G. Chambers Williams

Newest Jeep Cherokee gets engine stop-start technology

Introduced – or rather, re-introduced – just last year, the all-new Jeep Cherokee returns for its second year for 2015, the continuation of the line that had been known as the Liberty since 2002.

The biggest change for 2015 is the addition of hybrid-style engine stop-start technology on the optional 3.2-liter V-6 engine, which automatically cuts off the gasoline engine when the vehicle comes to a stop such as at a traffic signal. It then automatically restarts when the driver’s foot is lifted off of the brake pedal.

This feature is showing up on lots of non-hybrid vehicles as automakers look for innovative ways to make a gallon of gasoline go a bit farther. With this system, the car doesn’t waste gas idling at stop lights or when stopped in traffic. It doesn’t save a lot of gas, but in the long run, every little bit of savings adds up.

Fiat Chrysler says the Cherokee’s starter and battery systems have been upgraded to handle the constant off-on cycling, using a high-durability starter enclosed in a stronger case, heavy-duty flywheel teeth (the starter gear turns the flywheel to start the engine) and a “more-robust starter solenoid.” This is accompanied by a stronger battery –700 amps, with new “absorbed glass mat” technology.

I’ve always wondered just how long a starter would last being subjected to such constant use (or abuse). Fiat Chrysler says “the new starter was subjected to durability testing cycles more than 2.5 times that of a non-stop-start equipped unit – more than 300,000 on/off cycles.”

It also includes a feature that monitors battery voltage, so that if the battery is weak, the automatic stop-start system shuts down. I’ve driven cars with weak batteries that I had to keep running at all times, even while refueling.

Unlike other vehicles’ stop-start systems, the Cherokee’s has a switch on the dash that lets the driver turn it off.

A new SafetyTec package ($995) is available, and was included on our test vehicle, the 2015 Cherokee Limited four-wheel drive (base price $30,395, plus $995 freight). This brought Blind-spot Monitoring and Rear Cross-Path Detection

When the first generation of the Liberty arrived for 2002, it replaced the long-running Cherokee nameplate in the Jeep lineup, although only for North America. In the rest of the world where the same vehicle was sold, it was still called the Cherokee.

Now, all markets get the Cherokee name, eliminating some confusion and reinstating one of the best-known Jeep brand names. Jeep originally switched to the Liberty name to avoid confusing that vehicle with the Grand Cherokee, a larger and more-expensive model that remains in the lineup.

For 2015, the Cherokee has a base price range of $22,995-$30,095 (plus freight), and as usual, four-wheel drive is available across the lineup, with the least-expensive version the Sport 4X4 for $24,995.

Two engines are available in the Cherokee, a four-cylinder or a V-6, and both are coupled to a nine-speed automatic transmission – a first in this class.

Standard on all trims is the 2.4-liter Tigershark Multi-Air inline four, which produces 184 horsepower and 171 foot-pounds of torque. It brings EPA ratings of 22 mpg city/31 highway/25 combined for front-drive models, and 21/28/24 with four-wheel drive.

Our Limited tester, though, had the optional 3.2-liter V-6 ($1,695), which cranks out 271 horsepower and 239 foot-pounds of torque. It has fuel-economy ratings of 21/29/24 with front drive, and 20/28/23 for our four-wheel drive.

In a switch from the past (Liberty or Cherokee), the new Cherokee comes standard with front- rather than rear-wheel drive. That’s part of its European heritage – it’s designed on a front-drive chassis developed with Chrysler parent Fiat (now Fiat Chrysler Automotive) of Italy. It’s still built in Toledo, Ohio, however.

The Cherokee is a compact crossover utility vehicle, with a combined body and frame setup known as a unibody, that plays in a burgeoning field that includes models such as the Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, Chevrolet Equinox, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Mitsubishi Outlander, Subaru Forester, Nissan Rogue, Kia Sportage and more.

Models include the entry-level Sport, midlevel Latitude ($24,795), fancier Limited ($28,595), and the special off-road model called the Trailhawk ($30,095), which comes with the best of the three available four-wheel-drive systems.

Latitude models start at $26,795 with basic four-wheel drive, while Limited models begin at $30,595 with four-wheel drive.

The base prices for the four-wheel-drive versions bring only the basic Jeep Active Drive I system, which does not include low-range, two-speed gearing for serious off-road driving, nor a locking differential.

That includes our test vehicle, the Limited 4X4, which, despite its high-end price tag, was not a “Trail Ready” Jeep – a big disappointment. I would expect this fancy model to come with at least the midlevel four-wheel-drive setup, Active Drive II, which has a two-speed “PTU,” or power transfer unit, hill-descent control and an off-road suspension. To get that on the test vehicle would have cost an additional $995,

Even then you’re not getting the Active Drive Lock that is included only on the Trailhawk along with the Active Drive II system. It brings the locking rear differential that is of great help during serious off-road driving.

The Trailhawk is the only one of the new Cherokee models that carries the Jeep “Trail Rated” designation and badging. This model includes more-aggressive exterior styling, higher approach and departure angles, more ground clearance, underbody skid plates and red tow hooks.

