Everyone knows what the Jeep brand stands for: tough, capable off-roading capability that’s tough. And poor reliability. But definitely tough at going over rocks and through mud. Like the Wrangler, with its roots as a go-anywhere military vehicle that could take on the battlefield and come out dirty and beat-up but smoking a cigarette and cracking jokes.
Between the chrome accents and rich Velvet Red Pearl paint, it plays the part of baby Grand Cherokee to perfection.
But over the past couple years, er, decades, a new side to the Jeep brand has emerged, the Grand Cherokee wrapping that superior capability in luxury and comfort and creeping upmarket with every new generation. Now the Grand Cherokee is surrounded by several models that offer a similarly “civilized” driving experience and accommodations with varying levels of that rough-and-tumble capability in select Trailhawk models. The latest addition is the redesigned 2019 Jeep Cherokee with fresh new looks, a new powertrain option, and updated tech and practicality.
Although the Liberty, Patriot, and Compass met with modest success for brief periods, none of them had the kind of instant and sustained popularity that the reborn Cherokee has had since being launched in 2013. It has been Jeep’s bestseller here in Canada for three years, running neck-and-neck with the Grand Cherokee and Wrangler for top spot in the US since its first full year in 2014.
All this despite styling that was polarizing, shocking, and derided by many, myself included. The first time I saw it, I thought it was the ugliest thing since the Juke, but gradually I started to warm up to it, and eventually I came to appreciate its unique look – if nothing else it stood out with its signature seven-slot grille and hyper-modern lighting elements. Well, say goodbye to the challenging split lights, because the 2019 Jeep Cherokee arrives with a much more conventional front end, trading in its distinctiveness and boldness for a mild, handsome look that might not catch your eye, but probably also won’t offend. And like the Jeep that it is, it goes from tough, high-riding SUV look to even tougher off-road-ready look in Trailhawk trim.
But the Trailhawk was not for us to sample, and instead we spent a week in a Limited 4x4, and between the chrome accents and rich Velvet Red Pearl paint, it plays the part of baby Grand Cherokee to perfection without being a copycat.
Stepping inside and it’s another story, the Cherokee nowhere near as grand as Jeep’s largest, priciest model. The Cherokee is a model of functionality when everything is working, although that is not always guaranteed. Granted, this was the first time over dozens of FCA vehicle loans that Uconnect failed to launch, and it only lasted one morning, so it was a minor blemish on what is still one of my favourite systems. With a reconfigurable home screen, clear icons, and quick responses, Uconnect continues to impress with just how easy it is to live with. Pair that with volume and tuning controls on the back of the steering wheel at the absolute best ergonomic positions and it’s a winner.
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Unfortunately, the controls and layout surrounding the Uconnect screen were less impressive, the plastics feeling second-rate and the whole design looking very basic and giving off a rental-fleet vibe. The big dials and buttons will work well with gloves on, but it just looks so basic that it doesn’t live up to the $47K price tag our tester came with. Even at that price, certain features that are trickling down to this segment were missing from its option list, lacking adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, head-up display, and wireless charging. In the plus column, it did have cooled seats, adjustable rear seats, hands-free power liftgate, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, and the Nappa leather was convincing.
While the buttons and centre stack fell short, the seats were more in line with what I would expect, leather thrones with ample space and support in a light cream leather, power-adjustable in all the essential ways and heated and cooled for year-round climate control for your derrière.
The back seats were similarly accommodating, with good headroom and legroom, except for the middle seat, and they split 60/40 and fold to open up 1,555 litres of carrying capacity from 730 L in the trunk. That cargo capacity trails compact crossover leaders like the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, and Toyota RAV4, closer to smaller runabouts like the Honda HR-V and Subaru Crosstrek than those mega-compacts. At least it offers a reasonable 1,800 kg (4,000 lb) tow rating when the 2.0L turbo is equipped with the Trailering package, and the 3.2-litre V6 bumps that up to 2,041 kg (4,500 lb), also including heavy-duty engine cooling and four- and seven-pin wiring harness hookups.
Although the V6 does have the higher tow rating, the 2.0L turbo might be the one to get, with a helpful heaping of 295 lb-ft of torque from 3,000 to 4,000 rpm that really puts the spring in the Cherokee’s step, and 270 hp at 5,250 rpm also topping the 3.2L V6’s 271 hp at 6,500 rpm and 239 lb-ft at 4,400 rpm. The Pentastar V6 is a smooth engine and a favourite of ours in so many applications, and while the 2.0L turbo doesn’t sound as refined, it feels every bit as strong, and its 9.8 L/100 km combined (based on 11.2 city, and 8.0 highway) is a decent improvement over the V6’s 10.6 L/100 km combined (12.2 city, 8.6 highway for the V6 4x4), and in my week with it, we actually landed at a fair 10.7 L/100 km.
Another area where the Jeep Cherokee loses ground to its rivals is its road manners. With a reputation of off-road capability to uphold, the Trailhawk’s 8.7 inches (221.6 mm) represents the maximum off-roading capability in the Jeep Cherokee lineup, but even this Limited 4x4 was a tall-riding SUV, with quite a step up to get into, and the driving downsides that brings into play. The Cherokee exhibits more body roll in turns and more dive during braking compared to leading competitors, and with a short 2,700 mm wheelbase, it always seems to be moving this way or that, magnifying all the various bumps and undulations in the road, and even on the highway it tends to jiggle around a bit. Unfortunately, the nine-speed transmission also plays a part, sometimes misjudging and downshifting when not necessary, and other times just slow or clunky changing gears.
It’s not uncomfortable, because the suspension is soft and cushions any impacts, important for life off the beaten path, but it can be tiring when driving poorly maintained roads for long periods, a setting that will be far more common for this rig than blazing trails in the bush.
However, parking and maneuvering around parking lots at your destination is on par with any rivals, the back-up camera, parking sensors, and rear cross-traffic alert more than making up for challenging visibility out to the rear.
Overall, the 2019 Jeep Cherokee was a disappointment, and I swear it’s not just because I wasn’t in the badass Trailhawk model. Well, actually, maybe it is. In the Trailhawk model, so many more of the Cherokee’s flaws are forgivable and understandable with its maximum capability. But in the Limited 4x4, the Jeep Cherokee is competing with top trims of the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, and Hyundai Tucson, which are all more refined, more efficient, more spacious, with more features for less money. This leaves the Jeep Cherokee as the choice for those devoted to the brand, who want a small SUV with some good towing or intermediate rough-road capability and are willing to pay for it, though zero-percent financing and thousands of dollars of incentives make it far more palatable than its MSRP and as-tested price would suggest.
|2019 Jeep Cherokee Limited 4x4|
|Engine Displacement: 2.0L|
|Engine Cylinders: I4|
|Peak Horsepower: 270 hp|
|Peak Torque: 295 lb-ft|
|Fuel Economy: 11.2/8.0/9.8 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space: 730/1,555 L seats down|
|2019 Jeep Cherokee Limited 4x4|
|Base Price $40,495|
|A/C Tax $100|
|Destination Fee $1,895|
|Price as Tested $47,640|
|Optional Equipment $5,150 – Velvet Red Pearl $100; SafetyTec Group $895; Luxury Group $1,295; Trailer Tow Group $495; 2.0L Turbo $995; Alpine audio upgrade (9 Speakers w/subwoofer) $450; Connect 4C Nav 8.4 $920|