The Jeep Cherokee does a better job of winning over hearts and minds with its tightly composed cabin. We give its styling a 7, mostly for the cockpit's look and feel; the sheet metal is odd up front, bland in the back. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The Cherokee's cabin is sporty, not at all truck-like, and finished in smooth, fine fashion. Wrapped up as tightly in petroleum derivatives as our retirement accounts, it's colorful when it wants to be, subdued in the right ways. It's a handsome look tipped into several color schemes named for places like Iceland, Mount Kilimanjaro and Morocco. (They're just gray, brown, and gold, right?)
The SUV theming is far from humorless, thank goodness. Jeep designers loaded in some great Easter eggs, like the 1941 Jeep Willys you'll find when letting the Cherokee park itself, or like the small, but perfectly, formed Jeep that rests at the base of the windshield, climbing over a sensor like it's a Moab boulder.
You'll be happier inside looking out, than most Jeep traditionalists will be, outside, looking in. The interior peacefully unifies the Cherokee, but its sheet metal polarizes. Three years on the road, it still comes across as unexpected and unbalanced.
The wan, cluttered front end is a direct challenge to square-jawed, Jeep tradition. Breaking up its LED running-light eyebrows from the headlights sounds like a clever idea for cool looks after the sun sets, but in daylight it delivers an Aztek-like effect—a tiered face that looks like it's always being woken up too early. A Jeep should look wide and awake, like it's up before reveille. The essential seven-bar grille looks thinly drawn here; what was once a point of pride for Jeep is now an effete afterthought.
From there, the controversial look feels incomplete. Down its sides, it's as conventional as a crossover can be, with lots of echoes of Hyundai and Honda crossovers in its flanks, and a plain tail that seems almost underdecorated.
Too many odd sheet-metal choices make the Jeep Cherokee's lovely interior a moot point.
It's shocking how capable the Jeep Cherokee is off-road, when you realize it was spun off from the same running gear found in the Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200.
It's a little easier to see, when the Cherokee is under way on the road, and its nice but normal road manners fail to log much of an impression.
We give the Cherokee a performance score of 6, awarding the point above the mean for its exceptional off-road ability. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Cherokee drivetrains and handling
There's a choice facing all Cherokee shoppers, the one between its standard 4-cylinder and available 6-cylinder engine.
For anyone that intends to use the Cherokee as a commuter device, the 4-cylinder could be the trick. It's a 2.4-liter inline-4 making 184 hp and 171 lb-ft, perfectly straightforward numbers for what's essentially a tall, economical hatchback. It's by far the most refined, best-sounding Chrysler 4-cylinder engine in a long time (and of course more fuel-efficient); and provided you won't be loading up the Cherokee most of the time it feels quite powerful, with a 0-60 mph time of about 8 seconds in base trim.
With many rivals dropping their 6-cylinder options, the Cherokee is something of an outsider. Its optional 3.2-liter V-6 makes a very strong 271 hp and 239 lb-ft. It also makes it heavier—it tops 4,000 pounds in some guises—but it manages to always feel quick, confident, and refined.
All models with the V-6 also get stop/start, which cuts off the engine at stoplights and long pauses to save fuel.
With either engine, you get a 9-speed automatic, with a lower first gear for quick takeoffs, a handful of mid-range gears, and a trio of tall overdrive upper gears for good highway mileage. That wide range of ratios allows strong performance—surprisingly good, even with the inline-4—although the trade-off is that you sometimes get moments of agonizing indecision, or unexpectedly delayed upshifts. It's a gearbox that really wants paddle actuation, though we'd settle simply for more direct control over some shifts.
In general, you'll want to be in the Sport mode when it's available on the Cherokee you're driving. We've found that to deliver the quickest, most decisive and predictable shifts—although it will likely dip into your gas mileage.
In other respects, the Cherokee feels responsive and pleasant, although there's nothing overtly communicative or sporty about it. Its steering has dual-pinion rack that delivers no feedback and somewhat heavy weighting, but there's good accuracy despite its off-road intentions and all-season tires.
Ride quality is good in most versions, but the Trailhawk, with its off-road tires and higher ride height, is better at soaking up low-speed upheaval, ranging from potholes to coarse surfaces—at some trade-off to steering crispness.
Cherokee towing and off-roading
The Cherokee is rated to tow up to 4,500 pounds. Coupled with its off-road ability, that makes it the only Swiss Army knife in the crossover-SUV drawer.
It comes with a choice of three different all-wheel-drive systems. Active Drive I is for beginners. With its wet-clutch design, and variable torque distribution from the front to the rear wheels, it's a more casual setup without a true low range, and it's only available on 4-cylinder models.
