The redesigned 2019 Jeep Cherokee faces steep competition in the crowded small crossover segment. But its muscular off-road ability makes it a better match against its more popular rivals.
The Cherokee feels at home with its left wheels in a 3-foot rut that pitches the SUV sideways, only a few degrees from toppling over onto earth and rocks. Conceivably the driver could lean out the window to grab a fistful of dirt before easily powering the Cherokee out.
That likely wouldn’t go over well in a Nissan Rogue.
The 2019 Jeep Cherokee, which debuted at the Detroit auto show in January, is mildly refreshed with a host of small changes such as new style and standard features. The common thread is increased capability.
More use of high-strength steel helped reduce the weight of the 2019 Cherokee by up to 150 pounds compared with the outgoing model. That allowed a higher maximum tow capacity of 4,500 pounds. Approach and departure angles have been improved for better off-roading.
Standard LED headlamps and electronic power steering enhance the driving experience. Jeep designers also made the rear cargo area wider. A set of golf clubs now fits across the compartment.
The improvements in the 2019 Cherokee are key as it enters the small crossover segment populated by practical vehicles like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
Small crossovers are in demand for their higher ride height, good fuel economy and roomy interiors. Five of the 12 best-selling vehicles in the U.S. through January 2018 were small crossovers, according to industry research firm Autodata Corp.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles sold nearly 170,000 Jeep Cherokees in 2017. But it’s looking for more sales.
That’s far below frontrunners Nissan Rogue and Toyota RAV4, which both crested the 400,000 mark last year. The Honda CR-V, the Ford Escape and the Chevrolet Equinox each sold around 300,000 vehicles or more last year. Analysts believe the shift in consumer preference from small passenger cars to larger crossovers and SUVs will continue.
The standard engine on the Cherokee’s Latitude, Latitude Plus and Limited 4×2 trims is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 180 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque. Standard on the higher Limited 4×4, Overland and Trailhawk trims is a 3.2-liter Pentastar V6 engine with 271 horsepower and 239 pound-feet of torque.
New for 2019, an optional turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine available on all trims.
Through the winding cliffs of Malibu, Calif., it had smooth and powerful thrust. A linear torque curve brings the muscle on early. At 270 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque it gave the 2019 Cherokee a crisp and refined character compared with the standard engines.
All three engines come with start-stop technology and are paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy ratings have not been released, but Jeep executives promised the 2019 Cherokee will improve over its predecessor. The most efficient version of the outgoing model is rated by the Environmental Protection Agency at 21 mpg in city driving, 30 mpg on the highway and 25 mpg combined.
On the road, the Cherokee is pleasant to drive. The premium Limited and Overland trims allow little wind and road noise into the cabin. The new Cherokee has a wider track by an inch over the previous version for improved handling. Its lengthened wheelbase eliminates the jolting sensation that afflicts its smaller Compass sibling.
Off the road, the Cherokee is unmatched in its class.
Every 4×4 model comes with a Selec-Terrain traction management system with five driving modes: Auto, Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud and Rock.
The 4×4 models also come with the lightweight Jeep Active Drive I system that reduces fuel consumption. Customers can choose to option up to Jeep Active Drive II with an off-road suspension and 1-inch lift. It includes a two-speed Power Transfer Unit (PTU) and low-range gear reduction.
The most desirable off-road equipment is saved for the Cherokee Trailhawk. It is equipped with standard Jeep Active Drive Lock and its mechanically locking rear differential. It is the only 2019 Cherokee trim with larger wheel fenders and wider all-terrain tires.
The 2019 Cherokee is more than capable of undertaking light off-road trips. On trails outside Los Angeles, the Latitude and Overland trims handled shallow dirt, sand and some rocks with no issues.
The Trailhawk is up for almost any challenge. Versions with both the 3.2-liter and 2.0-liter engines tackled a stretch of demanding rocks while in the Sand/Mud drive setting — the crossover didn’t even need Rock mode.
On bumpy dirt sections with the Selec-Speed control activated, the Cherokee Trailhawk operated at one set speed on its own. Selec-Speed even powered the Trailhawk up and over steep dirt grades, fighting uneven terrain and wheel slippage to scramble to the top without the driver ever touching the throttle.
Trims and Pricing
Pricing for the 2019 Jeep Cherokee starts at $23,995 for the spartan Latitude trim. The Latitude Plus with aluminum wheels, adjustable seats and push-button start is priced from $26,495. Limited models with 18-inch wheels, heated leather seats and the 8.4-inch touchscreen cost $30,375. Overland models come with a full leather interior, wood steering wheel and 19-inch chrome wheels for $36,275. Adding the 4×4 option increases the price on any trim by $1,500.
The off-road special Cherokee Trailhawk comes with 4×4 and costs $33,320.
On the safety side, a rearview backup camera is standard on all trims. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-path detection come on the Limited, Overland and Trailhawk. Those versions also are available with the Technology Group, which includes adaptive cruise control that matches its speed to the vehicle in front.
After leaving the mud and trails behind and merging onto the crowded 101 Freeway, the adaptive cruise control system proved among the best in the industry. It eased into acceleration and braking at speed and followed a decelerating car to a full stop with no issues — perfect for easing driver fatigue during rush hour.
But the 2019 Cherokee is built to interact. Put it in the right environment — running a set speed over rough terrain, digging up an incline or even pitched nearly sideways into a rut — and it reveals refinement and true off-road character.
Editor’s note: To facilitate this report, Trucks.com attended an event where Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ Jeep division hosted travel and lodging.