Jeep’s compact Liberty went from box to “what the fox?” in 2014 when this brand revived the Cherokee nameplate and attached it to some pretty weird metal. For 2019, Jeep has smoothed out the Cherokee’s lines to give its front end a more conventional appearance.
This most refined small Jeep also gets a new engine option in a 2.0L turbo four-cylinder borrowed from the new Wrangler off-roader, tuned here for 270 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. That actually makes it more powerful than the 3.2L V6 that carries over with its 271 hp and 239 lb-ft. Also brought forward from the 2018 model is a 2.4L four-cylinder that makes 184 hp and 171 lb-ft.
The Cherokee’s entry-level, fully-automatic Active Drive I four-wheel drive setup has been revised to cut weight by about 7.5 kg and reduce fuel consumption.
The Active Drive II system is more sophisticated, adding low-range gearing and a one-inch suspension lift for extra ground clearance. The Trailhawk adds to this a locking rear differential.
Let’s be clear that this is not a new generation of Cherokee, just a refresh. The interior benefits from some new materials but largely looks the same, while Jeep found a way to make the cargo area wider, adding 67L of volume for a new total of 764L.
Cherokee was one of the vehicles that kicked off the compact SUV craze decades ago, but while it has retained some of the off-road ability those classic models were known for, this one was also conceived to compete for buyers with vehicles like the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape. It’s a fairly refined machine, its optional V6 known for strong performance and reasonable fuel economy.
The V6 is still around, by the way, because for engineering reasons beyond our ken, it’s better for towing and allows a 2,041-kg trailering capacity. Other changes include an aluminum hood and a composite tailgate to help save weight; the tailgate gets a hands-free option for the first time.
Inside, Cherokee models with the available 7.0- and 8.4-inch Uconnect infotainment touchscreens add Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality.
Cherokee’s trim selection is similar to last year’s, offering Sport, North and Limited models for mainstream buyers, an Overland configuration to appeal to luxury-oriented buyers and the Trailhawk, which boasts a significant upgrade in off-road ability.