By on February 7, 2018

2019 Jeep Cherokee

Jeep loves to brag about how capable its SUVs are off-road, and the brand can back it up. But considering that most folks who purchase SUVs use them only on-road, does rock-crawling ability outweigh on-road performance?

For most buyers, I suspect the answer is no. That could be a bit of a problem for the refreshed 2019 Jeep Cherokee.

Full disclosure: Jeep paid for my hotel room in Southern California (no flight, as I was already in the area) and several meals, while also providing notebooks and pens. I think they also offered a hat, which I did not take.

New looks, updated interior, and a new available engine choice mark the major changes coming to the midsize SUV for 2019.

Jeep has added a direct-injection 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 270 horsepower to the engine lineup. This mill offers start/stop and is the torquiest engine on offer in the Cherokee, with 295 lb-ft. Your other choices are a 2.4-liter four-cylinder making 180 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque and a 3.2-liter V6 that churns out 271 horsepower and 239 lb-ft. All mate to a nine-speed automatic transmission.

Jeep chose a mountainous drive loop that will be familiar to anyone who’s ever YouTubed the happenings on the canyon roads near Malibu – a loop that included the infamous “Snake” corner (home to many crashes that are later mocked online). A fine loop for a Fiat 124, perhaps, but perhaps not so much for the Cherokee. I started my day in a base-trim model, and the 2.4 and the nine-speed were no match for the mountains. The transmission was slow to kick down and the engine just wasn’t torquey enough for the hills.

2019 Jeep Cherokee

The turbo improves the proceedings to an extent, but it’s still hampered by the nine-speed and its hesitant downshifts. I’d stomp the gas mid-corner to get momentum for exit and it would take a one-count before the power got to ground.

To be fair, few Cherokee drivers are ever going to run up and down Stunt Road or Latigo Canyon during their off hours. Around town, both engines are fine, unremarkable even, although the turbo would be preferred for freeway passes. The nine-speed is better when one is doing the stoplight shuffle than it is in the hills.

My time in the V6 consisted mostly of freeway and around-town driving, and it seemed well-suited to that kind of duty.

2019 Jeep Cherokee

Handling in the twisties was about what one would expect from an SUV with off-road chops – which is to say, not the best in class. Understeer is prevalent, and the Cherokee is more chore than joy on those types of roads. Again, most Cherokee buyers won’t come anywhere close to pushing their rigs hard on roads like these, so my beef with its on-road handling prowess may not matter.

As is typical with Jeep events, we spent some time off-road. All Cherokees used on the course were off-road-trimmed Trailhawks. The course was less challenging that what Jeep set up for the Wrangler launch a couple months back, but nothing to sneeze at, and as expected, the Trailhawks handled it easily. Credit goes to all of today’s modern electronic off-road assist goodies, such as hill-ascent, hill-descent control, and Jeep’s five-mode (auto, snow, rock, sport, sand/mud) Selec-Terrain system.

The Trailhawk is also lifted an inch over its stablemates and offers off-road-friendly approach and departure angles along with different front and rear fascias, a locking rear diff, and skid plates.

2019 Jeep Cherokee

All Cherokees, save the Trailhawk, are available in 4×2 or 4×4 (Trailhawk is 4×4 only).

Jeep is offering the Cherokee in five trims: Latitude, Latitude Plus, Limited, Overland, and Trailhawk.

The refresh focuses mainly on the front – the hood and front fascia are all new, along with LED headlamps, daytime running lamps, and fog lamps. A hands-free power liftgate is now available.

Interior updates include more cargo volume, new accents, and new available color packages, one of which is “inspired” by Iceland. Available features include UConnect infotainment, heated and cooled front seats, heated steering wheel, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, satellite radio, USB, and navigation.

2019 Jeep Cherokee

Like most Chrysler interiors, it’s user-friendly, with materials that don’t necessarily feel upscale but do feel within the ballpark of class-appropriate. Our testers were pre-production vehicles, so I can’t yet accurately comment on the quality of fit and finish.

The bigger news is the updated exterior, and the look is toned down compared to the extended snout that protruded from the previous model. Toned down, but not drastically different – it’s still instantly recognizable as the Cherokee. It’s a cleaner, less controversial look that remains distinctive. The changes are more noticeable in person, as opposed to photographs.

Evaluating the whole package, you come away with a mid-size SUV that’s capable in the sticks (more so than on the curvy backroads) and works just fine for around-town duties.

You don’t, however, necessarily come away without a dent in the wallet. Depending on your chosen trim and options, that is.

