The 2014 Ford Fiesta ST is a fantastic little performer. It corners, accelerates, and generates grins like nothing else in its class. It transcends that class, but when you really look at the ST, open and close its doors, and take in the cabin materials, you're never really fooled into thinking that you're driving more than an expertly upgraded economy car.
This 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk 4x4 is to the trail what the Ford Fiesta ST is to the road. Both are amazing examples of engineering. The Trailhawk's trail-rated performance and its Active Drive Lock 4x4 system will take you to some amazing places off the beaten path. The Jeep's true off-road capability transcends its class of city-bound small soft roaders, but when you really take the time to drive it to the grocery store, diddle its dashboard for a bit, and peek into the engine bay, you're never really fooled into thinking that you're driving more than an expertly upgraded car-based crossover.
But when you're slowly piloting the Jeep down an loose dirt embankment so steep that one of your rear wheels has lifted 18-inches into the air, the only thing that you'll care about is how cool and capable the Trailhawk is.
An unconventional power train
Don't misunderstand; the 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk 4x4 earns those Trail Rated badges that adorn its front fenders, but it does so with an unconventional load out.
Under the hood, you'll find the Fiat-Chrysler Group's 2.4L MultiAir Tigershark engine, outputting 184 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque. That transversely-mounted engine is paired to a 9-speed automatic transmission that sends power to the front wheels or all four wheels. If that is sounding familiar, it's because it's the same running gear that you'll find under the sheet metal of the upcoming 2015 Chrysler 200 sedan, which the Jeep Cherokee and the Dodge Dart share their platform. Like most CUVs in this class, the Cherokee's roots trace back to sedans, not trucks.
Fuel economy is estimated at 21 city, 27 highway, and 23 combined miles per gallon thanks to the gearbox's absurd number of forward ratios, the engine's use of fuel-saving technologies including direct injection, and the Active Drive 4x4 system's ability to disengage the rear wheels in high traction situations (such as highway coasting or low-speed cruising) to reduce drivetrain drag. When slip detected, the Active Drive system can instantly re-engage the rear wheels to provide traction.
There are actually three versions of Jeep's Active Drive 4x4 system available on the Cherokee. Active Drive I behaves like a conventional, on-demand AWD system and features the rear axle disconnect. Active Drive II adds a low-range mode for increased torque and traction when off-roading at low-speeds and a neutral 4x4 mode for towing the Cherokee behind an RV.
However, our Trailhawk's Active Drive Lock system is what you'll want if you plan on taking your Cherokee off of the beaten path. This system drops the low-range mode even lower and adds a locking rear differential for better crawling and climbing control.
On top of its 4x4 system, the Trailhawk also features Selec-Speed control, which can automatically modulate the brakes when off-roading or when ascending or descending a severe slope to allow the driver to focus on steering and accelerating. The Trailhawk also gets the Selec-Terrain traction control system with settings for snow, sport, sand/mud, rock, and auto. Choosing one of these modes adjusts the performance of the engine and transmission, the brakes, electronic stability control, the 4x4 system, the rear differential lock, and Selec-Speed Control systems, automatically (in some cases) setting the vehicle up to best tackle the chosen terrain.
The Trailhawk's upgrades don't stop with the power and drive-trains. The crossover's front and rear bumpers feature a unique design when compared to other Cherokee trim levels that improve its approach and departure angles. The suspension has been beefed up, elevating the ride height by an inch. The chosen wheel and tire combo is better suited for dirt. The undercarriage gains standard skid plates to protect the more fragile bits from rocks and branches. The Trailhawk also features bright red powder-coated tow hooks (two up front and one in the rear), which can come in handy should you need to give or receive a tow on the trail.
Uconnect cabin tech
Yanking open the door, which automatically snapped unlocked thanks to the optional keyless entry and start system, the cabin reveals itself. On our Trailhawk model, that means optional Nappa Leather seats with red contrast stitching and Trailhawk logo embroidery. The driver's seat is power adjustable and both front buckets feature heated surfaces.
Take a moment to look around and you'll find all sorts of interesting little storage nooks and crannies and design easter eggs, such as the hidden storage compartment under the front passenger seat cushion or the small Willys Jeep graphic crawling along the base of the windshield.
Direct your eye next to the dashboard and you'll be greeted with a large color LCD in the instrument cluster and a downright massive 8.4-inch screen that powers the Uconnect 8.4 infotainment system.
Uconnect 8.4 is available without navigation, but ours was fully-equipped. The navigation system appears to be a re-skin of Garmin's mapping and routing software, but is so well integrated into the rest of the infotainment system that you'd hardly notice without the telltale "Where to?" menu structure. I've had plenty of good experiences with the Uconnect navigation system, but my time in the Cherokee was wrought with frustration.
For starters, the system had me taking a lot of awkward routes, presumably in the name of avoiding traffic, and would occasionally recalculate my route for no apparent reason, suddenly sending me off on a different path. Once, it asked me to make a left turn at an intersection, drive a half mile and then make a U-turn to head 15 miles in the opposite direction. A simple right-hand turn would suffice, thanks. Once it asked me to hop off of the highway during a traffic jam, leading me through the city of Oakland on surface roads before depositing me later back on the same highway and into the same traffic jam. Time saved: presumably zero.