By Nick Dasko
Jeeps are bad-ass, awesome vehicles that should have off-roading heritage oozing from their seams. I didn't really like the whole "Trail Rated" badge thing because I think all Jeeps should be more than at-home on a rocky, mule-trail.
That's why I think Jeep made the right call in giving the North American market a traditional torque-converter automatic as the only transmission in the Cherokee. (Yes I know you can get a stick shift and a diesel in Europe).
The new nine-speed automatic, is not perfect but I think it will age well. Now I know tons of Jeep people will whine and moan about how "real off-road" trucks should have a manual gearbox, but then I look at what the guys at King of the Hammers use.
You know that race, the one that combines desert bashing with rock-crawling over a mountain. Ya, those guys use torque-converter automatics. You get more control of torque, at lower ratios, and a tougher transmission with a torque converter. Plus it is easier to crawl along at low-speeds which is why all the insane, glacier-crushing off-roaders from Iceland have a traditional automatic in their drivetrains.
If you want to go slowly over an obstacle, or move at a low speed or just need to rock back and forth to get unstuck, a torque converter makes sense. I have never understood why people who buy Rubicons for serious off-roading, buy them with manuals.
If you want to have fun off-road(aka you want a Jeep) a traditional automatic just makes sense.