2019 Jeep Cherokee: a nip here, a tuck there

Ever since the Jeep Cherokee was introduced in for model-year 2014, I’ve wondered when we’d see an exterior design rethink. Why? Well, I just thought there was something odd about the front of the Cherokee. I wasn’t alone, I should add.

Then again, maybe Cherokee’s sales success was actually primed by its …um… distinctive appearance! Who’s to say?

But the answer to my question, however, is 2019. That’s when you get a refreshed exterior design for the Jeep Cherokee and that’s when the look of this vehicle, in my view, comes into proper focus.

What did Jeep do? At the front, I’m pleased to say, quite a lot. They’ve moved things around, repositioned the lights, changed the front bumpers and the hood, sharpened the grille, and standardized LED headlights. At the rear you’ll find redesigned taillights and a new, lighter power handsfree liftgate. This massaging and minor surgery has transformed “quirky” into “really sharp.”

Not that the updates are confined to the exterior. There are also some interior enhancements including the latest generation Uconnect infotainment system that now arrives with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. And behind the rear seat you’ll find a useful 75-millimeter wider cargo area for improved capacity, and improved panel materials throughout. Surrounding occupants, gloss black and satin chrome accents brighten the instruments, vents and controls.

Back outside, a capless fuel filler and five new wheel designs contribute improved usability and enhanced appearance.

But what makes a Jeep a Jeep is the reputation for bone-fide extreme off-roading, and its corresponding (and deserved) brand identity. While Cherokee’s competitors in the midsize SUV segment also offer the latest safety, entertainment, communication and comfort technologies, do they make available a choice of all-wheel and rugged four-wheel drive systems in combination with three engine options and eight trim levels? How about a nine-speed transmission?

No, is the short answer (although Toyota’s working on its RAV4 lineup…).

The three engine options are interesting. There’s a lusty 3.2L 271 horsepower V6 (uncommon to find a V6 these days) that delivers a very useful 4,500-pound towing capacity; a new-this-year 2.0 direct-injected and turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 270 hp, and delivers 10.4/7.6 L/100km and a slightly more fuel-efficient 180 hp four-cylinder “MultiAir.”

My $42,500 (currently significantly discounted, so check online!) Limited test vehicle was equipped with the new 2.0L engine and I’ve got to say, I liked it from the get-go. The exterior refresh is a welcome improvement, and the proportions of the Cherokee, for me, are just right. Furthermore, it looks substantial but isn’t too big. Inside, the seats and trim are nicely designed and presented, while accommodation front and rear is generous, as is cargo capacity with second row seats folded.

The beefy (and optionally heatable) steering wheel fits nicely in the hands, the seats are large but comfortable and supportive, and visibility all around is decent for a vehicle of this type. The big centre display is great for navigation and rear camera view, and Jeep’s Uconnect infotainment remains one of the best available.

I should add, however, that the driver controls and the dash layout is not the most modern looking. Lots of buttons, knobs and switches that some may find a bit retro, whereas others will experience relief. Either way, as I say, the display-based UConnect system is very good and easy to use.

Just about every feature you’d want is either standard or available on the Cherokee. Heated and ventilated seats? Check. The latest electronic safety and fuel conserving technologies including intelligent cruise control, automatic parking, lane keeping control and auto stop/start. Check. Dual-pane panoramic glass roof? Check. Adjustable power liftgate? Check. A choice of 10 colours that aren’t all grey or white? Thankfully, check again (although the choice varies by trim level).

On the road, the Cherokee feels solid and capable. A bit lighter than the model it replaces, the 2019 Cherokee is still on the heavy side, though. Two observations on this: one, its mass reassures with the feeling that it’s not going to crumple should you find yourself in an incident. Two: even so, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rates Cherokee overall as four stars out of five (check ntsha.gov for details), although side impact is 5/5 stars.

In everyday driving, this vehicle is easy to handle, rides smoothly and is quiet inside, so don’t let the brand’s off-road pedigree fool you. Yes, it’s happy to clamber, but I suspect nearly all Cherokees are primarily used as everyday family vehicles. I know in my time behind the wheel, it was used as such: local trips, shopping, visiting and the occasional highway jaunt. Fuel economy was good, I thought.

What I didn’t experience was Jeep’s formidable off-road prowess (didn’t have the opportunity). I can tell you that there’s an available locking rear differential and available two-speed Power Transfer Unit (PTU) with torque management, and the “4 Low” mode locks the front and rear driveshafts for low speed power or towing. The low range provides a 2.92:1 gear reduction that enhances climbing ability and virtually unstoppable crawl ratios in severe terrain. Additionally, Jeep’s Selec-Terrain traction control system supplies Auto, Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud and Rock modes. I have driven other Jeep models over such terrain and can attest to their superiority in harsh, even extreme, environments. I expect the “Trail Rated” Cherokee continues the tradition.

But will most buyers order and/or use these features? Likely not, and you don’t have to buy your Cherokee with them. The Limited model is likely a typical specification for the Cherokee.

While Jeep is not a luxury brand, its models are current and generously equipped, and they have that rugged, capable look, I think you’ll agree. The brand is arguably a jewel in the FCA crown. Consequently, the company is investing in it, and consumers benefit.

2019 Jeep Cherokee

Starting prices (check jeep.ca for current pricing and special offers)

Sport: $27,021
North: $30,171
Altitude: $30,977
Limited: $31,359
Trailhawk: $33,059
High Altitude: $34,751
Trailhawk Elite: $35,605
Overland: $36,969

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