The 2014 Jeep Cherokee is probably the most technically sophisticated SUV ever built. That it remains true to Jeep's go-anywhere heritage and scored EPA highway ratings up to 31 miles per gallon 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 $22,995 for a front-wheel-drive Cherokee with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. All Cherokees have a nine-speed automatic transmission.
The least expensive four-wheel-drive model uses the 2.4-liter engine and goes for $24,995. A 271-horsepower 3.2-liter V-6 starts at $25,990 for front-drive and $27,990 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.
The Cherokee's many features make it a bargain compared to luxury SUVs, and few if any competitors match its off-road capability.
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.
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 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 that 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 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 Cherokee is a match for any of them.
2014 JEEP CHEROKEE LIMITED 4X4
Base price: $22,995
Price as tested: $36,035
Engine: 3.2-liter, 24-valve V-6
Power: 271 horsepower at 6,500 rpm; 239 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy: 19 mpg city/26 highway
Wheelbase: 106.3 inches
Length: 182 inches
Width: 73.2 inches
Height: 67.3 inches
Bottom line:New Cherokee does everything well