The spotter directs me to put the driver's side of the 2019 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk in a ditch, keeping the other up on the high line of this off-road course at a Jeep-sponsored press drive outside of Los Angeles, California. As I inch forward, the ditch gets deeper and the Jeep tilts to the left – at this point, I can actually reach out the window and pluck a dandelion from the ground. Another few feet forward and the Cherokee is back on level ground again, ready for the next tricky obstacle.
No, most folks won't need to side-hill their daily driver on their regular commute. But for those who do – and those who like knowing they could if they wanted to – there is the Jeep Cherokee.
The Cherokee is a midsize crossover that slots in between the newly redesignedand larger . It's available with a choice of front- or four-wheel drive in base Latitude, Latitude Plus, Limited and top-end Overland trims. A butch Trailhawk trim is available, as well, but only with 4x4 capability.
If you hated the front end of the, you can breathe a sigh of relief. The daytime running lights and forward lights are now combined into one housing, reminiscent of what you see on the new Compass. The result is way less polarizing, for sure. That said, if you loved the front end of the old Cherokee… well, you can also breathe a sigh of relief. Those new headlights still wrap around the fenders just a bit, so it doesn't lose all of its funky Cherokee-ness. Both fans and foes of the previous design should find this redesign to be a nice compromise.
The 2019 Cherokee comes with a choice of three powertrains. The base 2.4-liter Tigershark inline-four and the optional 3.2-liter Pentastar V6 carry over largely unchanged from the previous Cherokee, but new for 2019, a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine is available – the same one you'll find under the hood of the, although without the eTorque mild-hybrid system.
The V6 puts out 271 horsepower and 239 pound-feet of torque, which is plenty for pushing the Cherokee up and over the hills near Malibu, and more than enough grunt for quick merges and passes in notoriously hellacious Los Angeles traffic. On more engaging, twisty back roads, the Cherokee offers confident, nicely weighted steering and controlled body motions. The revamped nine-speed automatic transmission has a tendency to upshift too soon, all in the name of fuel efficiency, but thankfully a Sport mode is included as part of the Jeep's Selec-Terrain system, which holds each gear a bit longer to keep you in the heart of the powerband.
The 2.0-liter turbo four does equally well in these scenarios, offering just one less pony than the V6, but with a healthier 295 pound-feet of torque. And while it doesn't noticeably affect the Cherokee's handling, I find it to be pretty buzzy and coarse in its sound. It's a bit like driving a bumblebee, droning through the torque curve with an annoyingly loud hum.
There's plenty of competition in this CUV segment, but none can match the Cherokee in off-road chops, especially in Trailhawk trim. While all Cherokees get driving modes for Snow and Sand/Mud, only the Trailhawk gets an extra parameter for Rock, not to mention a locking rear differential, a 1-inch lift and skid plates.
On an off-road route north of Malibu, I'm able to take advantage of the Cherokee's class-leading approach, departure and breakover angles. The newest Jeep easily tackles steep climbs up rocky paths, and sharp crests that would leave any of its competitors high-centered. The Cherokee Trailhawk even has a low-range gear in its four-wheel-drive system, allowing it to scale a steep hill full of loose dirt and rocks like it ain't no thang.
The Trailhawk-specific Select-Speed Control is a kind of cruise control for low-speed rock crawling. A push of the button and the Cherokee can completely take over throttle and braking duties, effortlessly driving itself through a boulder-strewn section of the trail. Personally, I prefer to be more in control in these types of situations, but while this might not be super necessary for trail bosses, it's nice to know the technology is there for those who want it, or those who are still honing their off-road skills.
Driving the same off-road loop in both 3.2- and 2.0-liter Cherokees, you'd think the turbo engine's added torque would stand out during low-speed acceleration. But in reality, what jumps out the most is throttle sensitivity; It's much more difficult to keep a steady speed with the smaller engine. Throttle control is imperative when driving off road, lest you find yourself buried in soft sand (or worse). And while I'm able to get the hang of it toward the end of my short test loop, if you pride yourself on steady throttle control, be prepared to do some re-learning.
Driver assistance aids carry over from the old Cherokee. Blind-spot monitoring is standard on higher-level trims, or available as part of an option package on lower trims. Lane departure warning, park assist, adaptive cruise control with full stop-and-go capability and forward collision warning and braking are all part of an optional technology package on higher trims. The Cherokee also gets a new hands-free power liftgate, which is standard on Overland models and available on the Limited trim.
Jeep's Uconnect infotainment system gets a bit of an upgrade in terms of resolution and graphics, maintaining its spot as one of the best interfaces on the market. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on both the base 7-inch or optional 8.4-inch touchscreen, the latter of which now has pinch-to-zoom capability.
The interior hasn't changed much, and that's a good thing. The design is rugged, while offering comfortable seats and headroom for all but the tallest of drivers. However, even though the Cherokee gets a bit more cargo space behind the rear seats for this year, up to 25.8 cubic feet from 24.6, it still falls behind competitors like theand .
A base Cherokee Latitude with front-wheel drive comes in at $23,995, not including $1,195 for destination, while the range-topping Overand starts at $36,275. Four-wheel drive can be had on all trims for an additional $1,500, and the off-road-ready Trailhawk starts at $33,320.
The Cherokee is far from everyone's cup of tea. In this price point there are crossovers that handle better, look sleeker and offer more tech. It's only with the Cherokee, however, that you can take the shortcut home through the woods and live to tell the tale.
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