- Family-sized interior (albeit with no third row)
- Daring exterior
- Front seat comfort
- Quick enough with the base engine
- Strong active-safety set
- Exterior styling doesn't feel fully committed-to
- Numb steering
- Gas mileage okay but not excellent
- Transmission woes come and go
features & specs
The 2016 Jeep Cherokee offers everything that the brand and nameplate promise—although there are some disconnects in the styling and packaging.
The 2016 Jeep Cherokee builds something completely new onto a very familiar name and heritage. While the original Jeep Cherokee that launched in 1986 set the bar for SUVs that could be used as family transport, inspiring a generation of competitors (and perhaps, the SUV trend as a whole), times have changed, and the market has come to favor models that are far more carlike.
For the most part, that's what the Cherokee is—although Jeep has managed to built a surprising amount of ruggedness and off-road ability onto a package that's designed primarily for families, road trips, and the daily grind. Top rivals for the Cherokee include some established crossovers such as the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester, and Toyota RAV4. It's a clean break from the more truck-like Jeep Liberty it replaced, and its styling is less blunt and bluff.
The current Cherokee may be the first compact SUV get the midpoint right, masterfully bridging the gap between city-friendly crossover and serious (or, serious enough) off-roader. It's an unlikely subject, stuffed with the heart of a Trail Rated Jeep. There's plenty of ruggedness and a general zest for things outdoorsy, while remaining perfectly suitable for families that merely want all-wheel drive (AWD) security and the suggestion that they might have enjoyed camping a time or two.
Instead of taking a design direction that's closer to that purpose—or going with something a little edgier—the Cherokee enters the fray with a startling variation of the Jeep face, then becomes something entirely derivative at other points. The cabin does paramedic duty here though, 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 an inline-4 and a V-6 under the hood—which helps it stand out in a class that includes several models that have gone all-4-cylinder. The standard 184-horsepower, 2.4-liter inline-4 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 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 towing 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 9-speed automatic that offers a shockingly wide range of ratios—allowing even the 4-cylinder versions to take off very quick from a standing start and cruise with very low revs on the highway. Yet there's some unhappiness in the way that this transmission sometimes balks, sometimes shifts with a bang, and sometimes holds a gear a lot longer than needed. It's not a deal-breaker, but it makes us wonder if the Cherokee would have been better with fewer gears. Its top figure of 31 mpg highway isn't class-leading either, but we've seen close to it in real-world conditions; four-wheel drive models post a few mpg lower. All V-6 Cherokee models now include engine stop-start system, which might not boost the official EPA numbers but will save some fuel in low-speed stop-and-go commuting.
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 1-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 modes for Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud, and Rock, and in low-range models with 4-cylinder engines, its crawl ratio is an astonishingly good 56:1.
Latitude and Trailhawk models now include a rearview camera plus automatic headlamps. On Latitude, Limited, and Trailhawk models, there's a new package that combines blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-path detection, 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 configurable LED instrument cluster.
This year, all models with that 8.4-inch system get a new "Drag and Drop" menu bar that allows more personalization, plus Siri Eyes Free compatibility and a "Do Not Disturb" mode that blocks out calls and text and can send a customized "I'm driving now" message.
The Cherokee boasts available adaptive cruise control that can bring it to a full stop if an impending collision is detected; optional lane-departure and frontal-crash 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.
Fuel economy isn't as good as others in its class. Although the Cherokee can manage up to 31 mpg highway on base, inline-4 models, most all-wheel drive Cherokees will earn in the low-20s, which is low for its class.
2016 Jeep Cherokee
A very well-penned interior balances out a lot of quirkiness on the outside in the 2016 Cherokee
The 2016 Jeep Cherokee might produce polarizing first impressions, but it can end up a lot more appealing once you soak in the design, inside and out.
The design isn't as cohesive from the outside as it should be. That might sound like a backhanded compliment, but there's something true to it—certainly in the way that Jeep fans will end up seeing the Cherokee. To be blunt, even a year in, the design still stands as a little unexpected and awe-inducing—and not entirely in a good way. The sharp, futuristic (and arguably cluttered) front-end design is a direct challenge to square-jawed, Jeep tradition. But even if you can't quite reconcile with the front-end appearance, there's plenty else aesthetically appealing in the Cherokee to redeem it.
