2014 Jeep Cherokee

When we look back at some of the more shocking product launches of recent years, the Jeep Cherokee is certainly high up on the list. And we aren't just talking about its off-the-wall, polarizing design.

For starters, it brought back the iconic Cherokee nameplate – something Jeep enthusiasts have coveted for ages. But beyond that, it brought a new evolution for the Jeep brand. After all, the Cherokee is car-based – using the same compact platform that underpins the Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200. It has a greater focus on technology and refinement than ever before, in an effort to appeal to a new crop of Jeep customers. And powering it all is a new (optional) V6 engine paired with an equally new nine-speed automatic transmission.

Can the Cherokee's car-based roots still allow for a vehicle that's superb when the going gets tough? Will its design still be a love/hate affair in one year's time, or will it start to blend in? Is the powertrain strong enough to not only support the needs of daily driving and road trips, but blaze a few trails as well? We're aiming to answer all these questions, and more, over the next 12 months. Welcome to the Autoblog long-term garage, Cherokee.

2014 Jeep Cherokee2014 Jeep Cherokee
2014 Jeep Cherokee2014 Jeep Cherokee

All-in, our Cherokee stickers for $38,059, including $995 for destination.

So, let's meet our new girl. Jeep was kind enough to let us spec out this loaded-but-not-fully-loaded Cherokee Trailhawk 4x4 for our year-long loan. Yes, that's the top trim, but we left off a couple of non-mission-critical options in an effort to try and keep its price down a bit. This high-end model's base MSRP is is $29,495, but then we added things like the Technology Group ($2,195), Comfort and Convenience Group ($1,895), 3.2-liter V6 ($1,495), black hood decal ($199), upgraded UConnect infotainment system with an 8.4-inch touchscreen ($795) and a higher-end audio system ($395), all-in, our Cherokee stickers for $38,059, including $995 for destination.

That's still a lot of coin for a compact utility, especially considering we opted to forego things like the panoramic sunroof or full leather seating (for what it's worth, the cloth seats are still heated, as is the steering wheel). But put into perspective, the pricing strikes us as a fair shake. Load up a similarly sized Ford Escape, and you'll land just south of there, for instance. You'll score a few more bells and whistles, sure, but you won't have an iota of the Cherokee's off-road capability. Trailhawk 4x4 models like ours come equipped with Jeep's sophisticated Active Drive II terrain management system, and we can't wait to put the system to good use.

2014 Jeep Cherokee
2014 Jeep Cherokee2014 Jeep Cherokee

As you can see, we went with Deep Cherry Red paint, which looks pretty tough with all of the Trailhawk's black plastic accents, hood decal and red tow hooks. Inside, the only cloth fabric available was black, and while some Autoblog staffers have already commented that the seating surfaces look a little busy due to its varying textures, the cloth is comfortable and looks really premium. The rest of our Cherokee's black cabin with brushed accents looks both upscale and rugged, and with a year's worth of duties on its docket, we're curious to see how it'll hold up through all the wear and tear.

The Cherokee marks the first implementation of Chrysler's new 3.2-liter V6, producing 271 hp and 239 lb-ft of torque.

There's plenty more for us to discover with this Jeep, too. The Cherokee marks the first implementation of Chrysler's new 3.2-liter Pentastar V6, producing 271 horsepower and 239 pound-feet of torque. And then there's the nine-speed automatic transmission – something that caused quite a stir when the small Jeep launched. We're interested to see how this complex transmission works in a variety of on- and off-road conditions, as well as to assess its manners and durability over long drives.

Naturally, because our Trailhawk 4x4 has Jeep's famous Trail Rated badge, we'll be taking this thing off road. The Cherokee certainly looks able, with its 17-inch wheels wrapped in meaty P245/65R17 Firestone Destination A/T tires and off-road-ready ground clearance. Associate editor Jonathon Ramsey took the Jeep off-roading in our First Drive, and had great things to say about it.

2014 Jeep Cherokee

Say what you will about the Jeep's design – it's certainly a head-turning creation.

We've only had the Cherokee for a very short time, but our first impressions are that it's comfortable, competent, and sure does garner a lot of attention out on the road. That's even true here in the Greater Detroit area, where Cherokees are already thick on the ground. Say what you will about this Jeep's design – it's certainly a head-turning creation, and we've received just as many "we love it" reactions as we have "ew, what is that thing?" As a staff, we've grown to be largely in favor of the Jeep's bold styling, though a few of us still have some warming-up to do. Will our thoughts on the Jeep's design change over the next year? Stay tuned.

Be sure to follow our Cherokee's long-term page for all its future updates, and be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram for more on-the-fly impressions.