Jeep Cherokee

I got a text message from Editor-In-Chief Sharon Carty one afternoon proclaiming that her new favorite SUV is our long-term 2014 Jeep Cherokee. And she's not alone. I'm not sure if anyone else on staff would go so far as to use the "favorite" descriptor, but after just over a month of honeymooning with our new long-termer, it's safe to say that the Jeep is quickly finding its way into the good graces of a number of Autoblog staffers.

There's good reason for all that praise, too. Thus far, the Jeep has proven itself to be incredibly competent and comfortable for daily life – it's functional, quiet, and packed with a host of amenities that make it easy to live with. It's been wholly trouble-free (with less than 4,000 miles on the clock as of this writing, it ought to be), but even nitpicks have been few and far between.

Jeep Cherokee

The design is somewhat less offensive here and more purposeful in Trailhawk trim.

We're still in the very early going of our time with the Cherokee, but so far, it's proving to be a great package. But that design is certainly polarizing. After seeing the deep red Jeep in our driveways day in and day out, its funky look has really started to grow on much of the staff, and even those who still aren't enamored think it's somewhat less offensive and more purposeful looking in butch Trailhawk trim. "When I first saw the 2014 Jeep Cherokee, I thought what everyone else thought, that it is hideous," admits associate multimedia producer Chris McGraw. But when you're behind the wheel, it doesn't matter, and that's where the Jeep has really won us over.

As you'll recall, your author recently put 1,500 miles on a 2015 Chrysler 200 during a long round-trip drive from Detroit to New York and back. This was my first experience with Fiat-Chrysler's nine-speed automatic transmission, and while I mostly found the unit to be a smooth operator in my trek with the 200, I'm finding that I enjoy it much more when paired with the smaller 3.2-liter V6 here in the Cherokee. Sort of.

Jeep Cherokee

The nine-speed actually feels a bit more refined here in the Jeep.

The nine-speed is geared for efficiency, first and foremost. And while that's easier to overcome in the 200S thanks to its larger 3.6-liter V6 and the transmission's paddle shifters and sport mode, that efficiency-first mindset is more clear here in the Jeep. The 3.2-liter V6 produces 271 horsepower, compared to the 3.6's 295, but our Cherokee has a full 633 more pounds of heft to lug around with that reduced power (compared to the all-wheel-drive 200S). Off the line, the Jeep has enough grunt to get you going, but if you aren't more assertive with the throttle, the transmission will quickly jump up a few gears, keeping your revs low and impeding forward progress. Around town, for light-throttle acceleration and passing, the Cherokee can often feel sluggish, but again, if you really get on the thing, it'll move just fine.

That said, the nine-speed actually feels a bit more refined here in the Jeep. It's less noticeable, and doesn't seem to hunt for gears as much as the version I experienced in the 200. And when you don't need the power, the 9AT is helpful from a fuel economy perspective. The EPA rates the 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk 4x4 at 18 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg highway, and we're averaging a solid 22.3 mpg in a pretty even mix of driving scenarios. That's not a particularly impressive figure if you look across the compact CUV class, but to be fair, the Cherokee is far more capable off-road than rivals, and that extra ability adds weight in the form of 4x4 componentry and drag in the form of brawny tires. Besides, the engine on this thing is still relatively green – just 3,660 miles as of this writing – so we'll see if those numbers can improve. As of now, the best we've been able to hit on a highway jaunt has been an even 24 mpg.

The Jeep is easy to drive, and has tackled several soft-road duties with ease. It's actually sort of neat to see the Cherokee covered in dirt and mud every now and then, though admittedly, we haven't taken it on any serious off-road trails just yet. So far, it "didn't even bat an eye when tasked to get unstuck from the shore of Lake Michigan," McGraw notes.

Jeep Cherokee

We appreciate the clever organization of the center console up front.

As for what we've experienced thus far, all drivers have praised the Cherokee's UConnect infotainment system, with its high-resolution graphics and easy-to-use, responsive interface. Our tester's higher-end sound system is excellent, and we appreciate the clever organization of the center console up front to keep our phones, beverages, keys, and miscellanea organized on trips. We've had no complaints from passengers about seat comfort or spaciousness, too, but there's no doubt that the cargo area is smaller than many competitors.

With summer now in full force, there's a lot more planned for our Cherokee – the schedule on this baby is booked. So far, we're loving the little Jeep, and hope those thoughts don't fade. We may be enjoying this honeymoon phase, but remember, there's still a long way to go.

Be sure to follow this space to keep up with all of our long-term Jeep Cherokee updates, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more on-the-go impressions, as well.

Odometer: 3,660 miles
Observed fuel economy: 22.3 mpg
Days in service: 48
Days out of service: 0
Out-of-pocket repair cost: $0