On one side, the new front-end styling breaks out in a new direction, in a class that's starved for a new look. In our eyes, the controversial look feels incomplete; in some ways it feels like a redux of the Compass, a model that blurred design lines and styling consistency in ways that were a little uncouth, and a little unconvincing.
The Cherokee's wan, thin nose is the first problem. Breaking up its LED running-light eyebrows from the headlamps sounds like a clever idea for cool looks after the sun sets, but in daylight it delivers an Aztek-like effect—a tiered face that looks like it's always being woken up too early. A Jeep should look wide and awake, like it's up before reveille. The essential seven-bar grille looks thinly drawn here; what was once a point of pride for Jeep is now an effete afterthought.
Although the exterior of the Jeep Cherokee polarizes, the interior peacefully unifies. It's sporty, not at all trucklike, and finished in smooth, fine fashion.
That heady ode-to-nature stuff inside seems funny to us, since the Cherokee's cabin is wrapped up as tightly in petroleum derivatives as our retirement accounts. Jeep says the interior shapes are influenced by birds of prey, with a fluid feel. Whatever. In any case, It's a handsome look tipped into several color schemes named for places like Iceland, Mount Kilimanjaro and Morocco. (They're just gray, brown, and gold, right?)
The SUV theming is far from humorless, thank goodness. Jeep designers loaded in some great Easter eggs, like the 1941 Jeep Willys you'll find when letting the Cherokee park itself, or like the small, but perfectly, formed Jeep that rests at the base of the windshield, climbing over a sensor like it's a Moab boulder. You'll be happier inside looking out, than most Jeep traditionalists will be, outside, looking in.
2016 Jeep Cherokee
The 2016 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawks is the one with the real off-road chops, and you get what amounts to a lean-driving crossover otherwise.
The 2016 Jeep Cherokee lineup is a crossover SUV, to the definition—a vehicle with a tall seating point, built on underpinnings that were derived from those of passenger cars or intended to be shared with cars.
Given that, it's shocking how Jeep has managed to make a rugged off-roader and sedate family hauler in the same vehicle. It takes both tasks with aplomb—although its adeptness off-road is where it separates from its competition.
Pretty much throughout the lineup, the Cherokee lets you choose between a 2.4-liter inline-4 making 184 horsepower and 171 pound-feet, and a 3.2-liter Pentastar V-6 making 271 hp and 239 lb-ft. Get the inline-4 and front-wheel drive and it's a tall, economical hatchback. With its V-6 and Active Lock off-road system, it's a nimble rock-scrambler and responsive family wagon. There's room at the top for a sporty, V-6 street-performance model, but Jeep hasn't gone there. Not yet.
Most of the crossovers in the compact class have gone exclusively to four-cylinder engines, but the Cherokee still offers a V-6. With a very strong 271 hp and 239 lb-ft, the 3.2-liter here is a downsized version of Pentastar V-6 also in the Grand Cherokee. In V-6 form, it feels somewhat heavier, though—it tops 4,000 pounds in some guises—but it manages to always feel quick, confident, and refined.
All models with the V-6 also get engine stop-start systems, which smartly stops the engine at stoplights, and during what would otherwise have been long periods of idling.
The standard engine is a 2.4-liter inline-4. It's by far the most refined, best-sounding Chrysler 4-cylinder engine in a long time (and of course more fuel-efficient); and provided you won't be loading up the Cherokee most of the time it feels quite powerful, with a 0-60 mph time of about 8 seconds in base trim.
With either engine, you get a 9-speed automatic, with a lower first gear for quick takeoffs, a handful of mid-range gears, and a trio of tall overdrive upper gears for good highway mileage. That wide range of ratios allows strong performance—surprisingly good, even with the four—although the tradeoff is that you sometimes get moments of agonizing indecision, or unexpectedly delayed upshifts. It's a gearbox that really wants paddle actuation, though we'd settle simply for more direct control over some shifts.
