New & Used Jeep Cherokee: In Depth
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The Jeep Cherokee is a compact crossover SUV that draws on a long history of great off-road capability.
The Cherokee nameplate is one of Chrysler's hallmarks, dating back to the AMC-designed models of the 1970s. Those Cherokee SUVs were hardcore, rugged trail blazers--and they were long-lived, staying on the market through the 2001 model year.
The Cherokee name went on hiatus from 2001 to 2013. The new version introduced in 2014 doesn't have the same square-jawed look, but it's a crossover utility with true off-road chops, just like its forebears.
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 2016 Jeep Cherokee review
The Cherokee nameplate hasn't always been affixed to small Jeep models. The original Cherokee from the '70s 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 four- and six-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 in-line six-cylinder engine, mild styling updates that included a switch from fiberglass to steel rear hatches, and additional luxury content availability over the years. 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 '08 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.
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 crossover 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 hp, and hooked to a new nine-speed automatic transmission—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 the nine-speed.
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 Uconnect media center and Uconnect Access via Mobile. And Jeep’s compact entry has jumped toward the head of the pack in safety with bind-spot monitoring, advanced lane departure warning, and cross-path detection, plus a ParkSense 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 Uconnect system, user-interface improvements that bring a drag-and-drop menu bar, Siri Eyes Free voice recognition, and a Do Not Disturb mode.
Used Jeep Cherokee Models
Other than classic-era models, the only Jeep Cherokees you'll find on the used market right now are the pre-2002 "XJ" Cherokees--the square-bodied mid-size vehicles that once served as official transport for the U.S. Post Office. Cherokees from that era weren't known for extreme durability, or good on-road behavior. It's more likely if you're shopping for one, you're expecting to take it off-road--so dismiss the four-cylinder and rear-drive versions, and head right for the V-6 Cherokees with four-wheel drive. And if you have to have something a little newer, take a look at a Jeep Liberty diesel--the Cherokee's indirect replacement from 2002-2013.