2014 Jeep Cherokee Sport – The Good, The Bad, and…

Reader Martin Dart recently took delivery of his 2014 Jeep Cherokee Sport and is going to write regular updates. Here’s what’s happened in the first three weeks of owning his new Cherokee Sport.

I’VE OWNED MY 2014 Jeep Cherokee Sport (press image shown for illustrative purposes only) for three weeks now. During the week it serves as my Perth city commuter, and on the weekend completes my 500km drive-in-drive-out trip back home to Dunsborough.

So why the Jeep Cherokee in the first place? Having spent three weeks looking at numerous medium SUV models, the Cherokee, in all honesty, was the only one I retained any memory of 24-hours later. In a market of mass-appeal sameness the cabin quality of the Cherokee (I love the soft dashboard with believable leather-stitching effect), it’s slightly larger 2.4 litre engine, and its willingness to attempt a few out-there styling elements gave it the edge in a sea of 2.0 litre bulbous blurgh machines.

In terms of value it can’t claim to be the cheapest in class, which felt doubly rough considering its poorer three year/100,000km warranty, and the $1200 I had to spend on the ‘approved’ towbar caused my eyes to water. I ended up not getting the ‘standard’ reversing camera in my vehicle, an issue I understand many others have had to compromise on, but that is another story altogether and I like the reversing sensors it has instead. Credit where it’s due though – the dealer gave me the best of the three offers I’d had on my trade-in and came to the party on the final changeover price, so I felt pretty happy with the overall deal.

During those three hour trips home at weekends the cabin felt comfortable for the first two journeys at least, but now small niggles are creeping in. Why are there no foot rests (on the end of a lanky leg, my left foot gets nudged by the steering column in turns – a disconcerting event when it first happened). The seats are firm – maybe a touch too firm, and the manual adjusters leave the front of the seat a little too high when fully pushed back, putting a bit of extra pressure on the back of my thigh.

The entertainment system is very capable with the speakers delivering great clarity across many media types, but lacking enough volume for an all-in highway rock-out. The lack of steering wheel controls for music, radio, or volume is also an inexplicable gap, given that there are unused dummy buttons on the wheel for what I assume is that that purpose in higher-spec models (but it’s a constant reminder of: ‘here’s what you could have had if you’d spent more money’).

The lighting options intrigue me as well. I’m not sure why the lights are automatically turned off when you exit the vehicle in side-light mode, but not when the main lamps are on? This just makes it easier to start driving at night with less-than-optimal lights in place (you will be running on side lights only and may not immediately realise). The toggle wheels to adjust the dashboard brightness, interior lights, and headlamp angle are too close together (the first two options on the same wheel), and why there is even an option to lift your standard headlight position and dazzle other drivers is beyond me [this is for towing, Martin – Ed]. The assistive entry/exit lights on the underside of the wing mirrors are a nice touch though, and the ability to really dim all the dashboard lights for pitch-dark driving is appreciated.

The other feature that stuck with me when researching the Jeep was the nine-speed automatic gearbox. Ah yes, the gearbox. My brand-new Cherokee is to commence its first trip back to the dealer next week to have the gear ratios examined. On the test drive, and in my first week of ownership, I queried the salesman on the sluggish mid-speed response of the nine-speed automatic Jeep pairs with its Tigershark engine (I have since made a sport of coining other, less marketable, name-pairings for it). On my early enquiries I was told it was an ‘adaptive gearbox’ – that it would learn my driving style and smooth out over time. Not so it seems.

Essentially it’s a shocker to drive in full auto mode anywhere from 50 – 80km/h in any condition. It gets up to speed fine but when you need a small power adjustment to keep up with traffic or just to maintain a constant speed, there’s nothing more forthcoming than a low rumble and the judder of an engine in too high-a-gear (it will be in 7th gear in the mid-‘60s range).

In ERS (Electronic Range Selection – i.e. semi manual) shift mode, performance is much better. ERS allows you to limit the maximum number of gears available to the engine, enabling you to purr along in a much smoother five- or six-speed transmission mode that suits regular traffic conditions. So does that resolve the issue? Not really – as this mode cannot be set as a default, you effectively have to setup the gearbox with five extra nudges of the shift stick every time you shift out of neutral or park – making this anything but an automatic vehicle. Nine gears? Yes, it seems you can have too much of a good thing.

Jeep forums in the US have a large number of drivers complaining about similar issues, with many claiming it’s essentially un-fix-able until Jeep updates it gearbox software (again). Time will tell, so watch this space. Until then I would hesitate to recommend the Cherokee to a friend. The Cherokee holds great potential to be a class-leading class act, just not quite yet it seems.

More next week.

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Practical Motoring

Practical Motoring