2019 Jeep Cherokee

The Cherokee starts at $23,995 for a 4×2 Latitude. Reasonable. A Latitude Plus with 4×4 is a not-too-bad $27,995. But a Trailhawk sets you back $33,320 and a 4×4 Overland checks in at $37,775. All of those prices exclude a $1,195 destination charge.

Options not already mentioned include leather seats, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-path detection, forward-collision warning, park assist, lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, a towing package, and dual-pane sunroof.

Jeep has improved on the Cherokee’s styling, inside and out, while giving buyers one more engine choice. The new turbo is a welcome addition to the lineup. Unfortunately, the Cherokee soldiers forth with one of the more frustrating automatic transmissions on the market. It’s also not particularly engaging when driven hard on-road, in part because it’s so good off-road.

2019 Jeep Cherokee

For grocery getting, errand-running, and kid-shuttling, the Cherokee is as good as any choice in this class, but it won’t scratch your enthusiast itch unless you like to bang off boulders. Not to mention that the sticker price goes from “hmm, that’s a value” to “wait, what?” a bit quickly.

“Use case” is a business world term that applies here. How do you plan to drive your next midsize SUV? Your answer will go a long way towards deciding whether the Cherokee fits your bill.

[Images: 2018 © Tim Healey/TTAC]

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38 Comments on “2019 Jeep Cherokee First Drive – Refreshed Looks in Search of a Power Boost...”


  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    My district just picked up quite a few of the pre-refresh models in 4×4 guise with the base 4 cyl. They replaced quite a few older than 2005 S15 Jimmys with 250,000 plus miles on each one.

    Durability will be tested hard.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      A crossover replacing a pickup truck? Why did they make that switch? Decided they didn’t really need pickups?

    • 0 avatar
      Adam Tonge

      I don’t know if they made the right choice…

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Jimmy’s were SUVs like the S10 Blazer.

        The Home-School Liaisons use them – the job is “go find this parent who isn’t responding to our repeated contacts” – usually to have them sign paperwork or deal with a situation that has been ongoing with their student.

        The job can take them from someone’s workplace to bouncing over the mountain on non existent roads trying to find a homestead in the middle of the Navajo Nation.

        We’ll soon see if they can handle the abuse.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Despite concerns like Dukeis and Adam’s, I think you’re right, this looks like an excellent test of their durability. I’m betting they got a discount on them too, for exactly that reason.

    • 0 avatar
      JustPassinThru

      “Durability will be tested hard.”

      And that is the test. I look at this, and see the stats, and think, Nice JOB!…and then wonder how a two-liter, turbo engine pumping out 270 horses is going to hold up in ten years, with 200,000 miles on it.

      Probably, not at all. A short-block, if you can afford it, will take care of the engine; but given this vehicle’s roots (FCA) I don’t expect the other running gear to be any-more robust.

      As a long-time Jeepophile (former, now, I guess) it seems we’ve come ’round full-circle. NOBODY ever gave the CJ series any props for on-road handling. The Commando was just a rebodied CJ-6; and the SJ, although breakthrough in its day, was no better on the twisties than other 1962 cars it was designed around.

      But they lasted. Oh, how they lasted. From the Kaiser years, they got the most durable engineering. AMC and Buick engines, and THC auto transmissions – back when GM was still putting PowerGlides in their own trucks.

      I see this as the Europe-izing of Jeep. Which is, in the end, not what its traditional buyers are looking for.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        Personally, JPT, I think you’re wrong. So far, the Cherokee has proven itself capable off-road and reasonably durable on-road. People are putting 100K or more miles on their now-8-year-old Cherokees as designed by Fiat (admittedly built in US.) I’m not hearing of any systemic failures of Fiat’s engines in the same way the first Pentastar V6 experienced. I, myself, have been driving the 2.5 Multi-air for almost 18 months now with literally no issues whatsoever–and I don’t baby my cars. For that matter, with the 9-speed automatic, it’s actually difficult to hold acceleration down, taking off from a traffic light. When the old Shell Answer Man said, “drive like you have an egg under your shoe,” he meant it!

        Sure, it’s not as strong as the Pentastar in many ways but with turbo it’s actually stronger, and today’s turbos seem to last infinitely longer than those of the early ’80s in consumer cars. Even so, I wouldn’t pan this thing as a bad deal until it proves itself, one way or another. And quite honestly, this “test” of PD’s district seems to me a perfect test of the car’s and the engine’s long-term durability.

