The Car Connection Jeep Cherokee Overview
The Jeep Cherokee is a compact crossover SUV that draws on a long history of great off-road capability.
In its tough Trailhawk trim, the Cherokee still manages to be a formidable off-roading machine. As such, its rivals are a little harder to identify—although we'd compare it to the Subaru Forester for dirty jobs, and against the Ford Escape and Honda CR-V for on-road tasks.
MORE: Read our 2017 Jeep Cherokee review
For 2017, the Cherokee sees some minor trim reshuffling and that's about it.
The new Jeep Cherokee
The 2014 Jeep Cherokee not only brought back the Cherokee name but also gave the vehicle a roomier, more versatile interior layout. While the Liberty was rugged, it was never all that comfortable, refined, or space-efficient. Most notably, perhaps, the Cherokee arrived with all-new front-end styling, including narrow "eyebrow" headlamps and a version of Jeep’s slotted grille, split between an upright snout and a low, curved, aerodynamic hoodline. Today's Cherokee takes on some of the most popular entries in the compact SUV market—including the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
With a five-seat layout and an adult-sized second row that slides fore and aft, plus a special cargo-management system available in back, the latest Cherokee is a useful family vehicle. A 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is standard, making 184 horsepower, and hooked to a new 9-speed automatic—enabling an EPA highway rating of up to 31 mpg highway. Those who want to tow (up to 4,500 pounds) or just want more power can select the 271-hp, 3.2-liter Pentastar V-6, also with a 9-speed automatic.
The latest Cherokee also takes a big step up from the Liberty in terms of cabin appointments, and especially features. Memory heated/ventilated seats are on offer, along with an 8.4-inch touchscreen and Uconnect Access via Mobile. And Jeep’s compact entry has jumped toward the head of the pack in safety with bind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, and cross-path detection, plus a parking assist feature.
Changes over the past couple of model years have been minor. For 2015, Jeep bolstered the Cherokee's safety kit at several levels. Latitude and Trailhawk models now include a rearview camera plus automatic headlamps. And on Latitude, Limited, and Trailhawk models, there's a new package that combines blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-path detection, rear parking sensors, and signal mirrors with courtesy lamps. The 2016 Cherokee includes a few comfort improvements inside, a couple of new paint colors and, on models with the 8.4-inch touchscreen, user-interface improvements that bring a drag-and-drop menu bar, Siri Eyes Free voice recognition, and a Do Not Disturb mode. Changes for 2017 were minimal, amounting to new feature availability.
Jeep Cherokee history
The Cherokee nameplate hasn't always been affixed to small Jeep models. The original Cherokee from the 1970s was a version of the large body-on-frame "SJ" Jeep Wagoneer, but with more basic trim. It was offered first as a two-door and then later on as a four-door as well. Most of them were powered by AMC V-8 engines.
Utility vehicles were given a major evolutionary kick beginning in 1984 with the introduction of the game-changing "XJ" Cherokee, likely the most familiar model to people aside from the current version. A completely new unibody vehicle, with 4- and 6-cylinder engines (even a diesel for a time) and two- or four-wheel drive, this Cherokee arguably led the way for modern crossover vehicles, with its lighter-weight, somewhat car-influenced body structure. Yet it featured solid axles (and a leaf-spring rear suspension) that aided off-road ability but could leave a lot to be desired in on-road ride. One of the final customers for that Cherokee was the U.S. Post Office, which used right-hand-drive models as delivery vehicles.
The XJ Cherokee was sold through 2001, having evolved sparingly since its introduction. Changes included upping the power of the inline-6 engine, mild styling updates that included a switch from fiberglass to steel rear hatches, and additional luxury options over the years. Its most notable upgrade came for the 1997 model year, when its boxy look was slightly softened outside and it gained a new dashboard with dual airbags. These later Cherokees have proven desirable used, with values typically outpacing the larger Grand Cherokee. Of particular desire to enthusiasts is the Up Country suspension package that included rock-deflecting skid plates, tow hooks, a limited slip rear differential, a slightly raised suspension height, and additional engine cooling. Most Cherokees were equipped with a 4-speed automatic, but a 5-speed manual was available (earlier models also utilized a 3-speed automatic).
In 2002, a replacement arrived in the form of the Jeep Liberty; the Cherokee name was gone here in the U.S., but lived on in some export markets with that model. The Liberty name survived for two generations—the first through 2007 and the second from 2008 to 2012. It was replaced by the current model—back to the Cherokee name—but based on a Fiat platform shared in part with the Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200.