came in for some mild criticism (e.g. the power never being “more than adequate”), but the V6 was highly praised.

JP Magazinededicated to off-road vehicles, seemed to criticize the Cherokee quite a bit, but they also acknowledged that it handled the trails as well as, if not better than, their stock XJ Cherokee; the main criticism of the writer was of the four wheel drive control hardware, which had no setting for locking in a 50/50 power differential. This would be a major improvement for experienced off-roaders, according to their editor-in-chief, Christian Hazel. Of note, JP Magazine made no mention of taking any shortcuts or bypasses on the Hell’s Revenge trail, and they would be likely to talk about any such “cheats.”  Mr. Hazel wrote: “ Ground clearance under the center of the chassis is better than you’d expect and with careful tire placement we didn’t touch one of the skidplates or scrape a bumper fascia all day long. We were dragging the rear bumper and tow hitch of our ’99 Cherokee in numerous places and our T-case crossmember kissed more than one rock thanks to the XJ’s longer breakover angle.” Still, Mr. Hazel added, the lack of articulation caused the Cherokee to “drive like a piece of plywood through off-camber sections of the trail,” though it did not get stuck. As designed, though, the editor would still consign Cherokee to the “wall of shame,” though it handled the trail without real problems.

JP Magazine’s parent, Four Wheeler, was more complimentary, with chief editor Rick Péwée summarizing: “ Yes, it looks swoopy, squinty, and a bit over the top for a Jeep purist, but it will find favor with a whole new generation of buyers who still want the legendary capability the Jeep brand promises. Not only that, but the road manners are great. Our recent Moab foray showed it was highly capable in the dirt and rocks.”

Other magazines and corporate Web sites were also invited to the event and generally were complimentary, though some, Scott Burgess for Truck Trend in particular, don’t actually seem to have bothered to drive it, at least as far as one can tell from the article.

Cherokee is still vulnerable to criticisms based on difficulty of modification (“real Jeeps are built, not bought”) and the aforementioned shortage of suspension travel, but after a test drive, knowledgeable off-road critics appear to have declared that this Jeep is indeed a Jeep, and not an Italian “mall runner” in fancy dress.

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