The Jeep Cherokee is a compact crossover SUV that was introduced in 2014. With a 106-inch wheelbase, similar competitors include Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Subaru Forester and Toyota RAV4. Cherokee sits in the middle of the Jeep lineup between the larger and more-expensive Grand Cherokee and smaller and more-affordable Renegade. It seats five passengers on front buckets and a three-place rear bench and is available with front- or four-wheel drive.
Five trim levels are offered: Sport, Latitude, Trailhawk, Limited and Overland. Standard on all is a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine that is rated at 184 horsepower. Optional on all save the Sport is a 3.2-liter V6 that makes 271 horsepower. Regardless of engine, the sole transmission is a 9-speed automatic. Towing capacity on 4-cylinder models is 2000 pounds. V6 models have a maximum towing capacity of 4500 pounds.
Front-wheel drive is standard in all but the Trailhawk. There are two available four-wheel-drive systems. Sport, Latitude, Limited and Overland get Active Drive I. It's a basic all-wheel-drive system designed for light duty use on pavement or improved trails. Standard on the Tailhawk is Active Drive II with Drive Lock. It adds a 56:1 off-road ratio and the Selec-Terrain traction management system.
Prices start at $23,494 for the Sport and rise to $34,695 for the Limited. All have a destination charge of $995. The Cherokee is currently assembled in Toledo, Ohio, but production will soon be moving to Belvidere, Illinois.
Cherokee's base engine is fine for light-duty, around town driving but proves sluggish in passing situations or when toting around a load of passengers. Plus, it's on the coarse side and struggles with the 9-speed automatic. A much better choice is the available 3.2-liter V6 that provides plenty of power and a smoother and more refined experience, both with the transmission and in highway cruising. It also increases towing capacity to a hefty -- for the class -- 4500 pounds.
Front-wheel drive is a more than appropriate choice for all-season driving in Chicago, but those looking for an added measure of security will likely be content with the base four-wheel-drive system. It does a good job of sending power to the wheels with the most traction in slippery-road conditions. The advanced four-wheel-drive system in the Trailhawk certainly more off-road capable but is probably overkill for on-road use.
Fuel economy numbers trail competitors like the Honda CR-V or Subaru Forester. The Trailhawk with the V6 -- arguably the least fuel efficient model -- has EPA ratings of 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway. The front-drive 4-cylinder Cherokee rates at 22/31, still a trifle behind the CR-V and even the all-wheel-drive Forester. Thankfully, real-world driving yields better than expected mpg averages. If you spend a lot of time in the city, expect to average about 23 mpg. If your commute includes some gentle highway cruising you might be able to boost that number to 26 mpg.
All Cherokee models feel nimble and capable on road but drivers won't feel that they are particularly athletic. The suspension does an excellent job of absorbing road impacts while still minimizing secondary motions and head toss. Body lean is modest and the tires have good dry-road grip. The steering isn't as accurate as it could be on the highway but feels just right around town and at parking speeds. The brake pedal has a mushy and dead feel that contributes to uneven stops. Trailhawk gets an updated suspension and special tire package, which leads to additional impact harshness, slightly bouncier ride and more road noise.
Cherokee is one compact crossover with the chops to tackle off-road driving. While many others lack the mechanical sophistication, ground clearance or tire tread to hit the trail the Cherokee doesn't even blink - and that's when equipped with the base four-wheel-drive system. Throw in the low range and locking capability on the Trailhawk and there's almost no trail you can't conquer.
Wind noise is nicely muted on all models. The 4-cylinder engine buzzes at extra-legal highway speeds and is coarse in hard acceleration. No such problem with the V6. The Trailhawk's off-road-ready tires generate a bit of noise on the highway, so be sure to test drive before you buy.
Cherokee has a nicely crafted and well-sorted interior. Materials are clearly a cut above most competitors and assembly quality seems quite good. Highlights include FCA's impressive 8.4-inch touch-screen interface for uConnect and the corporate steering wheel boasting multi-function buttons. Controls are well placed and gauges easy to read.
Up front, there is plenty of room for two large adults. The bucket seats are comfortable and provide ample support, which makes the Cherokee a pleasure to drive on longer trips. Rear-seat space is exceptional for the class. Even large adults will find more than enough leg and head room. In addition, the backrest reclines for additional comfort.
Maxing out at just below 55 cubic feet, cargo capacity is less impressive. Most other compact crossovers have about 10 cubic feet of additional storage space. Still, there's more than enough room for a weekend trip or a week's worth of groceries. The tailgate opening is tall and slightly above head height and rear seats fold to increase cargo space. Interior storage is just adequate. It would be nice if there were a few more small bins in the center console or large map pockets.
Cherokee is a sure-fire winner in the compact crossover segment. It's a jack-of-all-trades rather than a master of one, which is exactly what most buyers want. There's a good mix of features and performance -- especially with the V6. Highlights include plenty of passenger space and great off-road potential. Prices aren't too steep and, since the segment is so competitive, discounts abound. Be sure the Cherokee is on your must-see list before you buy.