Price Range: $25,195-$39,475

Max Capacity: 5 passengers

Engines: 2.4-liter 4-cylinder, 3.2-liter V6, 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder

Max Towing: 4,500 lbs

Similar: Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape

When Jeep reintroduced the Cherokee name for 2014, the theme song might have been Bob Dylan's classic, "The Times They Are A-Changin." Rather than a truck, the new Cherokee was now a front-wheel-drive crossover based on a Fiat-developed car chassis of all things. But while purists wept, buyers opened their wallets, and the new Cherokee handily outsold its rear-drive truck-based predecessor, the Jeep Liberty.

Fresh off a mid-cycle refresh, the 2019 Jeep Cherokee continues the changin' times theme. Gone are the odd-looking multi-tiered headlights, replaced with a much more attractive and conventional layout that mimics what we've seen on the Jeep Compass and Jeep Grand Cherokee. The rear end gets a restyle as well, and there are a few interior tweaks, including an updated infotainment system and even a 3-cubic-foot bump in cargo space. But the biggest news is under the new aluminum hood, in the form of a new 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that now resides at the top of the lineup.

To check it all out -- including how well the Trailhawk can handle trails -- Jeep handed us the keys to its new Cherokee and we hit the winding roads around the hills above Malibu, California.

Finally Pretty

The new nose fixes one of the biggest complaints we've had about the new Cherokee since its introduction: its weird nose. The previous headlight arrangement was confusing, with slit-like daytime running lights atop the fenders, actual headlights that looked like fog lights in the middle of the bumper, and fog lights hidden even lower that looked like an afterthought. Now the shape mimics the Compass and Grand Cherokee, giving it a proper "face." Standard LED headlights preserve the low nose of the Cherokee, but suffice it to say, it benefits greatly from the update. The rear end gets a few tweaks as well. The new bumper looks better integrated, the license plate has moved to the tailgate itself, there are new taillights, and an overall more integrated look. Functionally, the new Cherokee loses a few pounds with an aluminum hood and composite hatch.

The Engines

Before any discussion of engine choices in the 2019 Jeep Cherokee takes place, it's important to keep this in mind: The lightest front-wheel-drive Cherokee weighs nearly 150 pounds more than the heaviest four-wheel-drive Honda CR-V. Suffice it to say, that's a lot to handle, and the base 2.4-liter 4-cylinder just isn't up to the task. Its 180 horsepower sounds competitive, but it struggles against the Cherokee's heft whether accelerating from a stop or passing. Unless you engage solely in urban driving and rarely floor the throttle, you'll want to skip this engine altogether. Important to note: If you're considering the off-road-ready Trailhawk or more luxurious Overland, Jeep has made the decision for you by making the 3.2-liter V6 standard on those models.

Speaking of that V6, it offers up significantly more power (271 hp) and a towing capacity of 4,500 pounds, good numbers for the compact SUV segment. But if you're expecting a rocket ship, its 239 lb-ft of torque don't exactly make the Cherokee feel quick, just less slow than the standard 4-cylinder. There's also a fuel economy hit to contend with compared to the base engine.

New to the lineup -- and our new favorite engine in the Cherokee -- is the 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder. Delivering 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, it finally makes the Cherokee feel spry enough that "quick" is almost the right word. Despite a bit of boost lag from a stop, the power delivery felt spot on, and as a $500 option over the V6, we think it's worth every penny.

The linchpin with all three engines is the 9-speed automatic transmission. To its credit, Jeep has worked hard to improve shift feel and reliability of this unit, and it's certainly better than our first encounter with it when the Cherokee first debuted in 2014. However, getting it to downshift still often requires foot-to-the floor acceleration, and even then, there's a 2-3 second wait before getting any additional forward motion. Hard to believe, but the continuously variable automatics in the Honda CR-V and Nissan Rogue both offer better throttle response than the 9-speed in the Cherokee.

The Ride

We drove the new Cherokee from our starting place in Westlake Village, down through the hills above Malibu, and ultimately to Canyon Ranch for some off-road play in the Cherokee Trailhawk. Our journey began in a base model four-wheel drive Cherokee Latitude equipped with the 2.4-liter 4-cylinder.

Mullholland Drive and Stunt Road are legendary sports-car roads, filled with the kinds of twists and turns that feel custom designed for sporty two-door coupes. A compact crossover SUV like the Jeep Cherokee? Not so much. Even at moderate speeds the Cherokee was wholly out of its element on the twists and turns of Malibu's hills. Instead, the winding roads underscored some of the Cherokee's shortcomings, like the lazy shifting transmission, and the lack of power from the base 4-cylinder.

