The original Jeep Cherokee in 1984 established the standard for sport-utility vehicles (SUV) that could be used as family transport. Today’s market favors more carlike utility vehicles. Introduced as a 2014 model, today’s Cherokee is a midsize crossover SUV.
Even though Jeep has built plenty of off-road ability and ruggedness into the revived Cherokee, it’s intended mainly for families and daily tasks. Far removed from the truck-like Liberty that it replaced, the current Cherokee has a look all its own: the kind that could be called either daring or radical. Most glaring is the front end, both Jeeplike and strikingly different.
Looks aside, the Cherokee fits right between urban-friendly crossovers and serious off-roaders. Primary competitors include some well-established, conventional-looking compact crossovers, including the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and Ford Escape. It’s a relatively roomy, family-size five-seat vehicle, with a back seat suitable for adults.
Jeep offers a choice of V6 or four-cylinder engine, both with 9-speed automatic transmission. The 184-horsepower, 2.4-liter inline-4 delivers swift, quiet, reasonably smooth acceleration.
The 3.2-liter V6 delivers 271 horsepower and 239 pound-feet of torque. All V6 models now include engine stop-start, intended to save a little fuel in stop-and-go commuting. Gas mileage is acceptable, but short of excellent.
Offered for the Cherokee are Sport, Latitude, Limited, and Trailhawk editions. The Cherokee Limited is the luxurious flagship, while Cherokee Trailhawks are ready for trekking, raised by an inch, with a locking rear differential, red tow hooks, and additional skid plates.
Front-wheel drive is standard. Four-wheel-drive systems include Active Drive I and Active Drive II (with a dual-range transfer case). All 4×4 models have Selec-Terrain, with modes for Snow, Rock, and Sand/Mud.
Options include a panoramic sunroof and Sky Slider roof, soft Nappa leather upholstery, and memory heated/ventilated seats. Top models include a reconfigurable LED instrument cluster. An optional hands-free parking system can steer and nudge the car into a parking spot.
2016 Cherokee models with the 8.4-inch Uconnect screen get a new Drag and Drop menu bar, Do Not Disturb mode, and Siri Eyes Free compatibility.
When equipped with Forward Collision Warning Plus, Cherokee earns a Superior rating for frontal crash prevention from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has given the Cherokee four stars overall; five for side impact.
Prices include four-cylinder engine.
Cherokee Sport ($23,395) has front-wheel drive, with Active Drive I optional ($25,295), cloth upholstery, air conditioning, keyless entry, 17-inch wheels. Cherokee Latitude ($25,295) adds LED cabin lighting, a fold-flat front passenger seat, Uconnect with 8.4-inch touchscreen, roof rails, and foglamps. Active Drive II and the V6 engine are available.
Cherokee Limited ($28,995) features leather upholstery, heated power front seats, 18-inch wheels, pushbutton start, a 7-inch reconfigurable information screen, rearview camera, and remote start.
Cherokee Trailhawk 4×4 ($30,895) comes with Jeep’s Trail Rated badge, meaning it has genuine capability, a suspension tuned for off-highway, transmission and oil coolers, Active Drive with locking differential, Selec-Speed Control, 17-inch wheels. Options include the V6 and navigation.
Ten airbags are standard, including knee and rear-seat side airbags. Latitude and Trailhawk include rearview camera. For all except Sport, a safety package combines rear cross-path detection, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, and rear park assist.
At first glance, the Cherokee might induce a surprised, bewildered impression, but it may look more enticing later. Futuristically shaped, if somewhat cluttered, the front end stands well apart from familiar, square-jawed Jeep tradition.
Controversial it is, led by its slim nose; but this vehicle class was ready for fresh ideas. Some critics see hints of the old Pontiac Aztek in the Cherokee’s running-light positioning and tiered face, a terrible comparison. The familiar seven-slot Jeep grille is there, but appearing to some eyes as an afterthought. Love or hate the look, it’s provocative.
If the Cherokee’s exterior polarizes opinions, the carefully crafted interior presents a unifying tone. Not trucklike at all, it has a sporty aura, smoothly finished and handsome.
Soft-touch surfaces are accompanied by smooth-operating buttons and switchgear. Noise is filtered well. Small-item storage is good, and Uconnect infotainment impresses.
Spacious and well-designed, the cabin contains some impressive materials, though taller folks might not be pleased with the driving position. Because of the unusually shaped front compartment, too, bigger drivers might contact the center console and door panels. Also, the steering wheel tilts upward more than usual.
Seats are supportive enough in Latitude trim, but better with Nappa leather in Limited form. Headrests sit forward too much, forcing some drivers into a more laid-back driving position. The rear seat can feel cramped for adults. Prominent front headrests might force back-seat riders into a slouching position. Outward visibility is reasonably good.
The Jeep Cherokee comes in a range of models. The Trailhawk is the Cherokee with true off-road skills. Other models are best defined as relatively docile, but responsive, family-carrying crossovers.
Jeep managed to stuff plenty of potential ruggedness into the design, considering that the Cherokee’s basic foundation stems from passenger cars.
With the impressively refined front-wheel drive and four-cylinder engine, Cherokee amounts to a tall, thrifty hatchback. Unless carrying a heavy load, it’s sufficiently powerful.
Substitute the V6 and Active Lock off-road system, and it becomes a nimble rock-climber as well as a capable family wagon. A V6 Cherokee feels somewhat heavier, yet seems confident and refined.
The 9-speed transmission helps keep performance strong. Even the four-cylinder starts out eagerly. Unfortunately, the transmission is subject to periods of gear-change indecision or jolting, along with oddly delayed upshifts. Sport mode promises the most decisive, predictable shifts, while shrinking gas mileage.
With the V6 and Trailer Tow Package, the Cherokee can tow 4,500 pounds.
Though pleasant overall, road feel isn’t a strong point. Steering is somewhat numb and heavy, lacking in feedback, though accurate. Ride quality is nicely tuned and well-damped. Trailhawk, helped by off-road tires and taller ride height, is best at absorbing low-speed rough spots.
Active Drive I is fine for snowy pavement. Active Drive II adds a low range with an offroad-appealing 56:1 crawl ratio. All four-wheel-drive Cherokees have four-mode Selec-Terrain.
Base four-cylinder versions are EPA-rated at 22/31 mpg City/Highway, dropping to 21/28 mpg with Active Drive I. Fuel economy on the V6 starts at 19/28 mpg City/Highway for front-drive models; 19/27 with Active Drive II.
The Jeep Cherokee is a solid choice for most families, available with plenty of Jeep off-road skills. Cherokee offers more active-safety features than most rivals in this affordable class. Its styling is polarizing but distinctive.
Driving impressions by Bengt Halvorson, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.