2020 Jeep Cherokee offers superior off-roading potential

By Russ Heaps
Clanging Bell

(April 7, 2020) When considering the burgeoning field of midsize crossovers, the 2020 Jeep Cherokee stands out for a number of reasons not limited to its impressive towing capability, available off-road prowess and its Top Safety Pick rating from the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Virtually unchanged for 2020, the Cherokee offers three engines, three 4-wheel-drive systems, and new for 2020, the available Advanced Safety Group featuring Lane Departure Warning-Plus, Forward Collision Warning-Plus and rain-sensing wipers. In an early 2020 model-year move, Jeep did eliminate the Overland luxury trim from the grade lineup.

Jeep offers Cherokee in four grades: Latitude ($27,335), Latitude Plus ($29,090), Limited ($33,095), and Trailhawk ($36,250). Trailhawk comes standard with 4WD. You can add 4WD to the Latitude and Latitude Plus for $1,500. Adding it to the Limited will set you back $3,245. Choosing any color, but white will add $245 to the bottom line. All base prices include the $1,495 factory delivery fee. You will find more grades than the official four on Jeep's consumer website. The extra trims are really one of the four actual grades with an option bundle or appearance package already added. Clear as mud, right?

The Latitude, Latitude Plus and Limited come standard with the 180-horsepower 2.4-liter Tigershark 4-cylinder engine, generating 171 lb-ft of peak torque. Optional on those three grades, but standard on Trailhawk and 4WD versions of Limited is a 271-hp 3.2-liter V6 that makes 239 lb-ft of torque. When fitted with the towing package, V6-powered Cherokees can tow up to 4,500 lb. Optional on Latitude Plus, Limited and Trailhawk is the 270-hp 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder capable of producing 295 lb-ft of torque. All three engines deliver output to the wheels via a 9-speed automatic transmission.

Adding 4WD to the Latitude will get you Jeep's Active Drive I, which is a single-speed 4WD system that has a rear-axle disconnect feature that defaults to front-wheel drive unless the system senses front-wheel slippage. It also provides Jeep's Slec-Terrain Traction Management System with four modes: Auto, Snow, Sport and Sand/Mud. If you want 4WD in the Latitude Plus or Limited, you can choose between Active Drive I or the extra-cost Active Drive II. Active Drive II provides all the features of Active Drive I, but adds a 4-Lo gear for more challenging off roading. Trailhawk is Cherokee's primo off-roading grade. As such, it comes standard with Active Drive Lock, which is basically Active Drive II with a mechanical locking rear differential. It also adds Rock mode to the Selec-Terrain choices. This really dials up the off-roading capability. Cherokee Trailhawk is the most off-road worthy among its rivals.

Government-estimated fuel economy is all over the map based on the engine, number of drive wheels and 4WD systems. Estimated mileage for FWD versions with the 2.4L engine is 22 miles per gallon city, 31 mpg highway and 25 mpg combined. With Active Drive I the numbers drop to 21 mpg city/29 mpg highway/24 mpg combined. The V6 with FWD weighs in with 20 mpg city/29 mpg highway/23 mpg combined. With Active Drive I, it's 19 mpg city/27 mpg highway/22 mpg combined. Opting for Active Drive II lowers the mileage to 18 mpg city/26 mpg highway/21 mpg combined. The Trailhawk with its Active Drive Lock delivers 2 mpg less on the highway, but equals Active Drive II in the city and combined measures. The 2.0L turbo delivers the best fuel economy at 23 mpg city/31 mpg highway/26 mpg combined for FWD versions. No matter the 4WD system, the numbers are down by an mpg or two from FWD.

My most recent Cherokee driving experience was a week-long loan of a V6 Trailhawk; although I have driven the other two powertrains, as well. My favorite remains the V6. Its mileage may be a little down from the 2.0L turbo, but I like the way it responds better. And, of course, if towing is among its tasks, the V6 Cherokee simply pulls more. The 9-speed automatic is still a bit slow to downshift when you suddenly put the spurs to it, but all in all, it works pretty well with all three engines. Over the road, Cherokee is quite comfortable, even when packing 4WD. The steering is precise and the handling better than average for the segment.

Inside, Cherokee doesn't offer as much space as most of its rivals, particularly in the cargo hold. There is only 25 cu-ft of space behind the 60/40 split-folding second-row seat. That's about 5 cu-ft less than the Chevrolet Equinox. It does seat five fairly comfortably. Up front, the seats are supportive enough, and the control layout logical and tidy.

Every 2020 Jeep Cherokee comes with Jeep's wonderfully easy-to-use Uconnect 4 infotainment system. Latitude and Latitude Plus get a 7-in touchscreen, while the upper trims get Uconnect 4C with an 8.4-in touchscreen. Upper trims can also add navigation to the mix. A six-speaker audio system is standard on Latitude, Latitude Plus and Trailhawk. A nine-speaker Alpine audio system is optional on Latitude Plus and Trailhawk, but standard on Limited.

Eight air bags are standard on all grades, as are 17-in aluminum wheels, auto on/off LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, hill-start assist, cruise control, remote keyless entry, full power accessories, rearview camera, trailer-sway control, tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, full-length front center console and air conditioning.

Standard on the upper trims and optional on Latitude and Latitude Plus is rear cross-traffic alert. Optional on all grades is the new-for 2020 Advanced Safety Group.

You might wish for somewhat better fuel economy across the engine lineup, but an mpg or two is the trade-off for a crossover with superior off-roading potential. Hey, it's a Jeep. Otherwise, Cherokee holds up well against the rest of the midsize crossover segment.