In general, you'll want to be in the Sport mode when it's available on the Cherokee you're driving. We've found that to deliver the quickest, most decisive and predictable shifts—although it will likely dip into your gas mileage.
The Cherokee is rated to tow up to 4,500 pounds—which, with the off-road ability, makes it the only Swiss Army knife in the crossover-SUV drawer.
In other respects, the Cherokee feels responsive and pleasant, although there's nothing overtly communicative or sporty about it. Its steering has dual-pinion rack that delivers no feedback and somewhat heavy weighting, but there's good accuracy despite its off-road intentions and all-season tires. We've found ride quality to be good in most versions, but the Trailhawk, with its off-road tires and higher ride height, is better at soaking up low-speed upheaval, ranging from potholes to coarse surfaces—at some tradeoff to steering crispness.
Active Drive I, II, and Active Lock are three ways of AWD
Not all 2016 Jeep Cherokee models are off-road-capable—or even have all-wheel drive. Active Drive I is set up for getting through snowy driveways, and has a wet-clutch design and variable torque distribution between the front and rear wheels. It's handled automatically by the sensors that also govern the Cherokee's throttle and transmission and stability control, and there's no low range. It's offered on the four-cylinder, and it could add to cornering responsiveness and the general balance of the vehicle.
The next system up is Active Drive II, which gets you a low range with a very low crawl ratio of 56:1 with the 4-cylinder—adding up to the sort of off-road ability that will get you through pretty much any two-track or sandy, muddy path to surfing or rock climbing. All Cherokees with four-wheel drive have Selec-Terrain, which lets drivers choose the best mode from Sport, Snow, Sand/Mud, and Rock. Sport splits torque front-to-back at 40/60 ratio; The Snow mode reverses that ratio and starts the Cherokee in second gear for less slip; the sand and rock modes allow a rear split of up to 100 percent, and are combined with off-road braking modes. Here, the Cherokee's rear axle will declutch when not in use, which helps improve mileage, on the highway especially.
Trailhawk models get a 1-inch suspension lift, plus slimmer front and rear fascias, a locking rear differential, skid plates, and red tow hooks. And it includes the Selec-Speed control, which lets Cherokee climb hills with the same tenacity as it lowers itself with hill-descent control, creeping up from 1 mph to 5 mph in increments selected with the shift lever. Approach and departure angles are good for off-road work, at 30 and 32 degrees—and with ground clearance of 8.7 inches, the Cherokee really has very few rivals in its highly developed off-road niche.
2016 Jeep Cherokee
Comfort & Quality
The cabin is spacious and well-designed, with some impressive materials, although the driving position is a bit off.
Interior space is one area where the 2016 Jeep Cherokee isn't quite as much of a standout versus key rivals. You won't find a small third-row seat option here, and the back seat can feel quite cramped for adults. Yet there's more comfort and refinement here than you might expect, considering the rugged ability.
Officially, by the specs, the Cherokee has about the same rear-seat room as the Grand Cherokee. But before you start thinking that makes the Grand Cherokee look bad or that the Cherokee's vast, keep in mind they're worlds apart as it's a different kind of space. If there's a tall driver in front, the seatback will likely be pushing into the knees of the rear-seat rider; you can slide the rear seats back in their track a few inches, but it's an automotive domino effect that will then cut into your cargo space.
In case you shop by the numbers (and we're really recommending that you not), the Cherokee sits about 182 inches long, with a wheelbase of about 106 inches. It has 41.1 inches of front-seat leg room, about 38 inches of head room front and back, and 40.3 inches of rear-seat leg room.
The Cherokee is spacious in front, but the space is shaped unusually relative to most other models in this class. Bigger drivers might be making contact with the center console and the door panels, and it can be tough for taller drivers to find an ideal driving position. The Cherokee's steering wheel tilts up a bit more than usual from its bottom, in what we'd call classic Fiat style, and the top of the windshield feels a bit lower than expected.
