- Excessive off-road talent
- Refined turbo-4
- Better looks than before
- Good active safety features
- Pricey compared to class
- Poor gas mileage
- No hybrid
- Cramped interior
features & specs
The 2021 Jeep Cherokee prioritizes off-road capability beyond all else.
Jeep’s off-road bona fides stay intact with the 2021 Cherokee. Although it doesn’t have the same boxy shape—or offer Forest Service green—with the newest Cherokee, Jeep has an off-road SUV in mall-ready crossover clothes.
It earns a 5.7 TCC Rating. It can be a monster off-road, and also a bad dream at the pump. It’s not as efficient or as spacious as rivals but if you’re considering a Jeep, we hope a hard right off pavement is in your near future. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
This year, Jeep adds active safety features including automatic emergency braking and active lane control to all Cherokees. A commendable move, but also a little later than rivals from Toyota and Honda. Our favorite engine is even more limited now—at least it’s still available in Limited trim.
The Cherokee, which is offered in Latitude, Latitude Plus, Latitude Lux, Limited, and Trailhawk trims, rounds off some corners and takes a styling cue or three from the Grand Cherokee. Jeep still makes a box on wheels—it’s just called a Wrangler or Gladiator.
The Cherokee’s base 2.4-liter inline-4 is forgettable with just 180 horsepower to motivate up to two tons, although it’s the most efficient at up to 25 mpg combined. The uprated 271-hp, 3.2-liter V-6’s thirst is forgivable thanks to better power, but we’d opt for a 270-hp 2.0-liter turbo-4 that makes power like the latter with the fuel economy of the former.
Jeep wraps its interior in comfortable, durable materials but it's more cramped compared to others in its class. Rear seat room is on par with the likes of the Honda CR-V, but it compromises cargo space at just 24.1 cubic feet with the seat all the way back.
Safety scores are mixed with four stars from the feds but "Good" ratings from the IIHS, though it's not a Top Safety Pick.
The Latitude gets a 7.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, 17-inch wheels, cloth upholstery, and active safety features. We’d spend up to a Latitude Lux and opt-in for a turbo-4. At more than $31,000, it’s pricier than competitors, but adds leather upholstery and the option for an 8.4-inch touchscreen.
The Cherokee Trailhawk is king of the hill among compact SUVs for off-road talent, unless you don’t consider a two-door Wrangler to be a compact SUV.
2021 Jeep Cherokee
Conservative and grown up, the Cherokee is mid-pack among rivals.
More smoothly styled than just a few years ago, the 2021 Jeep Cherokee still lacks the charms of its predecessors. It doesn’t commit any sins but doesn’t stand out either. It’s a 5 for style.
The Cherokee raids the closet of its grander sibling for most of its styling inspiration. The seven-slot grille is there, but it’s wrapped around the top lips in poutier ways like too much collagen. The lower front bumper has an underbite; with the Trailhawk’s red tow hooks, it gets some whiskers, too.
The body sides signal the Cherokee’s softer side, and the tailgate seals that deal. It’s not as boxy as older Cherokees, but if you need right angles with a Jeep badge, there’s a Wrangler right across the lot.
Inside, the Cherokee is all business. Its symmetrical interior is plainer, but the details lift it. Soft materials are everywhere, and Easter eggs are scattered throughout the cabin. (We won’t spoil it for you, happy hunting.)
2021 Jeep Cherokee
The turbo-4 is the way to go, but its availability is dwindling.
Although Jeep offers three available engines in the Cherokee, we see only one logical pick.
It’s a 6 for performance with deference for the Cherokee’s off-road ability, which is superior to many in its class.
The standard engine in the Cherokee is a 2.4-liter inline-4 that makes 180 hp and is suited best for front-drive Cherokees, flat-landers, or the Jeep Compass. Unless you’re in a pinch, we’d skip that engine.
The next step is a turbo-4 that makes 270 hp and 295 pound-feet of torque, while returning nearly identical gas-mileage numbers to the 2.4-liter. It’s superior in every way to the other options, like the Tim Burton “Batman” movies. Unfortunately, it’s not available in the Trailhawk this year, nor the Latitude Plus—just Latitude Lux and Limited trim levels. Shucks.
The last stop is a 3.2-liter V-6 that makes 271 hp and 239 lb-ft and serves up meaty power in traditional ways. It’s more refined than the base inline-4 but you’ll pay for it—it’s thirsty at the pump and far down on efficiency compared to others in the class.