With all of the Cherokee four-wheel-drive systems, you’ll get Jeep’s Selec-Terrain traction-control system. Using a dial on the center console, this feature lets the driver choose among four modes on the Active Drive I system – Automatic, Sand, Sport or Sand/Mud -- or five on the Active Drive II, which adds a Rock mode.

The V-6 brought plenty of power to my Limited tester.

My vehicle also had a navigation system as part of the Uconnect system upgrade ($845), which also brought a large (8.4-inch) color touch screen, HD radio and Sirius Travel Link/Traffic.

The cabin of the Cherokee has ample space for four passengers, although a third person could sit in the middle of the rear bench seat in a pinch (literally). That position really is wide enough only for a small child or a child-safety seat. With no one in the middle, a pull-down armrest brings a pair of cupholders. There are single bottle holders in all four doors, and a map pocket in the back of the driver’s seat.

Up front, a center console includes an enclosed compartment/armrest, with a USB port and 12-volt outlet inside, Rear AC vents and a 115-volt outlet were at the rear of the console, accessible only to backseat passengers.

There are two cupholders and a slot for a cellphone in front of the console box (behind the shifter), and another small storage area in front of the shifter that included a second USB port, another 12-volt outlet and an auxiliary input jack.

The audio system included Bluetooth for smartphones, with both phone and audio streaming functions so you can make calls or listen to your own music through the onboard speakers. We had a nine-speaker upgrade with subwoofer for an additional $395 on our vehicle.

Front bucket seats are standard, and are quite comfortable. On the Limited, they come with eight-way power adjustment and four-way power lumbar adjustment on the driver’s side. They’re also heated, as is the leather-wrapped steering wheel.

Other standard features include a backup camera, dual-zone automatic climate control, Uconnect AM/FM/satellite radio with Bluetooth and integrated voice commands, power windows/mirrors/door lock with remote and pushbutton start, tilt/telescopic steering wheel with cruise and audio controls, and a leather-wrapped shift knob.

The cargo area has 24.6 cubic feet of space with the rear seatback in place, and 54.9 cubic feet with the seatback folded. The front passenger seatback can be folded down to accommodate longer cargo items.

There is a temporary spare under the rear cargo floor, covered with a cargo tray that can keep small items out of sight under the lift-up cargo floor. There are bag hooks on the left side, and our vehicle included a cargo net and cover.

A single-piece liftgate that swings up is standard, and on our vehicle it was power-operated from a button on the remote or on the dash. That was part of the Luxury Group package ($1,695), which also brought premium leather-trimmed seats, ventilated front seats, memory for the seat and mirrors, and high-intensity-discharge headlights.

Also included on our tester was the Technology Group package ($1,495), which added parallel and perpendicular parking assist, full-speed collision warning with crash mitigation, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, rain-sensing wipers, lane-departure warning, and advanced brake assist. For $395 extra, we had nine amplified speakers with a subwoofer for the audio system.

The tester also came with standard 18-inch polished-aluminum wheels, hill-start assist, remote start, and four-wheel antilock disc brakes. There are driver and passenger knee air bags, front seat-mounted side air bags, and roof-mounted side-curtain air bags with rollover mitigation.

Trailer towing is limited to 2,000 pounds with the four-cylinder engine, or 4,500 pounds with the V-6 and optional towing package ($495), not included on our tester.

Total sticker price for our Limited 4X4 test vehicle was $38,510, including freight and options.

The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at chambers@star-telegram.com.

2015 Jeep Cherokee

The package: Midsize, five-door, five-passenger, four-cylinder or V-6 powered, front- or four-wheel-drive sport utility vehicle.

Highlights: The newest generation of the Liberty has a new design and name, returning to the Cherokee designation of the past. Built on a new Fiat-developed chassis, the newest Cherokee has improved fuel economy and technology, but a less-capable four-wheel drive system.

Negatives: No third seat offered – some in this class do have that option.

Engine: 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder (standard); 3.2-liter V-6 (optional on all but base grade).

Transmissions: Nine-speed automatic.

Power/torque: 184 HP/171 foot-pounds (I-4); 271 HP./239 foot-pounds.

Length: 182 inches.

Curb weight: 3,775-4,106 pounds.

Cargo volume: 24.6 cubic feet (behind rear seat); 54.9 cubic feet (rear seat folded).

Trailer towing capacity: Maximum 2,000 pounds with four-cylinder engine; 4,500 pounds with V-6 and optional towing package.

Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.

Electronic stability control: Standard.

Side air bags: Seat-mounted side, front; side-curtain, both rows.

Fuel capacity/type: 15.9 gallons/unleaded regular.

EPA fuel economy: 22 mpg city/31 highway/25 combined (I-4, 2WD); 21/28/24 (I-4, 4WD); 19/28/22 (V-6, 2WD); 19/27/22 (V-6, 4WD).

Major competitors: Toyota RAV4, Toyota FJ Cruiser, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson, Ford Escape, Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain, Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V, Mitsubishi Outlander, Subaru Forester, Nissan Rogue, Nissan Xterra.

Base price range: $22,995-$30,595, plus $995 freight.

Price as tested: $38,510, including freight and options (Limited 4WD).

On the Road rating: 8.3 (of a possible 10).

Prices shown are manufacturer’s suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.