My family farm in northern Michigan proves to be a good testing ground for off-road vehicles. With terrain varying from muddy fields to winding trails to sandy hills, it helps determine if a truck or SUV has what it takes to get dirty. Out there, off-roading isn’t the goal -- it’s how you get around.

Our Four Seasons 2014 Jeep Cherokee is certainly more sorority crossover than overlander, but its small stature made it perfect for the tight trails we were on. While my cousins traversed the woods in their John Deere Gators, my buddy Zach and I drove the 2014 Jeep Cherokee, kept our seat heaters on, and bounced our way to the back hills.

Our Cherokee’s suspension is, of course, optimized for road handling, which is where it behaves its best. Even so, it performs admirably off-road. Our recent additions of 235/55R-18 Bridgestone Blizzak DM-V1 winter tires and Mopar rock rails helped, too. The rock rails protected the body from sticks and brush that got kicked up along the trails, and the Blizzaks provided enough traction to confidently and smoothly navigate around lightly dusted two-tracks.

Trails conquered, the real test came -- getting up hills, where the limiting factor wouldn’t be tires but our Cherokee’s open differentials. To those unfamiliar with off-roading: When traveling over uneven, loose terrain, an open differential will allow a wheel without traction to continue spinning and not apply necessary power to the wheel that still has traction. Locking differentials force driven wheels on the same axle to rotate at the same speed, regardless of traction, or lack thereof. A locking rear differential does come on the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk, but we’ve previously discussed why we didn’t pony up for that model.

So getting up and over the sandy hill in our 2014 Jeep Cherokee required a bit of momentum. We put the drivetrain in sand/mud mode, got a good running start, and kept on the throttle. By picking the right line and keeping momentum up, we scooted up the hill with little hesitation. That’s about the most intense off-roading our Cherokee will ever do. Without lockers, we’d have to carry a lot of speed to crest hills and the like, more speed than we’d care to use in a vehicle with little ground clearance and even less suspension travel. We still have time to see what our 2014 Jeep Cherokee is capable of off the beaten path, but it’s back to mall crawlin’ for now.

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