Jeep Cherokee — An off-road champion

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

It must be frustrating for people who have decided to purchase their first compact crossover when they discover the plethora of vehicles in the segment. Price, performance, tech and safety features, expert ratings, passenger and cargo room, reliability, resale value, and overall styling must all be taken into consideration.

If key concerns include winter weather performance and off-road capability it considerably narrows the field. And one of the obvious choices is the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk 4X4. This is, indeed, a good go-anywhere compact SUV that will fill the bill not only for venturing far off-road or tackling a severe winter storm, but for its many creature comforts, safety features and cutting-edge technology.

The Trailhawk comes with an advanced all-wheel-drive system (Active Drive II with Active Drive Lock), wider 17-inch wheels with all-terrain tires, increased ground clearance, off-road-oriented suspension tuning, a locking rear differential, hill ascent and decent control, skid plates, tow hooks, unique exterior trim and unique cloth and leather upholstery. The Cherokee also features a 4,500-pound towing capacity with the V-6 engine as well as the all-new four-cylinder turbocharged engine.

Our test vehicle was the new-for-2019 Trailhawk Elite, which means it gets the $3,195 Elite package that packs in such amenities as a power liftgate, power heated and ventilated front seats, an upgraded 10-speaker audio system, an 8.4-inch touchscreen, leather upholstery, a heated steering wheel, remote start, and second row fore and aft adjustable seats.

The 2019 changes increased the exterior appeal of the Cherokee, which was introduced in 2014, by redesigning the front end with a new front fascia and hood, altering the shape and enlarging the LED headlamps, and streamlining the Jeep waterfall grille design. New wheel designs have also been added and the rear end benefits from a few tweaks and a lighter-weight liftgate.

Inside, Jeep has added some nice interior upgrades including a storage bin for phones in the center console, and a new available high gloss piano black complemented by satin chrome accents around the radio, air vents and gear shifter bezels. Also, cargo storage space gets a needed four more cubic feet.

Perhaps the biggest change comes under the hood with a new top engine — a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 270 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, which is a whopping 56 more pound-feet than the carryover 3.2-liter V-6. The V-6 makes 271 horsepower and 239 pound-feet of torque. The base engine continues to be a 2.4-liter four-cylinder making 180 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque.

Both the V-6 and turbo four have adequate acceleration for hauling, merging and passing. The V-6 has been measured from 0-to-60 in around 7 seconds, and the new engine is slightly faster with a time of 6.6 seconds as measured by a national magazine. Both engines are paired with FCA's 9-speed automatic transmission.

Gas mileage has been slightly improved with the V-6, but it's still below average for 4-wheel drive compacts at 18 mpg city, 24 highway and 21 combined on regular gas. By comparison the new turbocharged engine in 4X4 configuration is a mileage champ rated at 21 city, 29 highway and 24 combined on regular gas.

Even with its considerable off-road credentials, the Jeep's highway ride is commendably pleasing. The electric power steering provides solid feedback and the front independent suspension and rear multilink setup keeps the Cherokee firmly planted with limited body roll through the twists and turns. And the Cherokee is remarkably quiet at all speeds. On the downside, the Jeep is not quite as sporty as some crossovers including the new Ford Escape and the Mazda CX-5 — not as adept at handling the curving back roads at elevated speeds.

Even with the addition of a few cubic feet of storage for 2019, the Cherokee still has one of the smallest cargo capabilities in the compact segment with 24.6 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 54.9 cubic feet with all seats folded.

The Cherokee comes in five trim levels — Latitude, Latitude Plus, Limited, off-road Trailhawk, and Overland starting at $26,540 for the front-drive Latitude. For those who desire some of the good stuff, but are on a budget, it's possible for $3,345 more — $29,850 — to purchase the Latitude Plus with the Convenience Package.

Adding the V-6 engine is a $1,745 option and adding the new turbocharged engine costs $2,245. Four-wheel drive is available on all trim levels for $1,500.

The Cherokee tops out with the Overland 4WD at $39,990. The bottom line price on our Cherokee Trailhawk Elite with Technology, Trailer Tow and Navigation packages came to $43,670.

Base price: $26,540, as driven, $43,670.
Engine: 3.2-liter V-6
Horsepower: 271 @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 239 foot-pounds @ 4,400 rpm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Drive: four-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 106.6 inches
Length: 182.0 inches
Curb weight: 3,953 pounds
Turning circle: 37.7 feet
Towing capacity: 4,500 pounds
Luggage capacity: 24.6 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 54.9 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 15.8 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 18 city, 24 highway, 21 combined
0-60: 7 seconds (estimated)

The Good
• Extremely off-road capable
• User friendly 8.4-inch touchscreen
• New fuel-efficient turbo 4

The Bad
• Poor acceleration with base engine

The Ugly
• Cargo-capacity challenged