2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited: Dirty Work
September 22, 2014
I may be the first one to take our 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited in the dirt, but I say that with some qualification. This wasn't a core wheeling excursion by any means, but only a chance to see how this Dart-ish thing that calls itself a Cherokee would feel on loose terra.
I drove out to the Holy Jim trailhead in Trabuco Canyon, a part of the Cleveland National Forest that divides Orange and Riverside counties. The trailhead is less than 5 miles from the paved two-lane that cuts through the canyon, and the first two miles of that is just washboard gravel track. Once you hit the boundary of the national forest though, the road narrows, the ruts deepen and gnarly jagged rocks litter the primary driving line.
But there are no crazy approach or departure angles, or steep berms, and it's terrain that the average old Explorer can handle. Once I hit the forest boundary, I put the Selec-Terrain in the Sand/Mud setting. The trail was neither since it hasn't rained in southern California since the Ark, nor is it near any sand. But the low gearing and grip gave more confidence that I'd expected while scrambling over the some of the trail's wavy ruts.
It was slow going. I was cautious. I would've liked to hit it a little harder, as I might in my trusty 2001 XJ. Shearing off the front fascia in the service of automotive journalism might have made a good story, but would've required a fanciful explanation back at the office. Mostly, I worried about the tires.
The Continental ProContact TX's are an all-season, all-purpose tire, and even with the relative peace of mind offered by the Cherokee's compact spare (an increasing rarity), I reminded myself repeatedly: "this is not the Trailhawk, this is not the Trailhawk."
But the new Cherokee made the trailhead and it was even a pretty smooth ride. The same ride in the old XJ would jostle your neck from side-to-side and might include a meeting between your head and the roof. With better tires, you could push the Cherokee beyond the trailhead with some confidence, although ground clearance and articulation would become an issue. Maybe we can persuade Dan Edmunds to give it a try.
As it is, the new Cherokee makes not only a good all-around soft-roader, but also seems like a capable vessel for the weekend camper/desert rat, an alternative to something like the Subaru Forester.
Dan Frio, Automotive Editor