You could get one of several front-seat designs in the Cherokee, and we like most of them. The seats are supportive enough in their Latitude trim, nicer with Nappa leather in Limited trim. All of the different seats have headrests that sit forward too much, though, which forces some drivers into a more laid-back driving position.
The Cherokee's high cargo floor lets four-wheel-drive components ride beneath it, but it trims down on total cargo space. The Cherokee's stow area is at most 58.9 cubic feet, with the front passenger seat folded down. Behind the front seats there's 54.9 cubic feet, while there's 24.6 cubic feet behind the rear seats—or 29 cubic feet if the rear seat is folded and pushed forward. You may find more space from some rival models around the same size, but the Jeep does make good use of it—and offers a cargo-management system with a hanging grocery bag.
In terms of materials and quality, there's a lot to like here. With high-quality, low-gloss, soft-touch surfaces and smooth-acting buttons and switches, the Cherokee's interior materials are those of a more expensive vehicle. Interior noise levels are filtered out very well, too; it's the first Chrysler 4-cylinder in a long time that didn't draw our groans for its groaning.
Throughout the interior, small-item storage is good, with lots of soft-touch surfaces, plenty of storage spaces for small items, and impressive infotainment systems. There's a groove in the center console bin to prop up smartphones, as well as a bin atop the center stack for a handful or two of stuff, plus a glove box that can hold an iPad.
2016 Jeep Cherokee
The 2016 Jeep Cherokee has more active-safety features than most other compact mainstream crossovers.
The 2016 Jeep Cherokee remains a solid choice for families. It has good occupant safety ratings and more active-safety features than is typical in this affordable class of crossovers.
All 2016 Cherokee models come with 10 airbags, including rear-seat side airbags and driver and front passenger knee airbags. The available frontal crash warning now includes automatic emergency braking, while the Latitude and Trailhawk models now include a rearview camera plus automatic headlamps. Additionally, on Latitude, Limited, and Trailhawk models, there's a new package that combines blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic detection, parking assist, and signal mirrors with courtesy lamps.
With its frontal crash warnings and its improvements, the Cherokee now achieves the top "Superior" level of front crash prevention from the IIHS. In most other categories of testing from the IIHS it does very well—except in the small overlap frontal test, where it achieves just "Marginal."
The NHTSA has rated the Cherokee at four stars overall, a score it earns in all but side-impact tests—where it earned five stars.
Outward visibility in the Cherokee is fairly good. A rearview camera is standard only on the Limited model, although optional on the other trims. 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.
2016 Jeep Cherokee
Excellent infotainment systems and all the available off-road gear you can use add up to a great feature set.
The 2016 Jeep Cherokee is offered in four trim levels: Sport, Latitude, Limited, and Trailhawk. Across those builds, the Cherokee appeals to a wide range of shoppers and expectations—from those who want a seriously off-road-worthy small SUV to those who merely want an efficient family vehicle with a touch of ruggedness.
The Cherokee Sport keeps it simple, and actually goes right up against a wide range of hatchbacks, crossovers—and even sedans. It's a 4-cylinder, front-wheel-drive model, with a simple Active Drive I all-wheel-drive system as an option. Standard equipment includes LED running lights and rear taillights; air conditioning; cruise control; cloth seats; keyless entry; 17-inch wheels with all-season tires; an AM/FM radio; a USB port and an auxiliary jack; Bluetooth with audio streaming; and power windows, locks, and mirrors.
The audio and phone display is a 5.0-inch screen, with redundant information in a 3.5-inch screen located between the gauges. Meanwhile, standard equipment in the Cherokee's most affordable form include power windows and locks; air conditioning; Bluetooth and USB connectivitiy; AUX input; 60/40-split folding rear seats; cruise control; and a Jeep-branded grocery bag.
On the Sport you can add satellite radio; a rearview camera; aluminum wheels; and a cold-weather package with heated seats, and a heated steering wheel; and remote start. A CD player is an option, and it mounts in the console, out of sight.
