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The four-star 2014 Jeep Cherokee is probably the most technically sophisticated SUV ever built. That it remains true to Jeep's go-anywhere heritage and scored highway fuel-economy ratings up to 6.4 litres per 100 kilometres make the new Cherokee a tribute to Chrysler and Fiat's joint product development.
The Cherokee model range includes competitors for everything from economical crossovers like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 to luxury models like the BMW X3 and rugged off-roaders like the Toyota 4Runner.
Prices start at $25,190 for a front-wheel-drive Cherokee Sport with a 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine. All Cherokees have a nine-speed automatic transmission. The least-expensive four-wheel-drive model uses the 2.4-litre engine and goes for $27,390. A 271-horsepower 3.2-litre V-6 starts at $26,590 for front-drive and $28,790 for four-wheel-drive.
The Cherokee has three four-wheel-drive systems. The most capable Trailhawk package has serious off-road features, such as a locking rear differential and low range of gears. Trailhawk starts at $32,390 with the 2.4-litre and $33,790 with the V-6.
I tested a very well-equipped V-6 Cherokee Limited with the mid-level four-wheel-drive system. Its features included adaptive cruise control, lane-departure assist, blind-spot alert, navigation, voice recognition, Bluetooth music and phone compatibility, heated and ventilated leather seats and automatic parking. It cost $41,030 plus transport, PDI and taxes.
The Cherokee's many features make it a bargain compared with luxury SUVs and few if any competitors match its off-road capability. The Cherokee I drove targets the X3 and Audi Q5, V-6 versions of the Chevy Equinox and Hyundai Santa Fe and the 4Runner 4x4.
Chrysler engineers modified an architecture Fiat developed for compact European cars on the Cherokee. They stretched and stiffened the platform to withstand off-road stress. As with most cars and crossover SUVs, the unibody chassis makes it lighter and more fuel-efficient than truck-based SUVs like the 4Runner.
The Cherokee has a roomy five-passenger cabin, but less cargo space than most competitors. The interior of the Cherokee I tested featured soft materials, but some pretty obvious fake wood trim.
The controls are among the industry's most driver-friendly, thanks to excellent voice-recognition, a large touch screen and dials and buttons for volume, tuning, fan speed and temperature.
The Cherokee's extensive safety and electronic systems make it nearly capable of autonomous driving. Adaptive cruise control maintains speed and following distance and slows the Cherokee to a full stop. Lane-departure assistance and automatic parking can steer the Jeep.
The net effect is the Cherokee is a few lines of computer code away from being able to drive itself across the country.
It's also exceptionally capable off-road. I drove a Cherokee Trailhawk through deep mud and door-high water, over basketball-sized rocks and up and down slopes that would stymie most crossover SUVs.
The V-6 provided plenty of power for highway driving, and the four-cylinder was adequate for an afternoon's country drive. The ride is comfortable and quiet on the road, and the suspension has plenty of travel for punishing off-road conditions.
The V-6 4WD Cherokee I tested scored 12.4 L/100 km in the city, 9.0 on the highway and 11.2 in combined driving. That's as good or better than its six-cylinder competitors, and considerably better than the 4Runner, the only one intended for serious off-roading.
The new Cherokee does so many things well that it's hard to figure out if its main competitors are front-drive crossovers, luxury models or rugged off-roaders. It doesn't really matter, though. The 2014 Jeep Cherokee is a match for any of them.
-- Detroit Free Press