2019 Jeep Cherokee First Drive - Refreshed Looks in Search of a Power Boost

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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]

Tim Healey
Tim Healey

Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.

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2 of 38 comments
  • JMII I doubt Hyundai would spend the development costs without having some idea of a target buyer.As an occasional track rat myself I can't imagine such a buyer exists. Nearly $70k nets you a really good track toy especially on the used market. This seems like a bunch of gimmicks applied to a decent hot hatch EV that isn't going to impression anyone given its badge. Normally I'd cheer such a thing but it seems silly. Its almost like they made this just for fun. That is awesome and I appreciate it but given the small niche I gotta think the development time, money and effort should have been focused elsewhere. Something more mainstream? Or is this Hyundai's attempt at some kind of halo sports car?Also seems Hyundai never reviles sales targets so its hard to judge successful products in their line up. I wonder how brutal depreciation will be on these things. In two years at $40k this would a total hoot.So no active dampers on this model?
  • Analoggrotto Colorado baby!
  • Rob Woytuck Weight is also a factor for ferries which for instance in British Columbia, Canada are part of the highway system.
  • Ajla I guess some people were big fans of Milli Vanilli and Real Dolls (don't Google that at work) but I have a very large problem with the fake engine sounds and fake transmissions. If you turn them off does it stay off forever or does it turn back on whenever you go into sport mode?
  • Probert That X frame was a killer. No nostalgia for these things to be honest. Yup - life of the party....