Active Drive II is a more rugged setup. It has a low range with a very low crawl ratio of 56:1 with the 4-cylinder—adding up to the sort of off-road ability that will get you through pretty much any two-track or sandy, muddy path to surfing or rock climbing.
All Cherokees with this four-wheel-drive setup also have Selec-Terrain. It's a driving-mode selector with programs to handle Snow, Sand/Mud, Rock, and Sport. The Snow mode reverses that ratio and starts the Cherokee in second gear for less slip; the sand and rock modes allow a rear split of up to 100 percent, and are combined with off-road braking modes. Sport splits torque front-to-back at 40/60 ratio. This system also lets the Cherokee decouple its rear axle, which saves some fuel.
On Trailhawk Cherokees, there's Selec-Speed control, which lets Cherokee climb hills with the same tenacity as it lowers itself with hill-descent control, creeping up from 1 mph to 5 mph in increments selected with the shift lever. Trailhawk models also get a 1-inch suspension lift, plus slimmer front and rear fascias, a locking rear differential, skid plates, and red tow hooks. Approach and departure angles are good for off-road work, at 30 and 32 degrees—and with ground clearance of 8.7 inches, the Cherokee really has very few rivals in its highly developed off-road niche.
The Jeep Cherokee behaves well enough on road, but it's the off-road ability that grabs our attention.
The Cherokee is a compact crossover SUV, in the same class as a Honda CR-V or a Ford Escape.
It's strictly mid-pack when it comes to size and how it uses its space. There's no useless third-row seat wedged inside, and the interior is quite refined and pleasantly finished, but the Cherokee's rear seat can seem cramped and front-seat space is doled out in unusual ways.
We give it a rating of 6 for comfort, utility, and quality. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
If you shop by the spec sheet (which we don't recommend), the Cherokee sits about 182 inches long, with a wheelbase of about 106 inches. It has 41.1 inches of front-seat leg room, about 38 inches of head room front and back, and 40.3 inches of rear-seat leg room.
The Cherokee has the cubic feet to make it a spacious crossover, but it's longer and more narrow than most. Bigger drivers make contact with the center console and the door panels, and it can be tough for taller drivers to find an ideal driving position. The driving position is a bit stilted, too: the steering wheel tilts up slightly from its bottom, and the top of the windshield sits lower than it could.
You can get one of several front-seat designs in the Cherokee, and we like most of them. The seats are supportive enough in their Latitude trim, nicer with nappa leather in Limited trim. All of the different seats have headrests that sit forward too much, though, which forces some drivers into a more laid-back driving position.
In back, the Cherokee measures up pretty closely against the Jeep Grand Cherokee. In reality, they're worlds apart, as the space is laid out differently. A tall driver in front means rear-seat legroom slims down to the point where the seatback will likely be pushing into the knees of the rear-seat rider. The rear seat does slide on its track a few inches, but it's a domino effect that cuts into cargo space.
Cherokee storage and quality
Throughout the Cherokee's interior, small-item storage is good, with lots of soft-touch surfaces, plenty of storage spaces for small items, and impressive infotainment systems. There's a groove in the center console bin to prop up smartphones, as well as a bin atop the center stack for a handful or two of stuff, plus a glove box that can hold an iPad.
The Cherokee's high cargo floor lets four-wheel-drive components ride beneath it, but it trims down on total cargo space. The Cherokee's stow area is at most 58.9 cubic feet, with the front passenger seat folded down. Behind the front seats there's 54.9 cubic feet, while there's 24.6 cubic feet behind the rear seats—or 29 cubic feet if the rear seat is folded and pushed forward. You may find more space from some rival models around the same size, but the Jeep does make good use of it—and offers a cargo-management system with a hanging grocery bag.
In terms of materials and quality, there's a lot to like here. With high-quality, low-gloss, soft-touch surfaces and smooth-acting buttons and switches, the Cherokee's interior materials are those of a more expensive vehicle. Interior noise levels are filtered out very well, too; it's the first Chrysler 4-cylinder in a long time that didn't draw our groans for its groaning.
The Cherokee's back seat can seem cramped, but the interior is nicely finished.
With the Cherokee, Jeep has a fairly new vehicle that has a tough time meeting the latest crash tests head-on.
The NHTSA has rated the Cherokee at four stars overall, a score it earns in all but side-impact tests—where it earned five stars.
The IIHS, meanwhile, gives it mostly "Good" scores, except in one test. The Cherokee is rated "Marginal" in the small-overlap test, which mimics hitting a telephone pole or clipping an oncoming obstacle.
Those scores are well below average, and base models don't get a standard rearview camera, so we give the Cherokee a safety score of 3. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
All Cherokees come with 10 airbags, including rear-seat side airbags and driver and front passenger knee airbags. Some versions come with forward-collision warnings and automatic emergency braking. On Latitude, Limited, and Trailhawk models, a safety package adds blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic detection, and automatic parking assistance.
