CC Review: 2019 Jeep Cherokee Limited 4×4 – Curiously Compelling

Jeep’s Cherokee is a storied name, starting life as a quite rugged machine, then evolving into one of the pioneers of the everyman’s SUV trend in the 1980’s, all through the 90’s and into the new millenium.  Overseas the name then graced what we over here know as the Liberty, but then for 2014 the Cherokee name returned to our shores as well when the current compact CUV version was introduced.  Recently I had the opportunity to spend nine fun-filled days and eight fabulous nights with a quite loaded new 2019 version.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect, or rather, I was pretty sure exactly what to expect, yet another competitor in the smaller CUV class that is taking over the world.  While I’m not nearly as anti as some in that regard they have tended to coalesce into a fairly common set of specifications, however Jeep does do some things a bit differently than many of the others.

Obviously Jeep is well known for its off-road chops and does offer some very capable versions of the Cherokee to appeal to that part of the market.  However, they also offer a quite basic, FWD version for yet another part of the market and along with a few other trim levels, i.e. something for almost everyone, they additionally offer a very comprehensively equipped version such as the one I sampled that is less about going off-road and more about being very competent at what most people actually use these things for.

Getting back to what I was (or wasn’t) expecting; I certainly didn’t expect a V6 engine, but was pleasantly surprised in that regard, if I am not mistaken this is the only one left in the segment.  It’s not the 3.6l Pentastar but rather a 3.2l version of the same producing 271hp and 239lb-ft of torque.  Power was plentiful and always present and accounted for as soon as the command went to the engine room.

I was definitely expecting and interested in the 9-speed ZF transmission, which caused Jeep a lot of grief when it was introduced and for some time thereafter.  Cutting straight to the chase, I found the transmission to work just fine, no issues, it behaved as I would expect it to, i.e. unobtrusively and picking the right gears at the right time based on conditions and inputs.  It appears they have figured out the correct programming, at least when paired with the V6.  It does have a manual mode, but it seemed pointless, I played with it for a few minutes and quickly tired of it.  It’s just not that kind of machinery.

Stepping outside again for a moment, as I mentioned this is the Limited version but it also sports the High Altitude package, which is a supplemental trim level.  On my sticker it shows as an option package but on the web configurator it shows up as its own model, causing me some confusion at first and likely a running change during the model year.

Only available in select colors, it transforms the look of the vehicle from ubiquitous CUV with black cladding to something much more premium, with all of the cladding and pretty much everything else in body color and the wheels in (coincidentally) dark gray.  My example in Granite Crystal Metallic (the same dark gray available pretty much across all of the FCA lineups) looked very attractive to my eyes and while I don’t usually like dark wheels, the ones on this one were very complemintary to it, if it was a lighter body color I might feel different about that.

This package adds $1795 to the standard Limited’s starting price of $34,445 and in addition to body-coloring all the things, adds the 19″ wheels and tires, a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hot spot, Navigation and the UConnect system with the 8.4″ screen.

My vehicle also featured the Technology Group ($1,095) which is all of your normal nannies (lane-keep, emergency braking, adaptive cruise, automatic high beams, rain sensing wipers, side distance controls, and park assist).  I myself don’t mind the nannies once I get used to them and often they now provide one with an insurance discount, so could easily pay for themselves over time, never mind if they actually help prevent an accident.

The Luxury Group was also represented here as FCA knows how I like my test vehicles, so to duplicate the full Jim Klein Experience you’d have to fork over another $1,195 but would gain fore and aft moving rear seats (which was standard on my 2011 base RAV4 and many lower priced CUV so a little odd this is an extra charge item), a cargo cover (ditto), ventilated front seats (nice), some extra carpeting in the cargo area and a new for 2019 foot-activated rear tailgate wherein you wave your foot somewhere under the rear of the car and it opens.

I personally can’t seem to manage this feat without toppling over even when completely sober but assume that if you were by yourself and balancing four sacks of groceries in one hand and a toddler on your hip and another on your back covering your eyes and maybe a third wrapped around your calf this wouldn’t be a problem whatsoever; my wife is one of those supermoms, more power to her and everyone else like that.  I just touched the keyfob in the requisite area to open it, there’s also a regular latch if that’s one’s preference.