  • avatar
    legacygt

    It’s hard to understand how issues with the 9-speed endure. From the first test drives of the re-incarnated Cherokee, there were criticisms of the transmission. These critiques were universally bad but many held out hope that a software update could correct the issues. Here we ares, several years, and now a significant refresh, later, and I’m reading virtually the same criticisms. What’s going on with the Cherokee? FCA manages to use this transmission slightly more successfully in other applications. And it employs an 8-speed that is pretty great. How do they continue to struggle getting a transmission to behave in the Cherokee?

    • 0 avatar
      JLGOLDEN

      I too am baffled by the ongoing drive-ability issues with this 9-speed transmission. Perhaps there is too much investment tied up in it (including commitment to suppliers) for FCA to abandon it for something better? As far as I know, my 2017 Pacifica used this 9-speed. The only oddity I observed was an audible “clack” noise heard from the tranny, if coasting around 20-30 mph, then applying light throttle again. It is a known issue with seemingly no resolve.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        @JLGolden: Problem is, too many people don’t understand how this transmission works. The 2.4 with 9-speed in the Renegade seems to be working quite well, and I’m a VERY picky driver when it comes to sensing things out of the ordinary. When I first got it I was concerned but had already read how the 9-speed needs time to learn your driving habits. It took me less than 3 months to realize they were right. That little non-turbo Renegade practically leaps away from the lights unless you’re VERY easy on the throttle and running at freeway speed I’ve watched it hold speed better on grades than any previous automatic, shifting just about when I would downshift and typically only shifting as far as needed to maintain speed without revving the engine.

    • 0 avatar
      ACCvsBig10

      Doesnt 9th gear only kick in around 80mph? Seems like they need just put an 8 speed in there and call it a day

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        It seems to me like nearly every EVEN geared transmission has been better than a similar ODD geared transmission. Either make it an 8 speed or 10 speed.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        Depends on how you drive. 9th gear kicks in to pull your revs down as low as possible… seemingly to 1500 or so… no matter your actual speed. I expect the V6 drops into 9th gear far more frequently than it does with the NA I-4. Probably runs 9th for the turbo as well but not until after the torque has been used to get up to speed.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      legacygy, software can’t fix the slow engagement and disengagement of dog clutches in the ZF 9HP. A 9 speed automatic with conventional friction clutches could be made to shift quickly, but it would have marginally lower fuel economy scores on government fuel economy test cycles.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      @legacygt: Read my comments below (above?) Reviewers get cars that have not had time to adjust away from factory default settings. Given time and a consistent driver (not a new one every week or so) and the tranny works quite well.

      • 0 avatar
        PM300

        I have the 8 speed ZF in my 300S and my wife has the 9 speed in her 3.2L Cherokee. I fully agree the complaints with the 9 speed are over exaggerated and my wife would happily get another Cherokee if her’s was totaled today but in no way does it shift as well as my 8 speed, which I think is one of the main arguments I’ve seen here.

        I will say that changing the Jeep into Sport mode helps significantly with the slow shifts the folks above are complaining about and is especially useful during rush hour traffic situations; however, the rotary dial to get it into sport mode is cumbersome. I much prefer having “sport” option on the shifter like the 300 does.

  • avatar
    carguy

    The refresh seems like a step forward in just about every way.

    While Jeep deserves Kudos for sticking to their off-road brand values, I doubt that this will translate into big sales numbers. Most shoppers in this segment are simply not looking for off-road performance and may not be prepared to to put up with the on-road compromises that were necessary to to achieve the off-road capabilities.

    On the other hand, hard core off roaders won’t be impressed by it either.

    FCA may have been better off to bring a more traditional compact CUV to market under the Chrysler name.

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      Outside of a lack of power, I like the new Compass a lot as a more “traditional” SUV. While it’s probably not bad off-road, I found it better at on-road driving when I drove one last May.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Jeep is buying hard into the “crossovers need off road cred” thing. The Cherokee is their volume deal; they need to cut weight from it even if it means ditching off road prowess. Anyone who wants to go off road is going with a Wrangler, so it all seems wasted. Jeep doesn’t have Range Rover’s margins to spend on features and weight their customers don’t want and will never use. But that’s FCA for ya

      • 0 avatar
        MLS

        The off-road ability, even if never used by most customers, is core to Jeep’s brand. Eliminate that, and you’d just have another CR-V or RAV4. As mentioned in another recent post, FCA leadership doesn’t wish to compete is such “commoditized” markets.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        The new model sheds about 150 lbs in comparison to its 2018 counterparts.

