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Friday, Dec 19, 2014

Jeep’s bold-faced new Cherokee

BY HOWARD WALKER
Special Sections correspondent

Published:

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I admit it: I’m a confirmed Jeep-o-holic. I owned an original ’83 box-on-wheels Cherokee for seven years. Then I switched it for a 2005 Liberty, which I kept for five years. Loved ’em both, with a passion.

So, like pretty much every other “Jeepster” on the planet, I took a sharp intake of breath when I first set eyes on the all-new 2014 Jeep Cherokee.

First reaction: Boy, that’s a face only a momma could love.

But that was back at the New York Auto Show in March. And, as they say, time heals all wounds.

Now, six months on, and with this new Cherokee starting to land in dealer showrooms, that funky frontal styling doesn’t look quite so funky. Well maybe just a little.

For Jeep, this is a hugely important addition to its lineup. It’ll be going head-to-head with the likes of Honda’s CR-V, Toyota’s RAV4, Ford’s Escape and the Chevy Equinox. That’s a tough bunch to take on.

While there’s a huge range of Cherokee models, from the base $23,990 Sport to the trail-rated Trailhawk 4x4 at just under $30,000, for us Floridians, the Cherokee of choice will likely be the front-drive Latitude model. Powered by the new high-tech Tigershark 2.4-liter four-cylinder, it’s yours for just under $26,000.

Performance lovers might opt for the V-6 version, powered by Chrysler’s terrific 271-horse 3.2-liter Pentastar. It’s a $1,495 option. But unless you need to tow — it raises the Cherokee’s hauling ability to 4,500 pounds — the four-banger will likely be plenty powerful.

Where this new Cherokee excels, though, is when you climb aboard. The whole cabin echoes the style and quality of the more pricey Grand Cherokee, with lots of high-quality materials and classy design.

It’s practical and versatile too, with rear seats that slide forward and aft for extra legroom, and a front passenger seat that folds flat for carrying extra-long stuff.

On the road, the four-cylinder is smooth, refined and has oodles of punch. The big plus here is that it’s enhanced by the Cherokee’s impressive new nine-speed automatic. Long overdrive gearing helps give an excellent 31 mph highway average.

No, it’s not my much-loved ’83 square-box Cherokee. But then that’s a good thing.

More than a not-so-pretty face, Jeep’s 2014 Cherokee combines high style with real substance.

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