And then last but not least is the option I personally would skip and save $1,595, which is the full panoramic sunroof which for me always takes up too much headroom and I never use anyway.  I did try it and it opened great, lots of light, lots of air, lots of heat, lots of sunburn.  It closed just as well and very quickly to boot and the cover is completely opaque as opposed to some others.

At the Limited level, basic luxury items such as heated seats and steering wheel, blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert, power liftgate, Keyless Go/Passive Entry (i.e. key just stays in pocket), rear parking sensor with auto-stop and other little stuff is all included in the base price.  There really isn’t anything that I thought was lacking, it’s getting harder and harder to justify shelling out for a true “premium” marque.

AWD is standard as well, and in this case it is Jeep’s Active Drive I system.  This system decouples the rear axle when traction from the rear is not needed for better fuel economy and also includes a brake lock differential.  In addition it has a terrain management selector, offering differing modes labeled auto, snow, sand/mud, and sport. As mentioned previously this is the type of system most useful for normal driving, i.e. not the Rubicon Trail, although Jeep has different systems for that as well.

Now, as we all know, those are asking prices, I’m guessing at this point in the Cherokee’s lifecycle, even with the recent refresh, your local dealer may be in a bargaining mood.  About that refresh, the most noticable thing about it is the headlights.  While the front used to have those little squinty lights (that were not actually the headlights) that has since been adopted by several other brands, Jeep restyled it to give the Cherokee a more normal face, all for the better in my opinion.

Getting in, it’s a comfortable and well-appointed interior, there is plenty of space but while not an overly abundant amount, I wouldn’t call it tight or cramped either.  Pretty much Goldilocks level.  Last year I drove the Compass (one level down) and it was smaller but still perfectly fine.

The Grand Cherokee which I last drove a few years ago but we’ve reviewed here recently has more space but I can’t say I missed it.  We rode in the Cherokee several times as a four-up family (our 5th member is too old to be willing to be seen with us in public anymore) and the boys were perfectly fine in the back and my wife was quite happy with the passenger side.

About that – I’ve gotten my wife used to some fairly decent machinery over the years and while she currently drives a Toyota Highlander is always keeping an eye out for a successor.  She liked the Cherokee, in fact her remarks were to the effect that while she probably wouldn’t really want any of the other compact CUVs besides maybe the Audi Q5 or the Porsche Macan if we somehow win the lottery, the Jeep Cherokee might actually do as the brand (to her) has more cachet than most of the others in the class.  Not necessarily cachet in the snooty sense, but more as being kind of “class-less”, i.e. being able to transcend the traditional ladder of brands which is definitely something that is working to Jeep’s advantage.

Anyway, back to the interior.  While the tester was black, black, and more black inside, the textures were rich and didn’t feel out of place even on this pretty much top of the line vehicle that totaled out at $41,620.  The leather seats were very comfortable and very adjustable.  You do tend to sit a bit ON them rather than IN them, but some judicious use of the power controls and four-way lumbar support makes a good position achievable for most, although seat comfort is VERY subjective, so your opinion may vary.

The one aspect that I would wish for was that the seat be able to be lowered more than it does, the aforementioned panoramic sunroof gets a little close to my head for my comfort.  I’m 6’1″ with a 32″ inseam for reference, but my short wife also commented on the high seating position within the cabin, for her it was a positive.

Having driven a fair number of FCA vehicles (Chryslers, Jeeps, RAMs) they are now quite familiar, all of the controls are generally in the same place and setting up and using the center screen is no problem at all.  Many functions have redundant buttons and knobs and even my 10-year-old son within seconds had figured out how to turn on his ventilated seat and adjust the temperature setting on his side.

My biggest satisfaction regarding the interior was noting that the windshield wipers have a tap to wipe function that can be achieved without removing my entire hand from the wheel, long one of my pet peeves with most domestic makes.

As with most recent FCA products I found the sound quality or (since I’m getting old) the volume at which I can clearly hear it to be excellent with little tinny-ness and plenty of bass without rattles.  Using the controls on the back of the steering wheel to switch stations and volume is an appreciated feature but also duplicated both by knobs as well as the screen, whichever floats your boat.  One of my absolute favorite things is the button on the radio that you can push when one of your favorite songs or artists comes on, it will then alert you whenever that song (or artist depending on how you program it) comes on anywhere else on the spectrum and allows you to go to it with the push of a button. My old Chrysler 300C had that and I loved it, I haven’t noticed it elsewhere until this car.

