When you think of off-road-capable Jeeps, the first two that come to mind are likely the Wrangler and the Grand Cherokee. But there is another, priced closer to the Wrangler yet with a similar attitude to the Grand Cherokee. It's the Cherokee, smaller than the Grand, yet like its big brother, combines a luxurious cabin with off-road capability. The Jeep Cherokee isn’t as capable as the Wrangler, but you can take a Cherokee on a trail with confidence -- and with a much cushier interior. For 2016, Jeep introduced a new trim level, the Overland, the most luxurious member of the Cherokee family.

Fully Loaded Flagship

While the Trailhawk is the Cherokee flagship when it comes to off-roading, the Overland is the most posh -- and is almost as well equipped as the Trailhawk when it comes to exploring the backcountry. The Deep Cherry Red Overland we tested came equipped with leather generously applied to the instrument panel, heated steering wheel, shift knob, rear seats and the heated/cooled power front seats. There were enough USB ports inside to keep electronics charged, and Uconnect continues to be one of the best systems available, making it easy to use Bluetooth, pick a good road-trip playlist, and figure out what route to take to go exploring.

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And that's exactly what we did. Pushing start, we drove the Cherokee out of Moab, Utah, on a road that follows the Colorado River. The Overland comes with the 271-horsepower 3.2-liter V6 and 9-speed automatic transmission, a combination that makes it very easy to get up to speed and stay there. We noticed one or two hard shifts, but the transmission has been greatly improved compared to past versions. The V6 uses a fairly smooth auto stop/start system, but we always appreciate when companies like Jeep give you the option of shutting it off. The Overland is also loaded with safety equipment, including parallel and perpendicular park assist; blind spot and cross path detection; front, rear side, side-curtain and front inflatable knee airbags; lane-departure warning; and lane-departure assist.

From the feel of the leather on the seats, to the materials on the dash and doors and the attractive color scheme inside, the Cherokee's interior has a level of refinement above most other vehicles in the compact SUV segment. The ride is comfortable, more ideal for a pleasant long drive than for the race track. The seats are soft, and while the driver's seat bottom cushion is on the flat side, the seat back offers plenty of support. The interior is pleasantly quiet, making the day's drive even nicer. Opening the CommandView panoramic sunroof gave us another way to admire the red-rock bluffs flanking the Colorado River.

Capable Crawler

Our Cherokee was equipped to be almost as capable off-road as the Trailhawk, the main difference being the Trailhawk comes with a locking rear differential not offered in the Overland. The Overland is equipped with the 2-speed Active Drive II 4-wheel drive system with low range; Selec-Terrain, with unique settings based on the ground you plan to cover (mud, sand, snow, etc.); hill descent control; hill start assist; and an off-road suspension that gives the Overland's 8.2 inches of ground clearance. The Cherokee also disconnects the rear axle when 4WD isn't needed to improve fuel economy.

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The Cherokee has a longer hood than the Wrangler so the sight lines aren’t as good, but as long as you are thoughtful and pick a reasonable line, you can enjoy a drama-free trail ride. You can't expect to traverse boulders on the Rubicon, but enjoying country that you can't see from the Interstate or a paved road can definitely be a regular treat in a Cherokee.

Like the larger, more expensive Grand Cherokee, the Cherokee Overland achieves a good balance between luxury and realistic off-road capability. But it does come at a price. Our Cherokee has an as-tested price of $42,480, and a fully equipped Cherokee Overland with all the bells and whistles is the most expensive top-of-the-line SUV in its segment by about $4,000. Still, you won’t find this combination of luxury and off-road prowess elsewhere in the segment.


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