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      To clarify, I meant “traditional compact CUV”

    • 0 avatar
      badtux99

      Jeep generally sells around 200,000 per year of the Cherokee, and that was to a certain extent caused by the capacity limits of their Toledo North assembly plant that was building the things. They’ve now moved production to Belvidere Assembly in Indiana, which once made the late unlamented Chrysler 200, Jeep Compass, and other forgettable mid-size cars, and which probably has the capacity to make around 300K/year of the things. We’ll see how much of that capacity they can use. I suspect there’s going to be some *deep* discounting on these little beasties if it turns out that 2017’s sales dip was more than just the market waiting for the new model.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Frankly, I think this looks pretty good. Crossovers are consuming the market like a Kudzu vine, but Jeep is at least providing some diversity and choice here. Three engine choices, trims from cheapo commuter to semi-posh to trail. And while they’d never throw any terrain exceeding its capability at you during a press event, those trails aren’t anything to sneeze at for this class of vehicle. I wouldn’t be real happy trying to get a RAV4 or CR-V across those.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    The ubiquitous black wheels are becoming tiresome (no pun intended) but they look nice on a red Jeep Cherokee, imho.

  • avatar
    Prado

    I have never driven one of these, but find the Trailhawk rather appealing. How ever appealing.. I had to laugh when reading the line “…in part because it’s so good off-road.” and seeing the picture below it which shows the crappy (for off-roading) rear suspension articulation. As the picture demonstrates, I would not want an IRS in anything regularly taken off road.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      The TH is actually incredibly good offroad. Yes, it has independent suspension, but has a locking rear differential and a low range gearbox. With the 9 speed, low is surprisingly versatile. I took one out with a group of Wranglers and did some hardcore stuff and was impressed.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    I saw no mention of dropping the 9-speed into Manual mode. The reviewer might have been surprised at how quickly it shifts then.

    Keep in mind the tranny is programmed first for maximum mpg and needs time to learn a driver’s shifting habits. It took my Renegade just under 3 months and I simply don’t have to worry about it any more. It shifts when I want it to shift without having to play with Manual any more unless I simply want to.

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      I don’t use manual mode often unless it’s the kind of car that calls for it.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        @Tim: Didn’t you essentially say the car called for manual mode?

        The transmission needs to be trained how to perform. Any study of the system design as described by FCA with the first iteration clearly stated this, along with the fact that re-flashing it only reverts it back to the default configuration. Now, I’ve read that they have improved on it… bringing in a little more performance at the cost of a minor drop in mpg… but it still needs to learn the driver’s own habits and the manual mode on the shifter makes that easier. I used it as necessary on my Renegade even on expressway grades and as a result the 9-speed now shifts just before I would normally shift to maintain speed on those grades.

        • 0 avatar
          Tim Healey

          I guess you can make the argument that based on my criticisms of the transmission, it should be used in manual mode, but going in, I wouldn’t think of using manual mode for on-road (off-road is a different story) driving in most crossovers, not just the Cherokee. That’s what I meant.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    It looks like Subaru now. So must sell. And the price – no worry. $33K – no problem. will sell for $27K OOD

  • avatar
    SixspeedSi

    Seems like a simple refresh that will treat Jeep sales well. I recently just got my mother out of her 14 Cherokee, which she didn’t have many complaints about, into a new 18 lease. The 18 feels like a different car with the updated transmission. It may not be the quickest shifting, but it is smooth and virtually unnoticeable now.

    The older styling may be a little much for some, but the deals are great on them. Pretty much got 6 grand off without hesitation. Leases are super cheap, which is the route we went. Guess FCA needs something cheap to lease with the departure of the Dart and 200.

  • avatar
    TW5

    Designers should be commended for taking a risk with the pre-face-lift fascia. Designers and execs should be condemned for thinking Jeep is the nameplate to express progressive design language……unless progressivism is somehow paradoxically associated with retro nostalgia.

    The new headlamp design is good, but they’ve removed the chunky lower lamps, which were the old headlamps. The old headlamps looked like oversized fog lamps so were sort of the only symbol of offroad driving. Now they are are tiny LED fog lamps.

    Oh well. You make a few improvements and you create an entirely new set of problems. That’s the story of life. Maybe the new headlamp and the old headlamp were not visually compatible.

  • avatar
    White Shadow

    Still very much ugly, but maybe a tiny bit less ugly now.

  • avatar
    chiefmonkey

    I’ll take the V6.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    Is that the same 2.0 turbo they use in the Alfa Giulia and Stelvio?

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