All engines pair to a 9-speed automatic transmission, despite our objections. The 9-speed is indecisive and dances through its gears with two left feet.
The four-wheel independent suspension in the Cherokee is suited well for on-road comfort. The Cherokee is available with front-wheel drive, but that misses the point. All-wheel drive is available on all models, and Trailhawk models have a mechanical locking rear differential (but no Cherokee has a locking center differential).
Even without Trailhawk hardware, the Cherokee is very capable off-road and that should be its appeal.
2021 Jeep Cherokee
Comfort & Quality
The 2021 Cherokee is smaller than most, but finished better than most too.
The 2021 Jeep Cherokee conquers just about anything, except for a crowd.
It’s less spacious than most rivals, but it’s a nice place inside with decent cargo room for gear. It’s a 6 for comfort.
The Cherokee’s front seats are supportive, but a little offset for some bigger bodies. Front riders get more than 40 inches of leg room, and a good view of the road ahead.
In back, two across is possible but three across better all be intimate friends. There are more than 40 inches of leg room in the back too, but there’s a caveat: that’s with the seat pushed all the way back into the cargo area. With the second row forward, the cargo space measures 29.1 cubic feet, but with the second row back in max-comfort spec, that space shrinks to 24.6 cubes, which is small for its class. The liftover height in all-wheel-drive versions is taller than most rivals, too.
The Cherokee has good storage inside for gear and bottles, electronics and phones. Our only gripe is the placement of the media USB charge port ahead of the shifter, aft of the phone slot, where long cords can wrap around the shifter.
Put this on the board for Jeep, too: The Cherokee’s interior materials including the textured plastics and soft-touch materials aren’t only good, they’re better than they need to be.
2021 Jeep Cherokee
Standard active safety features are a big upgrade this year.
Federal testers knocked it, but newly standard automatic emergency braking nets the 2021 Cherokee a 5 for safety on our scale.
The NHTSA gave the Cherokee a four-star overall score, which is low among competitors.
The IIHS called it a Top Safety Pick last year after it notched top “Good” ratings in all its crash tests and its automatic emergency braking system netted a “Superior” rating for avoiding forward crashes with other vehicles. But it loses the award this year since its pedestrian-protection systems haven't been rated.
Headlights vary by trim, but only the LED projectors paired with auto high beams on Limited or Trailhawk models with an optional tech package qualify as “Acceptable” to the IIHS.
Automatic emergency braking, active lane control, and blind-spot monitors are standard on all Cherokees this year. Adaptive cruise control is available on top trims only.
2021 Jeep Cherokee
Every Cherokee is well-equipped, but top trims add great features.
Newly standard automatic emergency braking vaults the 2021 Cherokee to an 8 on our features scale.
This year, the Cherokee is available in Latitude, Latitude Plus, Latitude Lux, Limited, and Trailhawk trims.
Base Cherokee Latitudes get 17-inch wheels, cloth upholstery, a 7.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and active safety features covered above. It hits all the right notes for our features scale, but it’s a little pricier than rivals at more than $27,000 for a front-drive version.
The Cherokee Latitude Plus adds a few more creature comforts such as upgraded cloth seats, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, and more available options. We’d skip it and head to the Latitude Lux version, which offers an uprated turbo-4 engine. It adds leather upholstery and offers an 8.4-inch touchscreen.
Shoppers looking for a Saturday Cherokee could consider the Trailhawk, which adds more off-road bits, a bigger standard engine (no turbo-4 this year, sadly), and a more rugged interior.
2021 Jeep Cherokee
The Cherokee isn’t as fuel-efficient as rivals.
The 2021 Jeep Cherokee trades off-road capability for gas mileage. It lags competitors like the RAV4 and CR-V by a large margin, and that’s before we consider hybrid versions of both.
The 2021 Cherokee with all-wheel drive and a 2.4-liter inline-4 is rated by the EPA at 21 mpg city, 29 highway, 24 combined. That’s a 4.
Opting for just front-wheel drive improves those numbers to 22/31/25 mpg.
The optional 2.0-liter turbo-4 is rated nearly identically, which means it’s the best choice for power and fuel economy in the Cherokee.
A 3.2-liter V-6 is standard in Latitude Lux, Limited, and Trailhawk trims and is rated lower: 19/27/22 mpg with all-wheel drive, 18/24/21 mpg in Trailhawk, and 20/29/23 mpg with front-wheel drive. Most versions of the RAV4 and CR-V rock steady at about 30 mpg combined.