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Trail tough & totally retooled

Test Drive takes out the 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk and Nissan Rogue

Jan. 13, 2014 - 10:32AM   |  
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The 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk. (Chrysler)
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The 2014 Nissan Rogue. (Wieck)

The 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk was unstoppable in the backwoods, mud-laden off-road course at Summit Point Motorsports Park in Summit Point, W.Va.

Locking differentials — left and right wheels turn at the same speed, no matter what; power’s not wasted on an easy-spinning wheel with little traction — is the off-road equivalent of the hand of God. T-hawk’s shining, grin-producing off-road ability is even more remarkable when you understand that the Cherokee is basically a Dodge Dart compact sedan done up as an SUV.

Trailhawk is the off-road specialty model of the new Cherokee. Slightly different trim and coloring vs. the Latitude and Limited make it the only Cherokee with looks that don’t provoke Test Drive’s gag reflex. Trailhawk also has bright red, fang-like tow hooks below the front and rear bumpers, giving it an especially business-like persona.

By most measures, Cherokee is exceptional. But there are exceptions to exceptional:

■Paved-road ride seems too jiggly on all models, not just the specially underslung T-hawk. We drove a variety of models here, around Hell, Mich., and in suburban Virginia, and on all we noticed annoying jiggles and wiggles on highways and in town; over bumps and on smooth stretches.

■The version you’ll probably really want is too expensive. Though the starter price is a fetching $23,490, that gets you one with front-wheel drive and a four-cylinder engine. Desirable versions will run about $32,000 to $38,000 — a lot for a modest-size SUV, even with Cherokee’s array of features.

Cherokee noteworthies:

■Versions with either of the two top four-wheel drive systems can be flat-towed, great for RV ramblers who bring along something to drive once settled in the RV park.

■It’s first on the market with a nine-speed automatic transmission. It beat the 2014 Range Rover Evoque, which has a similar nine-speed, by about two months. Cherokee’s nine-speed shifted well most of the time.

■Rear legroom is commendable. Adults fit nicely.

■Cargo and passenger space is thoughtfully executed. Rear seat slides fore-aft to blend cargo and rear passenger needs. Front passenger seat folds flat forward for long cargo when combined with fold-down rear seat.

■Steering, cornering, braking all pass muster with room to spare.

It is a compelling package for those with kinder views of the styling and suspension. And for those who really go off-road, the Trailhawk is a remarkable piece of work.

2014 Nissan Rogue overhaul

It’s hard to find much wrong with the 2014 Nissan Rogue.

It’s a full re-do: Chassis, body, interior and even the transmission received major overhauls. Engine’s a carryover, though.

Nissan will sell a lower-end version of the previous model as the Rogue Select for price-sen­sitive buyers. The redesigned 2014 Rogue is discussed here. Test Drive’s wheel time in a loaded SL AWD ($32,270) made clear that Nissan’s upgrades translate to real-world improvements.

A few things remain to irk. Among them:

■The four-cylinder engine feels underpowered. It has 15 horsepower less than the four in Honda’s rival CR-V, for example, and the Nissan weighs more than the Honda.

■Some key buttons, including the power-tailgate switch and the safety-nanny systems override, are tucked low on the dashboard, making them hard to reach or see

Some standout improvements:

■The styling is smoother, less affected. Yes, it also is somewhat less distinctive, resembling something in a Hyundai showroom. But everything appears more developed, mature (not to say old or boring), which gives Rogue a bit more premium persona.

■Very nice use of plastics, soft-feel surfaces and pleasing textures in the interior.■

— USA Today Test Drive

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