First Drive: 2019 Jeep Cherokee
A half-decade ago, Jeep’s all-new ’14 Cherokee midsize crossover replaced the aging Liberty with a choice of two new engines—a 2.4L “Tigershark” MultiAir2 16-valve four and a 3.2L variant of Chrysler's Pentastar V-6—both driving through a segment-first nine-speed automatic transmission. It marked the rebirth of Jeep's once-vaunted (but unused since ’01) Cherokee nameplate and boasted vastly improved fuel economy, best-in-class off-road capability, more carlike on-road dynamics, and an array of advanced technology features.
It also wore a sleeker, more modern new body that some thought looked great but proved a bit controversial with traditional Jeep customers. But Jeep needed a modern midsize CUV to battle the hot-selling Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester, Mazda CX-5, and so many others, and the Cherokee—partly due to its unmatched off-road capability—has competed well.
Now, five years down the (on- and off-) road, “a stunning, more premium design and the addition of our new fuel-efficient 2.0L turbo engine make the new ’19 Jeep Cherokee even more desirable in the midsize SUV segment,” says Mike Manley, global head of FCA’s Jeep brand. The optional turbocharged, direct-injected 2.0L four pumps out 270 horses and 295 lb-ft of torque, and the somewhat blunter, more “Jeep-like” front end (with full LED lighting) should appeal more to traditional Jeep lovers without detracting from the modern good looks that have helped this Cherokee stand out from its growing phalanx of tough competitors.
The base 2.4L four, now rated at 180 horses and 170 lb-ft, continues, as do the available 271hp, 239–lb-ft 3.2L V-6 (standard in Overland and Trailhawk) and the nine-speed automatic. All three all-aluminum engines now feature Engine Stop-Start (ESS), which shuts them down to save fuel when the vehicle is stopped. The V-6 with an available Trailer Tow Package offers a best-in-class tow rating of 4,500 pounds, versus 4,000 pounds for the 2.0L turbo and 2,000 pounds for the 2.4L.
The ’19 Cherokee is available in five model/trim configurations: Latitude, Latitude Plus, Limited, Overland and the class-leading–capable Trailhawk. In addition to standard front-wheel drive, the ’19 Cherokee offers a choice of three all-wheel-drive systems: the next-generation Jeep Active Drive I, with a lighter and more fuel-efficient rear-drive module; Active Drive II, with a two-speed Power Transfer Unit and a low-range gear; and Active Drive Lock, which adds a mechanically locking rear differential and is standard on Trailhawk. All three systems come with Selec-Terrain traction control with five modes: Auto, Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud, and Rock.
Beyond the frontal facelift, its new exterior features include a lightweight aluminum hood, a signature red LED light strip that wraps the rear lights, a capless fuel filler, a new lightweight composite liftgate with an integrated lightbar and available hands-free operation activated by kicking a foot under the bumper, and five new wheels up to big 19-inchers. The Trailhawk is distinguished by its more aggressive front fascia, higher fender flares, increased approach and departure angles and ride height, an “anti-glare” hood decal, standard red tow hooks, protective underbody steel skidplates, a “Trail Rated” badge, and dedicated 17-inch wheels with off-road tires.
The updated cabin boasts higher-quality materials and craftsmanship, such as high-gloss piano-black trim with satin-chrome accents, and more than 80 available safety and security features that include eight standard airbags. The new center console’s media-center hub has moved rearward to create more space for phones and other devices next to the USB port. The premium cloth or Nappa leather-trimmed seats are available with power, memory, and heating/ventilation, and the available 60/40 split second-row seats adjust fore/aft to optimize either passenger or cargo room. The rear cabin is more than 3 inches wider than before, increasing cargo capacity to 27 cubic feet (including underfloor storage) behind the rear seat, and a wider rear opening eases loading of golf bags and other long items.
Fourth-generation Uconnect infotainment/connectivity systems come with 7.0- or 8.4-inch touchscreens (the latter with available navigation) with large icons and a customizable memo bar. Standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility and available SiriusXM Radio, Travel Link, Traffic, and SiriusXM Guardian connected services provide real-time information and a variety of entertainment options. A smartphone app enables remotely locking or unlocking the doors and starting the engine from almost anywhere, and SOS and Assist buttons on the rearview mirror can summon help in case of emergency.
A reconfigurable TFT LED instrument cluster (3.5-inch grayscale or 7-inch color) displays both basic and selectable information, including speed, fuel economy, audio, safety warnings, and available features such as turn-by-turn navigation, Adaptive Cruise Control-Plus, ParkSense Parallel/Perpendicular Park Assist, and Selec-Terrain information.
We tested a midrange Latitude Plus 4x4 with the 2.0L turbocharged engine, Active Drive I, and nice cloth trim mostly on twisty two-lane mountain roads and found it surprisingly quick and fun to drive. The steering was crisp, the brakes strong and fade-free, and we noticed no shift issues or indecision with the updated nine-speed automatic—an improvement, given the current gearbox’s propensity to hunt and slam into gear. We also appreciated the Cherokee’s intuitive, easy-to-use Uconnect infotainment system as among the industry’s best.
Then we took on a very challenging off-road course with large rocks, deep sand, and steep sideways grades in a 2.0L Trailhawk and found its capabilities as impressive as advertised. Especially noteworthy were the 4x4 system’s speed control and traction aids, the generous ground clearance and approach and departure angles, and the skidplates that protected its underside from bumps and bruises when necessary.
Prices start at $23,995 for the base 4x2 Latitude and accelerate to $33,320 for the Trailhawk and $36,275 for the top-level Overland. Active Drive I adds $1,500 and the turbo four $500.
2019 Jeep CherokeeVehicle type: Five-passenger, two-row, midsize CUV
Base price: $23,995
Price as tested: $33,720
Engines: 2.4L I-4, 3.2L V-6, 2.0L turbocharged I-4
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Horsepower: 2.4L, 180 @ 6,400 rpm; 3.2L, 271 @ 6,500 rpm; 2.0L, 270 @ 5,250 rpm
Torque (lb-ft): 2.4L, 171 @ 4,600 rpm; 3.2L, 239 @ 4,400 rpm; 2.0L, 295 @ 3,000-4,500rpm
Curb weight 3,655-4,108 pounds
Towing capacity: 2,000-4,500 pounds
EPA mileage rating (FWD): 2.4L – 22 city, 31 hwy, 25 comb; 3.2L – 20 city, 29 hwy, 23 comb; 2.0L – 23 city, 31 hwy, 26 comb