The 2018 Jeep Cherokee appears to have everything it needs to attract buyers of compact crossovers. These attributes include distinctive styling, a refined ride, a handsome cabin and relatively remarkable off-road talent.
It’s also among the best of the reasonably priced contenders out there, while still offering technology like adaptive cruise control and parking assistance. And space for rear passengers is good — the seats are comfortable, and they slide forward and back and recline by a few degrees.
Shoppers really should take this compact SUV for a spin.
What’s New for 2018?
The previous entry-level Sport trim has been discontinued. So the Latitude (which used to be one up from the Sport) is now the base model, while a new Latitude Plus trim comes in just above it. This means the amount of standard equipment has gone up, but there’s also been a revision of standard and optional features.
What We Like
Daring design; comfortable and quiet ride; excellent Uconnect 8.4-inch touchscreen; high-quality interior; real off-road capability; refined V6
What We Don’t
Steering wheel may not tilt low enough for some; somewhat quirky 9-speed automatic transmission; so-so 4-cylinder engine; unimpressive cargo space
The basic engine is a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder unit making 184 horsepower and 171 lb-ft of torque. An optional 3.2-liter V6 develops 271 hp and 239 lb-ft. Both engines are paired with a 9-speed automatic transmission.
With the combination of 4-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) puts consumption at 21 miles per gallon in the city, 30 mpg on the highway and 25 mpg in combined driving. All-wheel drive moves the meter to 21 mpg city/28 mpg hwy/23 mpg combined.
Once the V6 comes into play, the EPA’s figures are 21 mpg city/29 mpg hwy/24 mpg combined with front-wheel drive and 20 mpg city/27 mpg hwy/23 mpg combined with all-wheel drive.
Opting for Active Drive II with low-range gearing (see below) yields 21 mpg city/27 mpg hwy/23 mpg combined (19 mpg city/25 mpg hwy/22 mpg combined with the differential locked) for the 4-cylinder engine and 18 mpg city/26 mpg hwy/21 mpg combined (18 mpg city/24 mpg hwy/21 mpg combined with the differential locked) for the V6.
Standard Features & Options
The 2018 Jeep Cherokee is offered in Latitude, Latitude Plus, Limited, Trailhawk and Overland trims. All Cherokees except the Trailhawk come with front-wheel drive as standard, offering all-wheel drive (Active Drive I) as an option. Latitude Plus, Limited and Overland models with all-wheel drive are eligible for the Active Drive II upgrade, which adds low-range gearing and an off-road suspension. The Trailhawk comes standard with a special version of Active Drive II that includes a locking rear differential.
The Latitude ($25,490) comes with 17-in aluminum wheels, high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights, fog lights, LED daytime running lights and taillights, roof rails, hill-start assist, height-adjustable front seats, a tilt-telescopic steering wheel, cruise control, a rear wiper, a rearview camera, trailer sway control, Bluetooth connectivity, a 5-in touchscreen display and a 6-speaker audio system with an SD card reader, USB charging port and auxiliary input jack. This trim level is eligible for a new Tech Connect package that includes Uconnect with an 8.4-in screen, satellite radio and an Amazon Alexa device.
The Latitude Plus ($27,390) has the Uconnect infotainment system with 8.4-in touchscreen as standard (including Amazon Alexa compatibility), plus satellite radio, a fold-flat front passenger seat with integrated cushion storage, keyless entry with push-button start, a 115-volt auxiliary power outlet, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with auxiliary audio controls, and cloth/leather seating surfaces.
The Limited ($30,890) adds 18-in aluminum wheels, leather upholstery, a power-adjustable driver’s seat (the passenger seat remains manual), a 7-in driver information display, dual-zone automatic climate control, a self-dimming rearview mirror with a universal garage door opener, a heated steering wheel, a leather-wrapped shift knob, USB connectivity and remote start. For 2018, it also receives a power lift gate, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-path detection, and rear parking sensors.
