2019 Jeep Cherokee first drive: more conventional, more power, still rugged

January 26, 2018

Jeep didn't get it right with the Cherokee when it revived the revered name in 2014.

The six-eyed styling bugged us—mainly, it looked like an insect. The base 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine was gutless, and the 3.2-liter V-6 was a neutered version of the strong 3.6-liter V-6 found elsewhere. Unfortunately, both engines were also mated to a ZF-sourced 9-speed automatic that proved to be problematic due to slushy shifts, a penchant for searching for gears, and rare use of the top gear.

Last year's Cherokee is like our middle-aged bodies while sprinting: not only is it ugly, it's also slow.

That's changing. For the 2019 model year, Jeep is refreshing the Cherokee and taking this opportunity to get it right…well, at least as much as possible. Not all of the miscues can be addressed, but those that can be are getting serious attention.

2019 Jeep Cherokee, Westlake Village, January 2018

2019 Jeep Cherokee, Westlake Village, January 2018

Engineering improvements
The biggest news is under the hood, where a new turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder becomes the top engine. This dual-overhead-cam, direct-injected turbo-4 is shared with Alfa Romeo and the new Wrangler, and it puts out 270 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque.

Jeep has too much invested in the other engines to change them out, so they carry over. The 3.2-liter V-6 soldiers on with 271 hp and 239 lb-ft of torque and the 2.4-liter continues with 180 hp and 171 lb-ft. The 2.4-liter is standard on Latitude, Latitude Plus, and front-drive Limited trim levels. Jeep charges $1,745 for the V-6 on those trim levels, but makes the V-6 standard on Limited four-wheel drive, Overland, and Trailhawk trims. Add another $500 for the turbo-4 if you want it. Your money buys you improved 0-60 mph times. The 2.4 takes a leisurely 10.5 seconds to hit the mark, the 3.2 does it in 7.5, and the 2.0 cuts the time to 7.0 seconds.

All engines add stop/start technology, and the 9-speed has been recalibrated. Rather than aiming for the best fuel economy, which resulted in long hunts for the right gears and slow reactions when more power was needed in last year's model, Jeep engineers have tuned the 9-speed this year for better drivability. That means holding gears a little longer and fewer shifts, and yet a Jeep spokesman said fuel economy will be improved thanks to weight loss and the addition of stop/start.

Jeep made some suspension changes, but it would take a pretty attuned backside to notice all of them. Engineers adjusted the springs, dampers, roll bars, and bushings slightly to improve on-road comfort.

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