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Executive wheels: My Car of the Year

Jeff Rundles //February 2, 2015//

Executive wheels: My Car of the Year

Jeff Rundles //February 2, 2015//


I try to love cars for the week I have them and see what happens, and most of the time, my affection goes away right after the car leaves. Not with the new Jeep Cherokee. It’s been a few weeks, and I am still in love – and not only do I imagine myself the owner, I have been thinking of ways I could make that happen.

It’s that good. It’s not only smaller than the Grand Cherokee – and as such, easier to park and maneuver – but the Cherokee isn’t as bulky either, so it is far more nimble, easier to see out of, and more comfortable. And – this is important – one of my objections to the Jeep Liberty over the years was that it was so narrow it felt tippy, and the new Cherokee is very stable.

I really liked driving it because, unlike the Grand Cherokee, the stability here gives the vehicle a real driver’s feel to the road; the Cherokee corners well, doesn’t lean on the curves, and it’s fun the drive. In the Grand Cherokee, the feel is solid and safe (just like the Cherokee), but it lumbers as if it is a much larger vehicle than it is.

For the most part, the new Cherokee in all available trims features a 2.4-liter I4 engine rated at 184 hp, and I am sure that power plant would be adequate, if not a little underwhelming. Fortunately, in my test-drive model, they upgraded to the optional 3.2-liter V6 with variable valve timing, rated at 271 hp. This engine is quick and powerful, and rated at 19 mpg city/26 mpg highway in this AWD configuration.

I drove the Cherokee in many conditions, and I can attest that this engine can handle just about anything. Acceleration on the highway, up the mountain, and just navigating the city – all of it is wonderful. And in the snow and ice this Jeep AWD (4X4) is just what you’d want: you don’t have to think about it – the system just grips when it should, where it should.

I also found the interior space quite nice. Except for a noticeable difference in rear lift-gate space between the Cherokee and Grand Cherokee, this Cherokee feels just as roomy in the front seating area and in the back seat area. I don’t mean to imply the back storage area is scant – it isn’t. It’s smaller than larger SUVs, but totally fine for most purposes.

If there is any negative, it is that the dashboard and control systems – the screen, radio controls, climate controls, etc. – are pretty much the same as the Chrysler 200. In other words, all Chryslers, including Jeep, are very Chrysler-like, or maybe they are all Jeep-like.

I would do something different in the Jeep line on the interior styling, so that it was as distinctive and distinctively different as the exterior styling. Look – the truth is that Chrysler remains a brand with some problems and is still finding its way, while Jeep is a sales animal kicking butt and taking names. I would do anything I could to bolster Jeep in those circumstances.

The base price for the Cherokee Limited 4X4 is $30,395 and that includes a ton of nice standards. But, of course, here they added in some stuff, much of which I would recommend, like the bigger engine I mentioned above which is a $1,695 option. Also an option, at $995, is the Chrysler 9-speed automatic transmission in a package that also includes Hill Descent Control, Jeep Active Drive II (the AWD system) and an Off-Road suspension.

There’s also some great stuff like the blind spot and cross path detection ($995), a Luxury Group ($1,695) that includes xenon headlamps, leather-trimmed bucket seats, a power liftgate, and memory mirrors. With a few more incidentals and a $995 destination charge, the bottom line is $39,505 for this top-of-the-line Cherokee. As a plus the Cherokee gets an Overall Vehicle Score of 4 stars on the Government 5-Star Safety Ratings, scoring a mix of 4-star and 5-star in the five categories. 

As I said, I love this vehicle. The 2015 Jeep Cherokee – not the Grand Cherokee – is the best vehicle I drove in all of 2014, and that includes some very fine vehicles. As such, it is my Car of the Year. I really, really want one.