With the Latitude model, you add a fold-flat front passenger seat; LED ambient cabin lighting; a 115-volt power outlet; roof rails; and fog lights. You can opt for some of the desirable stuff, like the Active Drive II all-wheel drive; a V-6 engine; a 506-watt premium audio system; a panoramic sunroof; cold-weather and towing packages; a convenience package with keyless ignition, satellite radio, tonneau cover, power driver seat, power tailgate, rearview camera, and remote start.
Latitude models also get the upgraded infotainment system, with an 8.4-inch touchscreen and smartphone-app connectivity. We continue to be impressed with Jeep's array of connectivity services, as much for its easily absorbed graphics and functions as for its lack of lag.
This year, all models with the 8.4-inch system get a new "Drag and Drop" menu bar that allows more personalization, plus Siri Eyes Free compatibility and a "Do Not Disturb" mode that blocks out calls and texts and can send a customized "I'm driving now" message.
Those who want a luxurious, top-of-the-line model but without the off-road equipment will want Limited. It adds to the Latitude's feature list power front seats; leather upholstery; heated front seats; keyless ignition; 18-inch wheels and tires; a 7.0-inch configurable information screen in the gauge cluster; a touchscreen radio; satellite radio; a rearview camera; remote start; and dual-zone automatic climate control.
Options include the V-6; Active Drive I or II; navigation (available after the original purchase as a dealer download); Alpine audio; the panoramic sunroof; a wireless charging pad; comfort and towing packages; a luxury package with Nappa leather, ventilated front seats, memory seating, and remote start; and a tech package with lane-departure and forward-collision warnings, adaptive cruise control, parking sensors, blind-spot monitors, and parking assistance.
At the top of the lineup is the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk takes Latitude standard equipment and couples it with a Trail Rated badge—which comes with the ability to cross California's Rubicon Trail, Jeep's gold standard for off-road capability. To do that, the Trailhawk gets a tougher suspension with more ground clearance; its own front and rear bumpers; red tow hooks; skid plates; transmission and oil coolers; the most advanced Active Drive system with a locking rear differential; Selec-Speed Control, which lets the Jeep climb up grades at a consistent speed; and 17-inch wheels and OWL all-terrain tires. Options include the V-6 engine; navigation; Alpine audio; the panoramic sunroof; an open-air sliding glass sunroof; and the cold-weather, technology, convenience, towing, and leather packages.
One other particularly cool feature is the Cherokee's flavor of hands-free parking. Here the system can steer and nudge the car into a parallel or a conventional parking spot, with the driver serving as a final failsafe. It's the latest driving gadget that impresses most the first two or times you demonstrate it to friends.
2016 Jeep Cherokee
Engine stop-start should give V-6 models a boost in the real world, while mileage is quite good for 4-cylinder models as it is.
The 2016 Jeep Cherokee has a couple of relatively modern engines, plus has a standard 9-speed automatic transmission, but that doesn't mean that its mileage is especially great for its class.
Most rivals within the Cherokee's class actually get better numbers, by the EPA—although we admit that the real-world numbers we've seen for the Cherokee have been pretty good so far.
Base 4-cylinder versions of the Cherokee achieve 22 mpg city, 31 highway, 25 combined while that drops to 21/28/24 mpg with the entry all-wheel-drive system. Fuel economy for the V-6 Cherokee starts at 21/29/24 mpg for front-drive models. Going with the more advanced Active Drive II setup lowers highway mileage to 27 mpg, and combined numbers to 23 mpg.
A beefed-up body structure and heavier running gear its Trail Rating demands accounts for at least some of that mileage penalty.
Cherokee V-6 models now include engine stop-start systems, which adds a higher-capacity starter, heavy-duty flywheel teeth, and a more robust starter solenoid—plus some smart controls—to automatically stop the engine when you're waiting at a traffic light or stop sign then restart the engine when you lift off. That doesn't affect the official EPA ratings for V-6 Cherokees, but it should make those models considerably better than last year's V-6s in low-speed stop-and-go real-world commuting. A Cherokee equipped with a V-6 and Active Drive II manages 19/26/22 mpg, according to the EPA.