The Trailhawk ($32,090) loses the Limited’s standard power driver’s seat (it’s an extra-cost option) and a few other convenience items, but gains a more sophisticated all-wheel-drive system, its own design of 17-in alloy wheels, skid plates, an off-road suspension with a 1-in lift (raising ground clearance to a useful 8.7 inches), front and rear tow hooks, flared fenders and sporty cloth/vinyl/leather upholstery (leather is optional). It also gets blind spot monitoring with rear cross-path detection for 2018, plus dual-zone automatic climate control and rear parking sensors.
The lavish Overland ($35,190) features body-colored fascias and side cladding, 18-in polished alloy wheels, powered driver and front passenger seats that are also heated and ventilated (memory with the driver’s seat), a steering wheel with wood trim, a leather-wrapped instrument panel, Berber mats, an upgraded audio system and navigation. All-wheel-drive versions of the Overland have the V6 engine as standard.
Some of the higher trims’ standard features are optional in the lower levels. The Technology Group package (Limited, Overland and Trailhawk only) brings adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, a forward-collision warning system with automatic braking, lane-departure warning and parallel/perpendicular parking assist. There’s also a lesser Safety Tec package consisting of the blind spot monitoring system, rear cross-path detection, rear parking sensors and heated side mirrors.
When properly equipped, a V6-powered Cherokee can tow a maximum of 4,500 pounds. With the rear seats up, cargo space is 24.6 cu ft., about 5 cu ft. short of average. With the rears folded down, it’s still only 54.9 cu ft.; many rivals have at least 10 cu ft. more.
The Cherokee comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel antilock disc brakes and nine airbags (front, front side, front passenger knee, rear side and full-length side curtain). A rearview camera is standard in every trim.
Safety technology options include a forward-collision mitigation system that monitors traffic ahead and can brake to a complete stop should an impact be considered imminent.
The Cherokee received four stars overall in government crash testing, four stars for front impacts and five stars for side impacts. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the Cherokee its top rating of Good in most categories, except for the small-overlap frontal-offset test, where it took a second-worst (out of four grades) score of Marginal.
Behind the Wheel
First impression: great cabin materials. Plenty of soft-touch surfaces. The overall look is one of quality and sophistication, particularly with the attractive and easy-to-use Uconnect 8.4-in touchscreen. The steering wheel, however, has a rather steep upward tilt, even at the lowest setting. Buyers should make sure they can find a comfortable driving position.
The standard 4-cylinder engine is adequate, but it runs out of energy at highway speeds and tends to drone at higher revs. The 3.2-liter V6 brings extra punch without drinking too much gas; it also has a stop/start function. The 9-speed automatic transmission rarely makes its presence felt. But when asked for full power in a passing situation, it sometimes hesitates before finding the right gear.
Jeep claims the Cherokee Trailhawk negotiated the famed and daunting Rubicon Trail, which we have no reason to doubt. This is a highly capable vehicle over the dirt. Realistically, though, the vast majority of Cherokees will keep to the tarmac. Luckily, on-road behavior is just as impressive. Road noise is less prominent than this segment’s norm, and the ride remains smooth, even on rutted roads. The handling is safe and secure, thanks to a car-based platform.
Other Cars to Consider
2018 Ford Escape — No Jeep-like off-roading chops, but an excellent drive on the roads, and with generous equipment levels.
2018 Honda CR-V — A best-seller. Highly capable at most things the vast majority of buyers ask of it.
2018 Kia Sportage — Instead of a V6, the Sportage offers a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder unit with 240 hp. Well-priced and well-equipped.
2018 Subaru Forester — One of the few rivals that can go up against the Cherokee off the road as well as on. All-wheel drive is standard.
2018 Toyota RAV4 — This and the CR-V are the Big Two among compact crossovers. Again, not built for the wilderness, but exceptionally pleasant and competitively priced.
Used Jeep Grand Cherokee — As a true SUV, the Grand Cherokee is an excellent choice. Depreciation brings lightly used examples into the Cherokee’s pricing ballpark.
Assuming the specialist Trailhawk model has its own kind of buyer, the Limited is a great choice if the budget is there. Alternatively, look at a Latitude Plus and select as many safety options as possible.