Jeep's hot-selling Cherokee gets a makeover for 2019.
Despite what this author will politely describe as polarizing exterior styling, Jeep hasn't had much trouble selling the current version of its Cherokee SUV. Even with its un-Jeep-like looks, sales of the Cherokee are up 23 percent so far this year. That stat is even more impressive when you consider the current Cherokee is now four-years old, which is the back nine in terms of vehicle life-cycles.
But Jeep obviously feels that the Cherokee's, um, unique looks are still holding back a few sales. To that end Jeep has treated the Cherokee to a 2019 refresh that most notably includes more conventional front-end styling. And to further bolster the appeal of the 2019 Cherokee, Jeep has also included an available turbocharged engine and a new infotainment system. So has Jeep made a better Cherokee for 2019? Come with us as we find out.
What is it?
The 2019 Jeep Cherokee is a small-ish SUV that slots between the larger Grand Cherokee and the smaller Compass. This generation of Cherokee was first introduced in 2014, and the 2019 model year marks the nameplate's first major overhaul since then.
Unlike most SUVs in its class, the Cherokee was actually design with off-road work in mind. The Cherokee boasts almost 7-inches of suspension travel in the front and nearly 8-inches out back, providing the kind of articulation needed for off-roading. Jeep also offers the Cherokee with three different 4x4 systems, the most of extreme of which includes a low-range and a locking rear differential.
The 2019 Cherokee is now available with three different engines — a 2.4L naturally-aspirated four-cylinder, a 3.2L V6 and a new 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder. The latter is essentially the same engine used in the Alfa Romeo Giulia and Stelvio. All engines come mated to a nine-speed automatic.
What's it up against?
The 2019 Jeep Cherokee competes in the hotly contested small SUV market — arguably the most competitive in the entire industry. Buyers contemplating the Cherokee will likely cross-shop vehicles like the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape and Subaru Forester, among many others.
How does it look?
Thankfully, much better than it did. Jeep has mercifully euthanized the angry insect from space that was the Cherokee, replacing it with a much more conventional look — just a pair of normal headlights where you'd expect them and fog lights set lower in the bumper. The Cherokee's waterfall grille did, however, manage to secure a stay of execution.
In profile, not a whole lot has changed for 2019, although Jeep claims the sides of the Cherokee feature "re-sculpted design cues, creating a more harmonic flow to the rear of the vehicle." We'll let you be the judge.
Around back you'll find new-look taillights and a rear tailgate that has been reshaped to accommodate the license plate cutout — previously the license plate was located on the Cherokee's lower bumper.
On the whole the 2019 Cherokee looks better, but it's not exactly what we'd call a looker. It's a real shame that Jeep went away from the traditional, boxy styling of the past two Cherokees. Given how little this Cherokee has in common with those vehicles, retaining the Liberty nameplate might have made more sense.
And the inside?
The Cherokee doesn't have the most aesthetically pleasing interior design, but it is highly functional. That starts with the Cherokee's infotainment system, which runs the latest version of Chrysler's Uconnect. That means the Cherokee is also Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatible. We found the larger 8.4-inch screen in or test car to be responsive with good resolution.
Below that big screen you'll find easy-to-use climate controls. Buttons are generously sized and the fan speed knob is nice and chunky — these controls should be easy to use even if you're wearing gloves. Controls for things like the heated seats, heated steering wheel and vent selection are in the infotainment system, which is less than ideal, but not a deal breaker. We'd just rather have physical controls for those features.
The Cherokee's gauge cluster features another high-resolution screen that's fully configurable. It's flanked by a pair of cool looking analog dials that are unfortunately the only old-school design touch in the Cherokee's interior. Jeep does a really good job of playing up the heritage thing with the Wrangler, and we wish they'd done the same with the Cherokee.
The Cherokee's center console has been redesigned for more storage, with a cubby hole now located just under the center stack. It's deep but not very wide, so its use is pretty much limited to cell phone storage.
Our Limited test car was fitted with Jeep's Active Drive I 4x4 system, which is the most road-focused of the three system on offer. It's a fairly conventional system without a low-range, and will be perfectly suitable for the vast majority of Cherokee drivers. Even though Active Drive I is the most basic 4x4 system offered in the Cherokee, it does offer a few drive modes, including snow, sport and sand/mud.
Materials are generally nice throughout the Cherokee's cabin — door tops and the dash are soft touch, and there's even some nice looking stitching adorning the top of the dashboard. There's still some cheap-feeling stuff, however, on the underside of the dash, but that's not totally out of step with this segment of vehicle.
The Cherokee's front seats proved surprisingly comfortable during our week-long review. They're cushy but still provide plenty of leg and back support. Even the leather is soft and luxurious feeling. Space is also plentiful for front seat occupants.
Rear seat passengers suffer a bit on the headroom front thanks to the Cherokee's sloping roofline (and our car's panoramic sunroof didn't help things), but there's plenty of legroom. If you're planning on using the Cherokee for a family vehicle, there's plenty of room in the second row for kiddos.
For the 2019 redesign Jeep managed to find three extra inches of width in the Cherokee's cargo area, netting over 27 cubic feet of storage space. While that should be more than enough room for the average person, that's significantly smaller than the cargo areas of the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. The Cherokee has a pretty high load floor, which not only eats up some room, but can make it difficult to load heavier object.
But does it go?
Off the line, the Cherokee's new 2.0L turbo-four offers good punch. It doesn't feel quite as strong as its power ratings would suggest, but it has no trouble keeping up stop-and-go-traffic or zipping up onramps to highway speeds. And unlike the Alfa Romeo Stelvio we recently drove (which uses the same basic motor), we didn't get any sense of turbo lag.
That's not to say the Cherokee's drivetrain isn't without issue, though. The Cherokee's nine-speed auto is easily the weak link. It's slow to react and almost totally unwilling to drop a few gears to summon more power. It's even more problematic when going up hill. The up-side of that laziness is that the Cherokee is an efficient SUV, returning 21mpg in the city and 29mpg on the highway.
Handling is about what you's expect from a vehicle like the Cherokee. It bobs and rolls through the corners, but doesn't feel out of control. It's not a canyon carver, and no one expects it to be.
The Cherokee is, however, a very comfortable and quiet cruiser. Despite Jeep's off-road pedigree, the Cherokee is very composed on pave roads, providing a smooth and comfortable ride. Noise from the outside world is but a whisper in the Cherokee's cabin. Steering is even pretty good, with decent weight and a linear feel.
Our test car was loaded with high-tech features like adaptive cruise control and auto braking. However, that stuff is part of a $995 option package with the Cherokee — those features come standard on most trims of the Honda CR-V.
Leftlane's bottom line
Based on looks alone, Jeep has made a better Cherokee for 2019. But its beauty (OK, that's probably too strong of a word, how about "non-offensive styling") isn't just skin deep — the new Cherokee offers a comfortable and quite cabin with a lot of available tech, and it has an off-road appeal that few in the segment poses.
Overall packaging isn't best-in-class, but the Cherokee isn't sorely lacking in space; it should suit a young family without issue. We just wish it looked more like a Cherokee and less like a generic SUV. Oh, and that it didn't have that nine-speed auto.
2019 Jeep Cherokee Limited 4x4 base price, $33,620. As tested, $39,845.
Technology group, $995; Luxury group, $1,195; 2.0L turbo engine, $500; Panoramic sunroof, $1,295; Uconnect w/8.4-inch screen, $795; Destination, $1,445.
Photos by Drew Johnson