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Jumping behind the wheel of the 2017 Jeep Cherokee Overland is like putting on your gym shoes Saturday morning: you probably won't work out, but those shoes sure are comfy and, gosh darn it, you're prepared!
Like skipping a gym session, most folks probably won't take the top-of-the-line Cherokee off-road unless a revolution goes down and the only thing standing between you and freedom is a snowy two-track to your off-the-grid cabin. More than likely you'll spend your time in the Cherokee commuting to work and hauling the kids around, not exploiting its 4x4 prowess.
With a low range and drive settings for Snow, Sport, and Sand/Mud, the Cherokee beats anything in its class when it comes to off-pavement adventures. There's also a 56:1 crawl ratio for precise driving at low speed, and an available heavy-duty package featuring skid plates and a full-size spare.
However, my test model in the Overland trim falls short of its Trailhawk trim sibling when it comes to offroad proficiency: It offers no locking rear differential or Rock mode among its Selec-Terrain drive settings. Nor does it have as good approach, departure and breakover angles as its Trail-Rated stablemate. The absence of a rear locking differential really puts it at a disadvantage when it comes to keeping traction in high-risk dirt driving situations, but then again, the Overland comes with touring tires wrapped around 18-inch polished aluminum wheels; a high-risk dirt driving vehicle it is not, but it should get you to most places without too much of a fuss.
The Cherokee is available in front-wheel or four-wheel drive, with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine standard. But getting a Jeep vehicle in front-wheel drive is like buying a steak dinner and only eating the baked potato. Spring for the 4x4 with the optional 3.2-liter V6. This motor puts out 271 horsepower and 239 pound-feet of torque, and is mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission.
I tested the Cherokee in the rolling hills outside of San Francisco. The transmission was well-behaved on flat roads and willingly downshifted two or more gears when asked, but it searched a bit on hill climbs. I found that shifting the Selec-Terrain from Auto to Sport helped the Cherokee hold gears longer and ascend the grades with ease.
Thanks to the independent suspension in both front and rear, the Cherokee offers a smooth and supple ride, soaking up broken pavement with aplomb. The V6 gives the Overland plenty of power, but its rumble tends to fill the cabin when under load.
If you're looking for a sporty drive, however, the Cherokee ain't it. Tipping the scales at nearly 4,000 pounds, the chunky Cherokee just doesn't have the same driving dynamics as the midsize SUV Mazda CX-5 or Ford Escape. However, neither of those pavement chompers have the goods when the asphalt disappears, so pick your poison.
You can get plenty of driver's aids on the Cherokee Overland, but be prepared to pay extra. The optional Technology Group tacks $1,645 to your final tab and adds lane departure warning, automatic parallel and perpendicular parking and an excellent adaptive cruise control that even works when you come to a complete stop. At least, for a two-count or so. Anything longer than that and you'll have to tap the gas to get going again.
The latest edition of Uconnect with navigation is standard on the Overland trim. While the 8.4-inch screen may seem crowded, the interface is very easy to use thanks to intuitive menus and large buttons on the touchscreen. Unfortunately there is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, but there is a Do Not Disturb function for Android users that will generate an automatic reply to text messages and send calls straight to voice mail. The new Jeep Compass has both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, so the technology should show up in the Cherokee soon.
With 24.6 cubic feet of space behind the second row of seats and 54.9 with those seats folded down, the Cherokee Overland flounders when it comes to cargo space. Competitors like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV-4 both have significantly larger overall space, to the tune of 20 cubic feet or so. Even the diminutive, at least for its class, CX-5 bests the Cherokee by 10 cubic feet.
Being the biggest of the bunch doesn't help much with fuel economy either. Even though the Cherokee has a stop/start function and toddles along as a front-wheel drive vehicle until extra traction is needed, it gets an EPA fuel rating of only 18 mpg in the city, 26 mpg on the highway and 21 mpg combined. I never saw anything better than 19 mpg during my time with the vehicle. Honda CR-V delivers 32 mpg on the highway, with other competitors closing in on that number.
The Cherokee starts at $23,595, and my test model in the Overland trim starts at $37,695. Most of that money was spent on a more luxurious interior. Standard heated and cooled leather front seats offer four-way power lumbar adjustment, dual-zone climate control, heated steering wheel and a power liftgate. The Overland also gets a 7-inch TFT screen and start/stop technology. It's a great choice for those who value comfort over off-road proficiency, but my favorite is the Trail Rated Trailhawk trim.
My 2017 Cherokee Overland test model with the optional Technology Group, Heavy Duty Protection Group and an upgraded transmission with an auxiliary transmission oil cooler will set you back a cool $41,975. A fair chunk of change for the top-of-the-line Cherokee, but remember, this vehicle can get you most anywhere you want to go.