On more traditionally suburban roads -- the kinds where Cherokees are likely to spend most of its time -- the Jeep crossover SUV felt much happier. The steering felt good, the brakes were significantly better than adequate, and the suspension struck a comfortable balance, even in the base model. It's still pokey, but there's enough power to at least keep up with traffic, and the start-stop -- standard on all engines this year -- was invisible enough that we didn't feel compelled to reach for the off button. The transmission's lazy shifting isn't quite as apparent either, unless you need to pass RIGHT NOW, and we were able to better appreciate the refinements Jeep has applied since its initial stab at this 9-speed in 2014.

From the coast we once again tackled the twisty sections of the Malibu hills before arriving at Canyon Ranch, where we'd be able to play in the dirt with the Cherokee Trailhawk. With additional ground clearance, standard skid plates, better approach, breakover, and departure angles, and the most advanced all-wheel-drive system available on the Cherokee, the Trailhawk is far and away the most capable crossover SUV in its class. The Active Drive Lock all-wheel-drive offers a 4LO mode, allowing you to creep over treacherous terrain like a pro, and includes a rear differential lock for better traction. Opt for the turbo like we did, and you get a 51.2:1 crawl ratio, better even than the V6. There's a Rock Crawl mode that allows foot-free driving over harsh rocky terrain, and the Selec-Terrain traction management system includes a mud and sand mode for slick surfaces. The Cherokee made short work of the 20-minute off-road loop, and obviously, Jeep wouldn't design a course its SUV couldn't handle. But you'd never catch us taking a Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4 over the same terrain. It's no Wrangler, but few things are, and the Cherokee Trailhawk stands head and shoulders above its competitors off road.

From Canyon Ranch we drove a Latitude Plus equipped with the new turbo engine back to the hotel through yet another set of twisty canyon roads. While the turbo doesn't suddenly turn the Cherokee into an Alfa Romeo Stelvio, it no longer struggles to accelerate to speed despite the slow transmission and a bit of turbo lag. It's well worth the $500 premium over the V6, and even the $2,345 step up from the base 4-cylinder.

Enhanced Interior

Like the exterior, the interior got its share of changes, albeit far subtler ones. The dash gets a refresh, and there are more soft-touch surfaces strewn throughout. The outer vents are larger and more nicely integrated, the center console gets a bit more room, and the overall feel is that the Jeep Cherokee is simply more upscale than before, even on base models. The Cherokee's comfortable front seats get hobbled by a steering wheel that doesn't tilt high enough or telescope out far enough, so tall drivers wind up in an awkward driving position. There's good visibility though, and the rest of the controls are standard issue Fiat/Chrysler/Jeep/Dodge, which is to say, simple to see and use.

Thanks to its ease of use and clean layout, Uconnect remains one of our favorite infotainment systems. Jeep's standard Uconnect infotainment system now comes with a 7-inch touch screen even on base models. That base model offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard, although the actual CarPlay is displayed so small on the screen that it's not much bigger than an iPhone to begin with, but we'd rather have a small display than none at all...looking at you, Mazda and Toyota. The bigger Uconnect system is easier to use, and offers more features overall like on-board navigation, useful if you're in an area where cell reception won't let your phone's maps update, and you've forgotten to enable the "offline maps" function.

Rear-seat passengers get decent legroom and headroom, although it doesn't feel quite as generous as the Honda CR-V despite penciling out about the same on paper. We were impressed by the soft door tops and proper padding on the door armrest, two areas that often get short shrift in compact SUVs. The seatbacks recline a bit -- think coach class on an airline -- and on some models the seats slide fore and aft as well. Jeep scared up an additional 3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row thanks to some clever rearranging of the plastics back there and the new hatch design. There's also a false floor, meaning you can either hide valuables under it for safekeeping, or drop the floor down for taller objects. Still, there's not nearly as much cargo space as in the Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4.

Conclusion

The updated 2019 Jeep Cherokee isn't perfect. The transmission could use another round of improvements, there's not a lot of cargo space compared to others in its class, it's heavy, and the driving position isn't the best for tall drivers.

But the Cherokee benefits from a long "yeah, but" list. There's the obvious advantage of the Trailhawk for example. Its exceptional off-road prowess is reason enough to buy a Cherokee. The standard Cherokees are also solid off-road machines, and generally more confident in the rough stuff than their competitors. There's the 4,500-pound towing capacity as well, which doubles many others in its class. The new turbo engine has the makings of a hit. With the new styling, the Cherokee is even pretty.

The Cherokee isn't likely to threaten the sales dominance of its Honda and Toyota rivals. But it makes a compelling case for those who think even a crossover should have some off-road chops. Combine that with its newfound good looks, and those changin' times are good indeed.

