2014 Jeep Cherokee Latitude 4x4 - Bella Jeep After the Honeymoon - Review, Video

For 2013 a Year of Italian Culture was celebrated in the United States.  In case you missed them, festivities included performing and visual art events.  The gang at Fabbrici Italiano Automobilli Torino, led by bespectacled Mr. Baggy Sweaters, Sergio Marchionne,  also partied over their union with the remaining new Chrysler Corporation's stock shares.

The marriage has already produced a Dodge compact family sedan offspring in the U.S., the Dodge Dart .

Now comes the first FIAT-Chrysler child to wear a "Trail Rated" badge. The 2014 Jeep Cherokee is an all-out assault on the compact crossover utility segment.

The new Cherokee incorporates a modified transverse engine/ front-drive FIAT C USA Wide platform that serves for the Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200. Purists can sneer all they want that the Cherokee is built alongside  Wrangler  in Toledo, Ohio.

Outfitted by the MOAB MOB:

- If it says "Trailhawk", then it's Off-Road-Ready. There's Jeep's Active Drive II with locking rear viscous multi-plate diff  and up to a 56:1 crawl ratio and 29" approach / 32" of departure clearance. Fully decked out Cherokee Trailhawk 4x4's with the 3.2L V6 can get pricey at over $36K.

- Something like our 2014 Cherokee 4x4 Latitude should be the volume seller. The simpler Active Drive I employs a single speed hydraulic wet clutch PT unit which can disengage from the rear axle. As a claimed segment first - the prop shaft keeps spinning for quicker engagement.

- Select Terrain works with ABS, stability control and a 9-speed automatic transmission. Select Auto or Snow or Sport or Sand / Mud via the center console toggle dial.

Mini-Grand Cherokee:

- Admit it. The worst roads you ever drive are flat-land suburban byways with slushy snow.  This is where the new Jeep Cherokee shines. It emulates a lot of what bigger bro  Grand Cherokee  does well as a daily driver. A task the retiring  Jeep Compass couldn't totally nail down.

A fully independent suspension instills car-like composure. Cherokee is not as absolutely buttoned down as the sporty Mazda's CX5.  Yet it's pleasantly manageable in your typical cloverleaf. Powerful brakes should be easier to modulate, though. And boost on the electrified steering rack could stand some dialing back.

Cutting It:

- 2014 Jeep Cherokee engine choices are two: barely cutting it and capable. We sampled the former. Its Tiger Shark appellation implies otherwise. However, the team of 180 ponies from the 2.4L 16V DOHC gas inline-4 has to pull nearly two tons. The Cherokee 2.4L is no apex predator of the Ford Escape 1.6L Ecoboost.

For our dollars, we'd take a lighter front drive Cherokee, armed with light snow treading ABS torque vectoring. And probably gain an mpg or two.

Then there is the industry first 9-Speed automatic transmission. It's meant to avoid going CVT with a broad ratio spread. Thus, Cherokee returned 23 combined miles per gallon.

Despite 40 adaptive algorithms, on cold starts there was an abrupt lurching in low gear. Attempts to reach 9th gear below a 90 mph were a no go. Wonder if the forthcoming software update for Cherokees manufactured before May 5th, 2014 will help.

MacHeath Dear:

The new Cherokee is the shark that flashed MacHeath its "Pearly Whites." There's provocation in the prominent white LED  DRLs and wide arching waterfall grille. Ruggedness in the molded body cladding. The tail manages to be gentler. Cherokee looks the youthful extrovert in a Juke/ Soul sort of way.

Crossed-Over:

- FIAT still makes farm tractors. But the first thing you notice once planted inside the new Jeep Cherokee is how quiet it is compared to its more agrarian predecessors.

A majority of the switches, dials and primary bits are  straight out of the Dodge Dart. The optional, mammoth Uconnect 8.4A (upgradable to nav) touch display and auto climate controls, included. Ditto the front bucket seats, supportive yet hard to get butt comfy in.

PLUSES: contrasting stitched padded dash; elbow cushioning door panels; dashtop storage bin; flat folding front passenger seat with below-cushion storage.

MINUSES: sparse door and center armrest storage; some hard rear and cargo area plastic are too mean; a wheel arch shield which came loose.

Space-fulness:

+ 40.3"-inches of rear legroom bests Mazda's CX5. Adults: all say "Yay" to the Jeep Cherokee's Row 2.

- 24.6 cu. ft. of hatch cargo falls short by at least 10 cubes to the Subaru Forester.

+ Jeep Storage Management is a locking aluminum bar in the cargo area with hooks for Jeep's accessory storage totes. Or your own.

+ the ubiquitous liftgate LED courtesy lamp pops-out as a flashlight.

Bella X-Over;

The happy FIAT-Chrysler couple should sell many copies of  "La Bella Jeep". Once they can get past the transmission issues and some iffy exterior trim. Our mid-tier 2014 Jeep Cherokee Latitude 4x4 tester cost $29,985, less luxuries like leather seats and moonroof. Less cargo capable than competitors, instead the new Cherokee enigmatically blends a refined, car-like experience with Jeep's "Go Anywhere" attitude.

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