Is a new Jeep Cherokee KL as capable off-road as Jeep’s best-selling SUV of all time, the boxy old Cherokee XJ? Seeing as how I bought a 1995 Cherokee for $600 off Craigslist recently, when I got ahold of a $36,000 new Cherokee, I had no choice but to try and find out.
(Full disclosure: Fiat Chrysler, where I worked as an engineer before joining the dark side and coming to Jalopnik, kindly loaned me a new Cherokee with a full tank of gas for this test. I brought it back in one piece. Well... almost.)
The world cried foul when Chrysler released their new car-based, mid-size SUV and called it by the same name as the rough-and-tumble old XJ Cherokee. Sure, they’ve been calling the Liberty by that sacred name for years overseas, but here in America we’ve got a special place in our hearts for that rectangular little AMC.
“That’s not a real Cherokee,” the fanboys cried. While we’re not sure what it means to be a “real Cherokee” (after all, the XJ was quite a departure from its SJ-based predecessor), it’s fair to say that the new KL is very different from the XJ.
Though both are built on unibody platforms, their structures don’t share many similarities. The old XJ sits on a more “frame-like” body-in-white, with all of the sensitive hardware tucked between two main unibody rails that run the length of the vehicle. Two tubular axle housings protect axle-shafts and differentials and bolt to the body via leaf springs in the back and control arms and a track bar up front. It’s old-school and can be fixed with a hammer, a 5/8-inch combination wrench and swear words.
The KL’s platform is a bit more sophisticated as it is based on the Alfa Romeo Giulietta’s bones. It has a very flat underbody and includes a low-sitting front cradle that contains the entire suspension and steering rack. Suspension is independent all the way around, the front differential is contained in the transmission (though on this Trailhawk trim, it’s in the Power Transfer Unit, which is bolted to the transmission), and CV axles are exposed. The KL’s car-based platform means that, even though it technically has more ground clearance than the XJ, more of its crucial components sit lower to the ground.
When the new Cherokee came out for the 2014 model year, we wrote an article describing six ways that the new Jeep is better than the old XJ when the road turns to dirt. In a bit of foreshadowing, Matt Hardigree wrote: “Comparing a stock XJ to a stock 2014 Cherokee on off-road ability will be fun. Someone will do it. Maybe it will be us.”