Jeep Cherokee is a mid-size crossover SUV, with available four-wheel drive and superior off-road capability. Cherokee is larger than the Compass, which is larger than the Renegade.
There are no major changes for 2018, though trim levels have been changed, mostly adding equipment. Cherokee was last redesigned for 2014.
The 2018 Cherokee comes as five models: Latitude, Latitude Plus, Limited, Overland, and the off-road oriented Trailhawk. (The Sport, the previous base model, has been discontinued.) Front-wheel drive is standard, but Cherokee makes much more sense with the available all-wheel drive.
Latitude brings more standard equipment to the entry level, including a rearview camera, high-intensity HID headlamps, roofrails, foglamps, aluminum wheels, and body-colored mirrors and door handles. Latitude Plus is a new model intended to offer more features for the dollar. Limited and Trailhawk models likewise offer more standard equipment for 2018 than previously.
The Trailhawk is all-wheel drive, with Active Drive Lock, a locking rear differential; it also gets skid plates and tow hooks, to go with unique front and rear fascia and ground clearance that’s higher by one inch.
The other models come with front-wheel drive, with all-wheel drive optional. Active Drive I is the basic setup, for four-cylinder models. Active Drive II adds a dual-range transfer case. Selec-Terrain adds modes for Sport, Snow, Sand/Mud, and Rock.
The standard engine is smooth and quiet, refined but aging, a 2.4 liter four-cylinder making 184 horsepower, which is enough if there aren’t back-seat passengers or heavy cargo.
The 3.2-liter V6 is more like it, making 271 horsepower and 239 pound-feet of torque; with a tow package, it can tow up to 4500 pounds.
A 9-speed automatic transmission is used with both engines.
The front-wheel-drive Latitude with the four-cylinder engine gets an EPA-estimated 21 City, 30 Highway, 25 Combined miles per gallon; it falls to 23 Combined mpg with the Active Drive I all-wheel drive, and the same 23 mpg Combined rating with Active Drive II, but 1 less mpg on the highway.
The front-wheel-drive V6 gets nearly the same, rated at 21/29/24 mpg. With Active Drive I it rates 20/27/23 mpg, and Active Drive II it gets 18/26/21 mpg. The V6 comes with Stop/Start technology, which turns off the engine at stoplights and pauses, intended to save a bit of fuel.
The heavier all-wheel-drive Trailhawk gets 19/25/22 mpg with the I4 engine, and only 1 less mpg with the V6.
Cherokee only gets four stars overall from the NHTSA in crash testing, with five stars for side impact. Active-safety features come on the Overland and Limited models, including lane-departure and frontal-collision warnings, blind-sport monitoring, adaptive cruise control, and parking sensors.
The 2018 Jeep Cherokee Latitude ($24,395) comes with 2.4-liter engine, front-wheel drive, cloth seats, air conditioning, rearview camera, power features, cruise control, keyless entry, 17-inch wheels with all-season tires, and a 5.0-inch touchscreen audio system with a USB port and Bluetooth with audio streaming. The V6 isn’t available on the Latitude.
Latitude Plus ($26,295) adds an 8.4-inch Uconnect radio with touchscreen with smartphone-app connectivity, leather panels in the cloth seats, an eight-way power driver seat, a 115-volt outlet, keyless ignition, and satellite radio, ambient lighting, and 17-inch aluminum wheels.
Cherokee Limited ($29,795) upgrades with leather, 18-inch wheels, satellite radio, remote start, power heated front seats, and dual-zone automatic climate control. Equipment that became standard for 2018 includes blind-spot monitors, rear parking sensors, and a power liftgate. All-wheel drive is available ($1500).
Overland ($34,095) adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel with wood add-ons, power-adjustable passenger seat, Nappa leather, foglamps dual exhausts.
Trailhawk ($30,995) is equipped like the Latitude Plus, but with a tougher suspension and more ground clearance, tow hooks, transmission and oil coolers, skid plates, new front and rear bumpers for better departure angles, grade-climb control, and 17-inch wheels with all-terrain tires. The features that have been added as standard for 2018 include blind-spot monitors, rear parking sensors with cross-path detection, and dual-zone climate control.
The Cherokee has lovely lines for an SUV, not traditional; even the seven-bar grille is stylized. The headlamps are separated from the LED running lights, giving the front a tiered appearance that’s less than Jeep-like. It’s sure not square, like a Jeep Patriot for example. Even though the design has been around for five years, the Cherokee’s unexpectedness keeps it fresh.
The rear end and sides are more ordinary.
The cabin is handsome and quiet. It’s nicely finished, generally well composed, and quite refined. It’s more sporty than suv-like, blending colorful elements with subtlety. We just wish the controls weren’t hard to find. It would be nice if function matched the form.
However, the infotainment system is clearly laid out, and the screen is responsive. In-car data is available by subscription.
The front seats are comfortable, but the cabin is narrow so shoulder room is limited, as wide drivers might rub the door panels or console, and tall ones might have trouble finding a suitable position. The headrests sit somewhat forward.
The rear seat can take a third passenger in the center, without argument, for a short trip. The three of them will feel cramped, although the seat slides back a few inches, and that helps.
There’s plenty of storage spots for small items, around the cabin. For larger items, there’s a decent 24.6 cubic feet behind the rear seat, and a healthy 58.9 cubic feet when the rear seats and front seat are folded. The cargo floor is somewhat high.
The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is a Chrysler global engine (called Tigershark), powerful enough for the globe maybe, but with no power to spare. No room for a heavy load. With five occupants and/or a dozen cinderblocks in back, it’s a slug.
For the small fuel cost and extra price, the 3.2-liter V6 with nearly 90 more horsepower is a better call. It’s quick, confident and refined. It does make the Cherokee heavier in front, so it’s less nimble, and that’s a consideration. The V6 might not be the call for rugged duty, like a lot of driving on dirt roads. But it’s the call for sure if we’re talking highway towing.
The 9-speed automatic can be balky, indecisive and late to shift. Sport mode makes it better.
Cherokee behaves okay on the pavement, about average. The steering is crisp and the ride well-damped, but for everyday driving, there are better crossovers.
Off the road, where Jeeps rule, it’s another matter. With an I4 engine and the Active Drive II system, the Cherokee’s backwoods talents are amazing.
A Cherokee Trailhawk can conquer hills like you wouldn’t believe, while continuing safely and very slowly back down, using the hill descent control. With its taller ride height and off-road tires, at low speeds, the Trailhawk absorbs almost everything.
Jeep Cherokee has many faces. We recommend getting all-wheel drive. The V6 is superior for everyday driving, though the four-cylinder offers better handling on unpaved roads. The Trailhawk is best for rugged terrain. The Overland is nicely trimmed, if it’s in the budget. We found the 9-speed automatic unrefined.
Sam Moses contributed to this review, with staff reports.