Outward vision in the Cherokee is fairly good. Even so, a rearview camera is a necessity in this class—and it's standard only on the Latitude model and higher, though it's optional on the base trims.
The Cherokee's safety record is well below average.
|Overall Frontal Barrier Crash Rating:||(4/5)|
|Overall Side Crash Rating:||(5/5)|
|Overall Side Barrier Rating:||Not Rated|
|NHTSA Roll-over Resistance Rating:||(4/5)|
|Side Impact Test||Good|
|Roof Strength Test||Good|
|Rear Crash Protection/Head Restraint||Good|
|IIHS Small Overlap Front Test Results||Marginal|
|IIHS Moderate Overlap Front Test Results||Good|
For the 2017 model year, the Cherokee comes in four trim levels—Sport, Latitude, Limited, and Trailhawk—and three trim bundles (Overland, Altitude, and High Altitude).
It has a wide range of options, a good infotainment system, and a hardcore off-road version, so we give a 7 for features. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The Jeep Cherokee Sport is where things start. It's competitively equipped in most ways, with front-wheel drive, a 4-cylinder engine and a 9-speed automatic. Power features are standard, and so are cloth seats; air conditioning; cruise control; keyless entry; 17-inch wheels with all-season tires; and for entertainment, an AM/FM radio, a USB port and an auxiliary jack, and Bluetooth with audio streaming. All-wheel drive is an option.
Cherokee Sport crossovers can add features such as a rearview camera; satellite radio; heated seats and steering wheel; and a CD player.
Cherokee Latitude models offer an upgraded infotainment system, with an 8.4-inch touchscreen and smartphone-app connectivity, as an option. We continue to be impressed with Jeep's array of connectivity services, as much for its easily absorbed graphics and functions as for its lack of lag.
The Latitude model can be outfitted with the V-6 and a more capable all-wheel-drive system. Other options include a 506-watt premium audio system; a panoramic sunroof; remote start; and a convenience package with keyless ignition, satellite radio, tonneau cover, power driver seat, power tailgate, and a rearview camera.
The Cherokee Limited is the luxury edition. It comes with all the Latitude gear; leather upholstery; power heated front seats; keyless ignition; 18-inch wheels and tires; a touchscreen radio; satellite radio; remote start; and dual-zone automatic climate control.
Options include the V-6; Active Drive I or II; navigation (available after the original purchase as a dealer download); Alpine audio; the panoramic sunroof; a wireless charging pad; comfort and towing packages; a luxury package with nappa leather, ventilated front seats, memory seating, and remote start; and a tech package with lane-departure and forward-collision warnings, adaptive cruise control, parking sensors, blind-spot monitors, and parking sensors.
At the top of the lineup is the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk takes Latitude standard equipment and couples it with a Trail Rated badge—which comes with the ability to cross California's Rubicon Trail, Jeep's gold standard for off-road capability. To do that, the Trailhawk gets a tougher suspension with more ground clearance; its own front and rear bumpers; red tow hooks; skid plates; transmission and oil coolers; the most advanced Active Drive system with a locking rear differential; Selec-Speed Control, which lets the Jeep climb up grades at a consistent speed; and 17-inch wheels and OWL all-terrain tires.
Options include the V-6 engine; navigation; Alpine audio; the panoramic sunroof; an open-air sliding glass sunroof; and the cold-weather, technology, convenience, towing, and leather packages.
The Cherokee's infotainment system and wide-ranging options list are its best features.
Gas mileage isn't a highlight of the Jeep Cherokee, despite a pair of new engines and an advanced 9-speed automatic gearbox.
Most rivals within the Cherokee's class sip less fuel, though we've seen good real-world economy in the Cherokee.
We give it a green score of 6, based on EPA fuel economy ratings. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Many Cherokees use a version of Chrysler's latest 4-cylinder. With it and front-wheel drive, the Cherokee is rated at 21 mpg city, 30 highway, 25 combined. That drops to 21/28/23 mpg with the basic, optional, all-wheel-drive system.
Fuel economy for the V-6 Cherokee starts at 21/29/24 mpg for front-drive models, and 20/27/23 mpg for V-6 SUVs. These come with standard stop/start, which shuts off the engine at longer pauses to conserve fuel.
The off-road-oriented Cherokees suffer more gas-mileage penalties. Going with the more advanced Active Drive II setup drops EPA ratings to 18/26/21 mpg.
On Cherokee Trailhawk models, the 4-cylinder has EPA ratings of 19/25/22 mpg, or 18/24/21 mpg with the V-6. The Trailhawk's beefed-up body structure and heavier running gear account for at least some of that mileage penalty.
The Jeep Cherokee won't win any fuel-economy awards.