Even though this one had the full Navigation Suite, when I plugged my phone in I realized it also had Apple CarPlay which I had several occasions to use, as everywhere else I’ve used it, here it worked just the same.  It really is a boon that most makers are now including this feature but I’m surprised to note that some are charging a fee for having it (not FCA, I might add).

I do like the UConnect Infotainment system but noticed that the resolution of the backup camera is starting to lag behind some competitors; everything is still visible but not as clear as it could be.  One thing I had not noted in other cars is the button that allows you to turn the camera on while moving forward, which delighted my boys to no end.  It shuts itself off after about ten seconds, I guess it’s there so you can figure out what you just ran over (?)

The headlights, in addition to having automatic high beam controllability (which works very well in my experience), are also LED, as such they are very bright and give off plenty of light, much appreciated in my somewhat dark neighborhood at night even when on the low beam setting.

The cargo area is a decently square-ish shape with some handy side-bins, below the floor is another level for smaller oddments and then below that is a spare that while not full sized didn’t seem tiny either, and at least there IS a spare.  The right side of the cargo area housed a subwoofer that I assume wouldn’t be there in more basic trims and the cargo cover was appreciated as I did have items I’d prefer to not be visible in there several times while driving around.

My fuel mileage for the 360 or so miles that I drove it averaged just over 22mpg, with about half that mileage being on fairly clear and fast moving freeways and the rest around town.  On the freeway I had the average as high as 27 and was by no means dawdling, city traffic obviously brings that down.  The sticker shows the rating to be at 19/27 with an average 22mpg, so pretty much exactly what I was seeing.

This objectively isn’t necessarily great but considering we had the big (optional in the lineup) engine and weren’t aiming for the best possible mileage I find it acceptable.  The other engines are a 2.4l four cylinder as well as a 2.0l turbo four, which I was not aware was available.  If it’s the same engine that’s in the Wrangler which I have driven with it, it’s likely to be an absolute hoot and I’d love to experience that engine in this vehicle.

This engine does have stop-start and while there is a button to turn it off, I ended up leaving it on.  What I found curious is that I’ve tried other vehicles with stop-start but all have been four cylinder engines as far as I can recall.  This one acted different in that usually you note when the engine comes back on, here it was faintly noticeable when the engine STOPPED but extremely smooth when it turned back on.  I wasn’t fond of the way the A/C would get warmer at a longer stop but at some point the engine does turn itself back on, what would be wonderful is a user-selectable setting to be able to adjust those thresholds.

The wheels and tires, while larger than on most of the trim levels, rode well, were silent and let this little CUV handle very well.  There was zero tippy-ness and I was able to take most any corner at least as fast as in most normal sedans and just as fast as I wanted, there was no dialing anything back due to the nature of the vehicle.  Those who think all modern CUVs are tippy and constantly in danger of falling over are just wrong, but just like some sedans will go around a corner much better or faster than others, the same applies here.  There is a lot more overlap between the categories than some will give credit for.

It’s not a boring vehicle to drive but it is undemanding, something that is often welcome in today’s world.  Driving on the freeway at high speeds while talking on the Bluetooth connected phone and following the navigation directions was unstressful and left me ready to go when I arrived at my destination an hour later.  Same around town; good sightlines with the exception of a somewhat thick A-pillar, excellent brakes, and plenty of power makes for short work of mundane errands, a good step-in height requires just a lateral slide in without ducking one’s head.

If it matters to anyone, this Jeep is now built in Belvidere, Illinois and the engine and transmission (this combination at least) are both listed as being built in the U.S. as well.

My title indicates that the Cherokee is compelling, and I chose that word due to the fact that were I in the market for a vehicle such as this I might not have looked at the Cherokee to begin with, I really liked the old XJ Cherokee and never really had much thought about this one as I think I found the old front end a bit off-putting.  However I would very much consider one of these now and my wife has pointed others out over the last week.  Getting into this Jeep several times a day soon became like pulling on an old glove, get in, hit the start button, release the electric brake, slot it into Drive and pull away without any real thought.  It just did what it was supposed to, unobtrusively, quietly and powerfully enough that it fully met my (unverbalized) expectations.  Hence, curiously compelling.