It’s not entirely accurate to say the Cherokee has been absent from the Jeep lineup since 2001 — when it was replaced by the Liberty, which was still called “Cherokee” overseas.
Today, it’s out with the Liberty and in with the 2014 Cherokee, a new compact crossover SUV built upon the same Chrysler/Fiat platform as the Dodge Dart and the redesigned Chrysler 200.
The classic Cherokee lost some of its star power when the midsize Grand Cherokee rocketed to fame in the SUV-crazy ’90s, but many fleet buyers will remember it as the vehicle of choice for off-road capability on a small frame.
The new, unibody Cherokee comes in Sport trim (which, unlike the pre-Liberty models, is not a two-door) as well as Latitude, Trailhawk and Limited. The exterior features curvaceous sheet metal, boxy wheel wells and a modern take on the classic Jeep grille with squinting turn signals (the headlights are below) on either side.
The new Cherokee stays true to its legacy with two four-wheel drive options: The basic Active Drive I system is standard on four-wheel Sport, Latitude and Limited models; Active Drive II includes low-range capability and is standard on four-wheel Trailhawks, which also come equipped with a locking rear differential. A nine-speed automatic transmission is standard across the lineup.
A 2.4-liter inline four serves as the base engine and delivers 184 horsepower (hp) at 171 pound-feet (lbs.-ft.) of torque. Latitude, Trailhawk and Limited buyers can opt for a new, 3.2-liter Pentastar V-6 that’s good for 271 hp at 239 lbs.-ft.
With an available tow package, the V-6 can pull up to 4,500 pounds; without the tow package, any model can tow up to 2,000 pounds. With all but the driver’s seat folded down, the Cherokee offers nearly 59 square feet of cargo space.
The handsomely appointed cabin was designed to compete with category leaders such as the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5. Standard features include 17-inch steel wheels, A/C, power windows and locks, Bluetooth and iPod connectivity, a six-speaker stereo and more.
And higher trim levels and option packages add items such as bigger, better wheels, dual or panoramic sunroof, heated seats, wheel and mirrors, upgraded audio and much more.
The 2014 Cherokee is in showrooms; pricing starts at $23,990.