2019 Jeep Cherokee Photo Gallery

2019 Jeep Cherokee Trims, Prices and Specs

There are five different trim levels, three different engines, three different four-wheel drive systems -- not to mention front-wheel drive -- and a range of options and features for the 2019 Jeep Cherokee. We break it all down for you below, including prices which include a surprisingly high $1,200 destination charge.

2019 Jeep Cherokee Latitude
$25,195 (FWD), $26,940 (V6 FWD), add $1,500 for 4WD
180-horsepower 2.4-liter 4-cylinder or 270-horsepower 3.2-liter V6
9-speed automatic transmission
Front- or 4-wheel drive
Active grille shutters
Selec-Terrain traction management system (4WD only)
LED headlights
Fog lights
Air conditioning
Manual cloth seats
Uconnect 4 with 7-inch display
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
Hill-start assist
Keyless entry
Backup camera with dynamic grid lines
Trailer sway control
Available SafetyTec group adds blind spot monitoring, rear cross path detection, parking sensors, and power folding mirrors.
Note: The Latitude is the base model, but order it with a V6 and 4-wheel drive and you're suddenly close to the $30,000 mark. We recommend the SafetyTec group as it adds useful features like blind spot warning.

2019 Jeep Cherokee Latitude Plus
$27,695 (FWD), $29,440 (V6 FWD), $29,940 (Turbo FWD), add $1,500 for 4WD
Available 271-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
17-inch aluminum wheels
Premium cloth seats
8-way power driver's seat with 4-way power lumbar
Push-button start
Available Comfort/Convenience Group adds remote start, power liftgate, dual-zone automatic climate control
Available Trailer Tow Group adds heavy duty engine cooling, transmission cooler, Class III hitch and 4- and 7-pin wiring harnesses
Note: The Latitude Plus is really the entry model, offering not just more standard equipment, but access to more upscale options like automatic climate control that aren't available on the base model. Additionally, if you plan on exploiting the 4,500-pound towing capacity, this is the least expensive way to do it.

2019 Jeep Cherokee Limited
$31,575 (FWD), $33,320 (V6 FWD, add $1,500 for 4WD), $33,820 (Turbo FWD, add $1,500 for 4WD)
Power liftgate
18-inch alloy wheels
Windshield de-icer
7-inch information display
Dual-zone automatic climate control
Leather-wrapped steering wheel
Leather seats
Heated power front seats
Seat memory
8.4-inch Uconnect
Available Technology Group adds brake assist, forward collision warning and mitigation, active cruise control, park assist, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, automatic high beams, automatic windshield washers
Note: The Limited ups the luxury ante quite a bit, offering standard leather interior and more. All-wheel drive is only available with the V6 or Turbo engines on this model.

2019 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk
$34,530 (V6 4WD), $35,020 (Turbo 4WD)
Jeep Active Drive Lock
Off-road suspension
Underbody skid plates
17-inch polished/painted alloy wheels
All-terrain tires
Available Technology Group
Available Comfort/Convenience Group
Available Cold Weather Group
Note: The Cherokee Trailhawk is only available with 4-wheel drive and either the V6 or turbo engine. This specialty model offers a higher-performing 4-wheel-drive system and rugged cloth interior.

2019 Jeep Cherokee Overland
$37,475 (V6 FWD), $37,975 (Turbo FWD), add $1,500 for 4WD
Handsfree power liftgate
19-inch wheels
Leather wrapped steering wheel with wood accents
Nappa leather seats
Heated and cooled front seats
Uconnect with navigation and Sirius XM traffic
Alpine audio system
Available Heavy Duty Protection Group adds skid plates, requires off-road suspension
Available Technology Group
Note: This is the luxury version of the Trailhawk, and priced to match. At nearly $40,000 before options with the turbo engine and 4-wheel drive, it's easy to push it over that threshold once you start adding option packages.

2019 Jeep Cherokee Specs

Available Engines
2.4-liter 4-cylinder: 180 horsepower, 171 lb-ft torque
3.2-liter V6: 271 horsepower, 239 lb-ft torque
2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder: 270 horsepower, 295 lb-ft torque

Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Drivetrain: Front- or 4-wheel drive, low range available (Trailhawk only)
Towing Capacity: 2,000 lbs (2.4-liter), 4,000 lbs (2.0-liter turbo), 4,500 lbs (V6)
Curb Weight: 3,655 - 4,108 lbs
Wheelbase: 106.5 in (4x2), 106.6 in (4x4), 107.1 in (Trailhawk)
Length: 182 in
Maximum Height: 67.8 in (Trailhawk)
Maximum Width: 74.9 in (Trailhawk)
Approach Angle: 29.9 deg (Trailhawk)
Breakover Angle: 22.9 deg (Trailhawk)
Departure Angle: 32.2 deg (Trailhawk)

 

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