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. For 2019, Cherokee is refreshed with new exterior and interior styling, upgraded infotainment system and newly available turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine.
Cherokee sits in the middle of the Jeep lineup between the larger and more-expensive Grand Cherokee and smaller and more-affordable Compass. It seats five passengers on front buckets and a three place rear bench and is available with front- or four-wheel drive.
Four trim levels are offered: Latitude, Limited, Overland, Trailhawk and Trailhawk Elite. There are also trim option groups that include Upland and Altitude. Prices range from $25,740 on the front-drive Latitude to $38,495 on the 4x4 Overland. All models save the Upland and Trailhawks come standard with front-wheel drive. All-wheel-drive is standard on those and optional on others.
There are three engine offerings. The base engine is a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine that is rated at 180 horsepower. Returning from last year is an available 3.2-liter V6 that makes 271 horsepower. New for 2019 is a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that makes 270 horsepower. Regardless of engine, the sole transmission is a 9-speed automatic. Towing capacity on models with the 2.4-liter engine is 2,000 pounds. V6 models have a maximum towing capacity of 4,500 pounds. Towing capacity on the new turbo four is 4,000 pounds,
There are two available four-wheel-drive systems. 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.
Cherokee's base engine is adequate 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. The new-for-2019 turbocharged engine combines the power of a V6 with the fuel economy of the normally-aspirated 2.4-liter. Unfortunately, it brings along the four's coarseness and abrupt shifting.
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 is off-road capable, not to the extent of a Wrangler, but certainly sufficient for most off-road terrain. Trailhawk stands along in the compact crossover class as a true off-road-ready vehicle.
Fuel economy numbers trail competitors like the Honda CR-V or Subaru Forester. The front-drive 4-cylinder Cherokee rates at 22/31 MPG. The AWD V6 nets 20/29 MPG, while the new turbocharged four nets an impressive 23/31 MPG in front-drive trim. All engines run fine on regular-grade fuel. Real-world driving yields better than expected mpg averages. With the new 2.0-liter engine it's easy to average 28 MPG overall and perhaps as high as 34 MPG if your commute includes some gentile highway driving.
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. Both 4-cylinder engines buzz at extra-legal highway speeds and are 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 and the changes for 2019 further distance it from its competition. Materials are clearly a cut above most others in the class and assembly quality seems quite good. Highlights include FCA's impressive 8.4-inch touch-screen interface for the uconnect infotainment system and the corporate steering wheel boasting multi-function buttons. Controls are well placed and gauges easy to read. Android Auto and Apple Car Play support are standard.
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. There's a large underfloor-storage compartment as well. Interior storage is just adequate. It would be nice if there were a few more small bins in the center console or larger map pockets.
Bottom Line -- 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. The enhancements for 2019 are a clear step up in both appearance and functionality. The new turbo four has its merits with an impressive balance of acceleration and fuel economy. 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.