- Sharp new look
- Family-sized interior (albeit with no third row)
- Front seat comfort
- Doesn't go all-in with styling
- Numb steering
- 4WD tasks too much for four-cyl?
Although the styling might have some disconnects -- from the past, and within itself -- the 2015 Jeep Cherokee delivers all the Jeep essentials, with impressive features and safety.
The 2015 Jeep Cherokee has big shoes to fill. The original Jeep Cherokee that launched in 1986 set the bar for sport-utility vehicles that could be used as family transport, and it inspired a host of competitors, including the wildly successful, '90s-era Ford Explorer.
But times have changed over three decades, and what used to be truck-based SUVs are now "crossover utility vehicles" built on car underpinnings. They're more comfortable, more fuel-efficient, and much closer in spirit to passenger cars--but taller and with all-wheel drive as a required option. They're also nowhere near as simple and straightforward as the original Cherokee of yore.
Today, the Jeep Cherokee is meant to be a mainstream choice for family duty—and a direct competitor to established crossovers that include the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester, and Toyota RAV4. It's a clean break from the Jeep Liberty it replaced, and the changes go far beyond the model name. It's no longer based on truck-like rear-wheel-drive mechanicals, and its styling is less blunt and bluff than the squared-off Liberty.
The 2015 Cherokee aspires to bridge the on- and off-road worlds. It may be the first compact SUV to do both equally well: a city-friendly crossover stuffed with the heart of a Trail Rated Jeep. It's got all the Jeep brand essentials--ruggedness and a general zest for things outdoorsy--while remaining perfectly suitable for families that want AWD security and a dash of toughness.
But not everyone is going to be a fan of the exterior. One approach would have been to find a middle ground among Jeep's heritage, contemporary crossovers, and an edgy new direction. But the actual Cherokee leads off with a startling variation on the Jeep face, and then gives up by the time it gets to the windshield. In other words, its roles as a Liberty replacement, Dart derivative, and Compass mea culpa still aren't totally reconciled in the design.
The front end splits its headlamps and underplays the grille—the one design detail that connotes Jeep no matter where it's seen, around the world. Those are unforgivable but reworkable flaws—and frankly, quirks that some will like. The rest of the body impresses as warmed-over leftovers, with a heavy reliance on crossover fallbacks in glass area and fender sculpting—rehashed Hyundai, inherited Grand Cherokee. The cabin does paramedic duty here, healing up all that poorly thought-out stretching with some palliative shapes and some truly nice finishes and Easter-egg touches (consider it a challenge to find all the hidden Jeeps inside).
The Cherokee really sizes right in with models that would be called compacts in the U.S., like the CR-V, Forester, and Escape. Jeep might call it a mid-sizer, but it's right in with those models. There’s no third-row seat, but it's a relatively roomy five-seater, with a back seat that’s suitable for adults—or even asking three to sit across for shorter distances--but the jutting front headrests might enforce a slouching position that robs some of that rear-seat space. The second row slides fore and aft to choose between legroom and cargo space, and there’s a handy organizer for the more retentive fans.
You have a choice between a four-cylinder engine and a V-6—which helps it stand out in a class that includes several models that have gone all-four-cylinder. The standard 184-horsepower, 2.4-liter in-line four is plenty strong for quick acceleration (as well as smooth and quiet for this class), provided there isn't too much weight aboard. The other new 3.2-liter V-6 makes 271 hp and 239 lb-ft of torque; it's torquey and generally happy with whatever work you throw its way. With the V-6 and a Trailer Tow Package, the Cherokee can pull 4,500 pounds. No matter which version, the Cherokee has fairly numb but accurate steering, with a well-tuned and well-damped ride.
The Cherokee also sports a new ZF nine-speed automatic, with a lower first gear for quick takeoffs, plus some tall upper gears for good mileage on the highway. The top figure of 31 mpg highway isn't class-leading, but we've seen close to it in real-world conditions; 4WD models post a few mpg lower. One thing that should help improve the mileage of V-6 models -- in real-world stop-and-go driving, if not in official EPA ratings -- is the introduction of engine stop-start (ESS) in all 2015 Cherokee V-6s.
Sport, Latitude, Limited, and Trailhawk editions are offered, with each model serving a different kind of buyer. Sport and Latitude models appeal to cost- and value-conscious families, while Limited models are the luxurious flagships of the lineup and Trailhawk models are ready for the trail. Jeep's Trail-Rated badge applies to the Trailhawk, and it gets a one-inch lift, unique front and rear fascias, an Active Drive Lock and locking rear differential, added skid plates, and red tow hooks. There are several different four-wheel drive systems, including Active Drive I, and Active Drive II (adding a dual-range transfer case). All models with 4WD have the Selec-Terrain system, with separate ’smart’ modes for Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud, and Rock, and in low-range models with four-cylinder engines, its crawl ratio is an astonishingly good 56:1.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has rated the Cherokee at four stars overall, a score it earns in all but side-impact tests -- where it's given five stars. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives it good scores on all tests, save for a small-overlap test not yet performed. The Cherokee offers a number of sophisticated active-safety and convenience features that are still relatively rare in this mainstream class -- including available adaptive cruise control that can bring it to a full stop if an impending collision is detected; optional lane-departure and forward-collision warning systems are also an option; and blind-spot monitors and parking sensors that can also trigger the vehicle to a full stop at low speeds, if obstacles are detected.
For 2015 Jeep has already taken the Cherokee's safety kit and improved it in many respects. Latitude and Trailhawk models now include a ParkView backup 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, ParkSense rear park assist, and signal mirrors with courtesy lamps. About the only thing missing in the Cherokee's safety feature set is a clever surround-view camera system, which would be a boon for off-road use.
The 2015 Cherokee also offers more options than you'll find in most other affordable crossovers -- if you're willing to spend extra, of course. Highlights include a CommandView panoramic sunroof and Sky Slider roof, memory heated/ventilated seats, and soft Nappa leather upholstery with ventilated front seats in the top Limited model. Infotainment systems include 8.4-inch Uconnect media center audio-streaming app connectivity (Pandora and Slacker, among others); and top models include a full-color reconfigurable LED instrument cluster.