The Car Connection Jeep Cherokee Overview
The Jeep Cherokee is a crossover SUV equally at home in parking lots or scrambling up a mountainside.
If "crossover" and "Cherokee" are mutually exclusive to you, you're not alone. Despite missing the XJ's right angles, the new Cherokee retains the many of the same characteristics as those versions from yesteryear—perhaps not the mechanical simplicity, though. The Cherokee name went on hiatus from 2001 to 2013 in the U.S. as it was replaced by the Liberty.
The new Cherokee 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.
MORE: Read our 2020 Jeep Cherokee review
Today's Cherokee takes on some of the most popular entries in the compact SUV market—including the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
A newly available 2.0-liter turbo-4 came to the 2019 Cherokee, as did cleaner front-end styling. For 2020, Jeep made active-safety features available on more versions, and upgraded the infotainment system with Alexa compatibility.
The new Jeep Cherokee
The Cherokee revival featured controversial styling, with narrow "eyebrow" headlamps and a version of Jeep’s slotted grille, split between an upright snout and a low, curved, aerodynamic hoodline. That look is updated for 2019. The face is now more conventional with headlights and daytime running lights brought together, giving the Cherokee the appearance of a baby Grand Cherokee.
The 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.
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. It makes 180 horsepower, and hooked to a 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. For 2019, Jeep adds a 2.0-liter turbo-4 that makes 270 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. It launches the Cherokee from 0-60 mph in 7.0 seconds, making it the quickest engine in the lineup. Also for 2019, the tuning of the standard 9-speed automatic transmission is revised for drivability, and the suspension is tweaked for on-road comfort.
The Cherokee is offered in Latitude, Latitude Plus, Limited, Overland, and Trailhawk trim levels, the latter a purpose-built off-roader with better approach and departure angles, off-road tires, skid plate, and an off-road suspension. Buyers can also choose from three all-wheel-drive systems, including two with very low crawl ratios.
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. For 2019, the screen in base models grows from 5.0 to 7.0 inches and all versions get faster processors.
Changes over the past few model years have been minor. For 2015, Jeep bolstered the Cherokee's safety kit at several levels. Latitude and Trailhawk models added a rearview camera plus automatic headlamps. Latitude, Limited, and Trailhawk models added a package that combined blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-path detection, rear parking sensors, and signal mirrors with courtesy lamps. The 2016 Cherokee included a few comfort improvements inside, a couple of new paint colors and, on models with the 8.4-inch touchscreen, user-interface improvements that brought 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.