The Jeep Cherokee nameplate is one of the company’s better known. When Jeep brought the name back in 2013 with the KL model, it came with polarizing styling, mostly because the headlights were moved below the driving lights. Despite its unconventional look, the Jeep Cherokee sold well. Last year, Jeep sold about 170,000 Cherokees, which isn’t class leading but certainly commendable. Still, Jeep chose to revert back to more conventional styling for 2019 to gain even more customers in the seemingly ever-growing crossover segment.
We were given the opportunity to drive the new 2019 Jeep Cherokee in California, and we spent a day piloting it along twisty roads and through an off-road course Jeep had actually carved into the side of a mountain. Here are our first impressions of the 2019 Jeep Cherokee.
What the Cherokee Has Become
The move to adjust the design and styling of the vehicle came from the feedback Jeep received from critics and customers. The changes to the exterior are noticeable, especially the headlights and the redesigned fascia, but overall the model looks pretty similar. We were told this was done to make the crossover appeal to both people who liked the polarizing styling of the previous Cherokee and entice new customers. It fits in better with the rest of Jeep’s lineup and is one of the more handsome crossovers out there, but if you’re a fan of the old XJ Cherokees of the 1990s you’re still not going to be impressed.
Available in five trim levels (Latitude, Latitude Plus, Limited, Overland, and Trailhawk) the Cherokee features an all-new design in front of the A-pillars, a larger cargo space (just over 27 cubic feet), a redesigned rear, updated infotainment system, and a new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. Jeep also managed to cut away 150 lbs from the previous model through the use of a shorter front end, more aluminum body panels, and lighter-weight components throughout the vehicle.
The engine lineup for the Cherokee now goes as follows: 2.4-liter four-cylinder (180 hp 170 lb-ft of torque), 3.2-liter V6 (271 hp 239 lb-ft of torque), and the new 2.0-liter turbocharged engine (270 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque). All engines come with start-stop technology standard and a nine-speed automatic transmission. The 2.4-liter is available on Latitude, Latitude Plus and Limited (4X2). The 3.2-liter is available as optional or standard across the lineup depending on the trim level, and the 2.0-liter is available in every trim but the base model.
The Cherokee comes in front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. Jeep offers three different four-wheel-drive systems: Active Drive I, Active Drive II, and Active Drive Lock. Active Drive I is the most simple. Active Drive II offers two-speed PTU and low-range gear reduction. If you’re serious about off-roading, Active Drive Lock offers two-speed PTU, low-range gearing, and a mechanically locking rear differential (Trailhawk trim level only).
Improved Interior to Accompany the New Face
The new exterior design is the big news for the model, but Jeep made improvements to the inside of the vehicle, too. The first thing you notice is the updated Uconnect infotainment system with either a 7.0-inch screen or an 8.4-inch screen. The new system is faster and smoother and offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard equipment.
The safety systems have been improved, too, offering available adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, electronic stability control and roll mitigation, full-speed forward collision warning with crash mitigation technology, lane departure warning, and a rearview camera with parking sensors. In total, the Cherokee has over 80 active and passive safety and security features, putting it right on par with the toughest in its class.
Aside from that, the interior is ergonomically well laid out. There are a couple different slots for your phone and two USB ports up front. The seats are comfortable, offering good support even for long trips behind the wheel. Even in the base trim level, we were pretty impressed with the quality of materials in the cabin. If you step up to the Limited or Overland trim levels you get soft leather and improved trim materials. Overall it’s just a nice place to be.
It’s Soft and Smooth On-Road, Tough and Capable Off-Road
The first Cherokee we drove was the Latitude trim level (4X4) with the base 2.4-liter engine. Jeep claims the 2.4-liter underwent improvements for the 2019 model year, but we found acceleration lackluster. It feels a little underpowered and a fair amount of noise makes it into the otherwise quiet cabin.
The 2.0-liter engine is punchy and strong. It transforms the Cherokee on the road into a true contender in the segment. The turbo kicks in fairly low in the rev range and there’s plenty of power at both low speed and high. We only drove the 3.2-liter V6 for a short period of time, but it seemed linear and smooth. The 2.0-liter turbo is probably the most enjoyable engine of the lineup. But if you have a trailer, you get the best towing rating of 4,500 lbs with the V6 engine, which is best in class.
Steering and handling are good, but not on par with some of the other street-focused crossovers. The Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5 would leave the Cherokee behind on a twisty road. The model lacks steering feel and there’s a fair amount of body roll. Jeep talked up the tires in the press briefing, but we noticed them singing whenever you pushed the vehicle anywhere near its limits.
Off-road, the model shines. We only drove the "Trail Rated" Trailhawk in real off-road conditions. It seemed to confirm Jeep’s claim that the Cherokee is the most capable in its class. We drove over boulders, up steep dusty inclines, and through ditches dug by the Jeep team. The Cherokee handled all the obstacles with ease. We never even really felt that the model strained to complete the task. The Trailhawk is supposed to comprise about 15 percent of all Cherokee sales, and we’re pretty confident it will be able to handle what 90 percent of customers will throw at it. The other trim levels feature competent 4x4 systems and their limiting factor will likely be approach and departure angles and the lack of a locking rear differential.
The Cherokee Trailhawk comes with hill descent control and
An Evolution and an Improvement
Rather than reinvent the wheel with the 2019 Cherokee, Jeep decided to build on its success. The model is better looking, faster, lighter, and just as capable off-road as ever. The Cherokee still has a lot of tough sales competition in the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5, and Ford Escape, but the improvements to the 2019 model, inch it closer to the top half of the segment.
If you want a crossover of this size and want serious off-road capability, there’s basically no other option, unless you want a different Jeep product like the Grand Cherokee. Off the beaten path is where this model truly shines. We see Jeep’s biggest selling point being its reputation as a brand for people who like to adventure and go off the beaten path. This is a theme that other brands have picked up on, but Jeep is the best fit for this type of marketing. While most buyers of the Cherokee won’t ever do much true off-roading, they like knowing they could, and maybe that’s enough to make this model an even bigger success.