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2019 Jeep Cherokee: First Drive Review

Life isn’t all rainbows and lollipops when competing in the crowded midsize crossover segment where the refreshed 2019 Jeep Cherokee plies its trade. Despite Jeep being one of the most recognized retail brands of any type in the world, the Jeep Cherokee doesn’t run roughshod over its segment. Yes, it is the most capable off-roader in its class by any measure, but its sales lag behind others like the Honda CR-V and Nissan Rogue. Determined to manhandle the Cherokee up the sales pecking order, Jeep made improvements it hopes will render the Cherokee more attractive to a wider audience.

Although all Jeeps can be capable of great things off road, the lineup is basically divided into two categories: off road and premium. The Wrangler and Renegade represent the off-road side, while the Grand Cherokee and Compass are thought of as more premium. Sort of adrift in the divide is the Cherokee. Neither quite fish nor fowl, it attracts buyers from both sides of the Jeep equation, but it’s not embraced by either. The 2019 refresh is a conscious effort to move the Cherokee more toward the Grand Cherokee.

Having said that, the updated Cherokee is a mountain goat. When appropriately equipped, it can go just about anywhere a motorized vehicle can. So, although Jeep is pushing the Cherokee a bit up market, it still is wildly more capable than its peers. We put it to the test on and off road during its media first drive in Southern California in January. It impressed the daylights out of us.

Put on a Happy Face

There are those of us not exactly in love with the face of the current Cherokee: the squinty snakelike head lamps and the rounded grille for starters. Apparently Jeep also concluded the front end was a bit too removed from the brand’s traditional styling because everything from the A-pillar forward is new for 2019. Not only is the grille toned down, but stylists raised the leading edge of the hood, providing a more upright face. Larger head lamps flank the grille and are perched higher on the vehicle. Every 2019 Cherokee has bi-LED projector headlights standard. Five new wheel designs, including for the first time a 19-inch wheel for the Overland, offer some choice.

A new push-push fuel door simplifies access to the new capless fuel fill feature. Jeep relocated the license plate from the lower fascia to the new lightweight composite lift gate. The available hands-free feature opens the lift gate with a swipe of a foot under the rear bumper. Wrapping into the rear quarter, new LED taillights complete the rear enhancements.

Two new interior themes — one for Latitude/Latitude Plus and another for the Overland — were inspired by Iceland and Marrakesh. A larger center console offers more storage. The available panoramic roof creates the illusion of open air, so much a part of the Jeep experience. Widening the cargo area by 3 inches increased capacity by nearly 10 percent to 27 cu ft. Country clubbers will be happy to learn the extra width means the cargo hold can swallow two sets of golf clubs without dropping the rear seat.

Git ‘Er Done

Not content to simply buff up the wrapper, Jeep did a one-and-a-half gainer under the hood, increasing the Cherokee’s powertrain choices. To pump up the engine lineup, Jeep didn’t grab any old powerplant off the FCA shelf. Nope. It created an all-new turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine. Jeep’s engine gurus gave it the guts to deliver 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of acceleration-making torque, as well as start-stop to increase fuel economy. And, when properly equipped, Cherokees with the 2.0-liter can tow up to 4,000 pounds, yet scamper to 60 miles per hour from a standstill in seven seconds by Jeep’s count!

Making encore performances are the 180-hp 2.4-liter Tigershark 4-cylinder and the 271-hp 3.2-liter V6 engines. All three engines use the same 9-speed automatic transmission to turn the wheels.

Because of powertrain tweaks here and there, as well as the 2019 model being 150 pounds trimmer, the government has yet to release miles per gallon estimates for any of the engines. Jeep expects the 2.4-liter to provide 30 mpg on the highway, while the 3.2-liter should deliver a class V6 best of 29 mpg hwy.

We did some rock crawling in California that would have positively embarrassed many of the Cherokee’s competitors. Traversing the off-road course at the media event required childlike trust in the spotters as we walked our Cherokee over hills of jagged rocks, often seeing nothing more than the top inch or two of the spotter’s index fingers pointing left or right as we stared at the sky through the windshield.

For this sort of X Games adventure, Jeep offers its Active Drive Lock 4×4 system with its locking rear differential. It includes a Power Transfer Unit (PTU) with torque management and low range. 4-Low locks the front and rear driveshafts.

Two more 4-wheel-drive packages round out the off-roading systems. Active Drive I is a transparent automatic all-wheel-drive system that switches in and out of 4WD as needed without driver input. Active Drive II has all the features of Active Drive Lock, but without the rear differential locker. It also offers a neutral mode for towing the Cherokee behind an RV.

All three 4WD systems include Jeep’s Selec-Terrain traction control with settings for Auto, Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud and Rock. It also has Selec-Speed Control, which is something like cruise control for going up and down hills.

Geek Patrol

What would a new, redesigned or refreshed vehicle be without ginning up more gizmos for connectivity and safety? When the 2019 Cherokee goes on sale this spring, it will feature the latest fourth-generation Uconnect infotainment system. Available with either a 7- or 8.4-in touchscreen, it will include a 12-volt power outlet, auxiliary audio input jack and USB port, in addition to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Features come and go as you work your way through the trim levels, but available goodies include satellite radio, hands-free calling and texting, a navigation system and connected services for remotely locking/unlocking and remotely starting the vehicle with a smartphone app, emergency-first responders contact and other features.

Every Cherokee comes with a rearview camera. Available driver-assist/safety technologies include adaptive cruise control, ParkSense, parallel/perpendicular park assist, lane-departure warning, forward-collision warning with braking, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.

Casting Call

Base pricing, including the destination fee, begins at $25,190 for the front-wheel-drive Latitude and peaks out at $37,470 for the Overland. In between are the Latitude Plus ($25,190), the Limited ($31,570) and the off-road-dedicated Trailhawk, only offered with 4WD ($34,515). Roughly 60 percent of Cherokee sales will be 4WD. Adding 4WD to all grades except Trailhawk will increase the bottom line by $1,500.

The Big Finish

There’s no question that the 2019 Jeep Cherokee is still king of the off-road hill among its peers. Whether its freshening earns it a bigger slice of the segment sales pie remains to be seen, but it is an improved vehicle through the effort. It certainly offers more engine and 4WD choices than its competition. In every other respect, it can go toe to toe with the segment leaders.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle’s manufacturer.

 

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