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First Drive – 2019 Jeep Cherokee

Posted in News on January 25, 2018
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Photographers: Manufacturer

The Jeep Cherokee has long been a favorite of American 4x4 enthusiasts. The XJ, which was produced for 18 years, is still one of the most popular off-road vehicles on the market for serious enthusiasts. Jeep made waves with the radical redesign on the fifth-generation Cherokee in 2014, but mechanically they produced a vehicle that was economically and environmentally responsible without sacrificing legendary Cherokee off-road capability. This year’s redesign comes with additional exterior updates that create a more mature, refined look. While retaining aspects of the fifth-gen like the doors and exterior size, the new features of the 2019 Cherokee pull handsome styling elements from the Grand Cherokee like its signature headlight design, and uses updated materials like aluminum and composite to shave weight. On top of that, Jeep introduced a new, excitingly efficient engine for the Cherokee—a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder making 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque—that’s just one horsepower shy of the 3.2L Pentastar V-6 engine that produces 239 lb-ft of torque.

Off-road:
The Cherokee is Jeep’s midsize 4x4 that makes for a more adventurous, entry-level off-road alternative to other SUVs like the Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, and Honda CR-V. With the Cherokee, Jeep focused on creating an affordable midsize that offers everything the competition does, and doesn’t compromise on luxury, efficiency, safety, options, or off-road capability. Jeep’s legendary off-road performance shines brightly in this vehicle. The Active Drive Lock 4x4 system features a locking rear differential, and makes the Trailhawk Cherokee the most capable midsize on the market. Additionally, the Active Drive I and Active Drive II 4x4 systems, combined with Jeep’s Selec-Terrain traction management system, make even the base Latitude 4x4 models capable of moderate off-road travel.

The new 2.0L direct-injected turbocharged four-cylinder is torquey and as powerful as the Pentastar V-6; it makes for a great lighter-weight motor option that increases fuel efficiency without sacrificing power, and increases torque by nearly 30 lb-ft for added off-road capability. An added plus—no noticeable turbo lag! Thanks to a crawl ratio of up to 51.2:1 in the Trailhawk and an increasingly intelligent four-wheel-drive system, the little-brother Jeep performs extraordinarily well off-road for a stock midsize. The Active Drive Lock system features a computerized acceleration and deceleration program for tackling obstacles and hill descents. It works similar to Toyota’s Crawl Control and allows for inexperienced drivers to let the Cherokee do the hard work of accelerating and braking smoothly over rough surfaces while the driver focuses on steering. Thankfully it’s easy to turn on and off, so if you prefer to do it the old-fashioned way that’s still an option.

The Selec-Terrain traction off-road management system features five custom modes: Auto, Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud, and Rock. Each mode features a different front/rear axle power distribution ratio, and each mode allows for different amounts of wheelspin to handle various types of off-road driving. The system works well for what it’s designed to do, especially with the rear locker engaged. The Trailhawk tackled the rock crawl section of the off-road course with ease and little fuss in Rock mode, and it handled the loose dirt on the hill-climb section of the course masterfully in Sand/Mud mode. One of the most exciting off-road features of the Cherokee Trailhawk is its ability to climb and descend extremely steep slopes, thanks to its impressive approach angle of 29.9 degrees and departure angle of 32.2 degrees. The off-road course had several short but extremely steep descents. It made us giggle with joy to get that “this feels way too steep” feeling driving down a rock face, and then pull out of it without scraping the front or rear bumper. The Jeep’s short wheelbase is also partly responsible for its level of capability, a breakover angle of 22.9 degrees gives the Cherokee the ability to crawl over the crest of steep hills without getting high-centered. Although the Cherokee spends a lot of its off-road time on three wheels, and while it gets the adrenaline flowing to teeter-totter during a steep hill climb or rocky descent, it’s overall more fun than scary. The Cherokee really is a fun vehicle to drive off-road.

On Road:
As impressive as the Trailhawk is on road, it also stands out amongst the competition with its on-road performance. All three engines, including the standard 2.4L MultiAir2 Tigershark I-4, produce enough power to get the Cherokee moving in the hills, the city, and on the highway. The Cherokee’s suspension is comfortable and really minimizes body roll, making for a particularly comfortable ride through winding twists and turns. Engineers spent some serious time tuning the shocks, bushings, and overall suspension to improve the ride and handling on the new model. The vehicle doesn’t feel heavy like most SUVs, and a smooth electronic steering system and quiet ride give the driver and passengers time to appreciate the refined details in the updated interior. The standard touchscreen display with Car Play has a quick and high-quality operating system; however, the 7-inch screen looks dated and out of place in the updated, crisp, and refined dashboard, particularly compared to the 8.4-inch screen available in the Limited and Trailhawk models and standard in the Overland edition. The Overland also features new 19-inch wheels that give the high-end trim line a sporty and luxurious stance. A Kick Wave sensor for the power liftgate and heated/ventilated seats are other options that give the Cherokee a high-end feel. The upscale LED headlights and taillights are another classy feature that’s standard across all trim levels.

The new Cherokee is lighter than the pervious model, making it more nimble and more fuel efficient than the early fifth-gen, especially when combined with Electric Stop-Start technology (ESS) for the models with the 2.0T and V-6. Also responsible for adding mpgs is the Cherokee’s 9-speed transmission, standard across all trim levels. Jeep shaved 150 pounds off the 2019 model by trimming fat in several places; nearly 20 pounds were shed with the addition of an aluminum hood, and the composite rear liftgate cut 18 pounds. Consistent with classic Jeep style, the license plate has been relocated to the middle of the liftgate rather than the bumper. This allowed Jeep engineers to relocate the liftgate latch, creating three more cubic feet of cargo space in the rear for a total of 27 cubic feet of cargo space in the new model. Not only is the new Cherokee lighter, more fuel efficient, and larger inside than the previous model without growing on the outside, but Jeep actually cut $400 off the MSRP of the base Latitude model, which now starts at $23,995, making it cheaper than the previous model as well. The Trailhawk starts at $33,320 and the Overland’s MSRP is $36,275.

Jeep put a lot of effort into improving the new generation of Cherokee, and you can feel it both on-road and off. They made the Cherokee more powerful, more fuel efficient, and more off-road capable while improving its styling inside and out and making it lighter and less expensive. The Cherokee is maturing, and with maturity comes practicality and likability Features that used to be slightly off-putting, like the fifth generation’s shark nose grille, are now smoothed, finely finished, and attractive. FCA focused on value with the improved Cherokee, offering capability, utility, and premium interior features at a budget 4x4 price. If you’re in the market for a daily-driver that's off-road capable but won't break the bank, the Cherokee truly is a bang for your buck.

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