2020 Jeep Cherokee High Altitude review: At its best in the dirt
You have to be a certain kind of person to appreciate what the Jeep Cherokee has to offer. It's not the best-handling SUV in its class, nor is it the most techy. Other crossovers look better, and many offer more utility. But only the Cherokee will do proper Jeep stuff. If off-roading's your game, this SUV is for you.
The Cherokee slots between the Compass and the Grand Cherokee in Jeep's lineup. When the fifth-generation model came onto the scene in 2013, its design was certainly controversial. The Cherokee received a refresh in 2019, so its looks aren't quite so divisive anymore.
Cherokee Latitude, Latitude Plus, Altitude, Latitude Lux, Limited and High Altitude trims are available with two- or four-wheel drive, while the Upland, North Edition, Trailhawk and Trailhawk Elite trims are four-wheel-drive only. Drivers get a choice of a 2.4-liter naturally aspirated I4, a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 or a 3.2-liter V6, depending on trim. No matter what engine or driveline you choose, every Cherokee comes with a nine-speed automatic transmission.
Earlier this year, my colleague Craig Cole tested the Cherokee Limited with the 2.0-liter turbo engine. My tester, meanwhile, is the High Altitude with the V6 engine, which offers 271 horsepower and 239 pound-feet of torque. This is more than enough power for toddling around town, but the nine-speed transmission is problematic -- slow to shift and frequently hunting around for the right gear. The trick to smoothing it out is to actually switch the Cherokee's Selec-Terrain dial to Sport, which helps keep the engine revving in the heart of its powerband, though it means sacrificing a bit of fuel efficiency.
This Jeep is hardly a corner-carver, but it handles itself respectively well. The steering is nicely weighted and the brakes offer confident stopping power. Still, it's kind of sluggish, the body rolls and overall, it's not what I'd call fun to drive. If that's a priority, check out the Mazda CX-5 .
Head off road, however, and the Cherokee shines. You can get it with Jeep's optional Active Drive II four-wheel-drive system with a low range, which also includes a 1-inch suspension lift. Combine that with the Sand/Mud and Rock modes in the Selec-Terrain system, as well as the optional locking rear differential, and the Cherokee can easily go places other compact SUVs can't.
My tester has the less-robust Active Drive I package, which is essentially all-wheel drive that disconnects the rear axle when it isn't needed, like when you're on the highway, for better efficiency. This should be enough for folks who need all-wheel drive for snowy commutes or the occasional dirt road, and its more economical operation helps me achieve the EPA's combined rating of 22 miles per gallon during a week-long test.
More help on the road
For 2020, Jeep expands the Cherokee's driver-assistance offerings, with the Advanced Safety Group now available across a greater number of trim levels. This package includes lane-departure warning, forward-collision warning and rain-sensing wipers. It's just a shame that no driving aids are standard on lower-grade Cherokees, and things like blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert don't kick in until the Latitude plus. Adaptive cruise control can only be had on the most-expensive models. Meanwhile, most of this tech comes standard on competitors like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 .
Thankfully, my High Altitude tester has all the bells and whistles, and I really like that I can dial them in through the excellent Uconnect infotainment system. For example, I can adjust the lane-departure warning with early, mid and late settings, and can set the steering intervention to be low, medium or high. The blind-spot monitoring can be set to be just a visual alert, add an audible warning or I can just turn it off. It's great to have options.
Beyond the adjustable driving aids, I've always loved Uconnect for its well-thought-out design. There is a lot of information on each screen, yet somehow it remains clear and easy to use. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included on both the standard 7.0-inch screen or the optional 8.4-inch display. The native navigation system has excellent graphics but its voice recognition can occasionally struggle.
I want to give a shoutout to Jeep's multifunction steering wheel, as well. The front has nicely organized buttons for my phone and cruise control, and arrows to scroll through the gauge cluster information. The buttons on the back of the steering wheel control audio stations, presets, volume and media source. Like Uconnect, it might seem really busy at first, but after a while, I really grow to appreciate this user experience.
As for charging, the Cherokee doesn't have a wireless charging pad, but my tester has a USB-A and 12-volt outlet in both the front and center consoles. The rear seats get two charge-only USB-A ports, as well as a three-prong, 115-volt, 150-watt outlet. Another 12-volt outlet can be found in the cargo hold.
The Cherokee's interior isn't really anything to write home about. It's rugged-looking and the materials are just OK, and my tester's color palette is particularly dark, with just some contrasting grey stitching to lighten it up. Thankfully, the seats are comfortable and there is plenty of space for people up front or in the back.
Space for your cargo, however, falls below the competition, with 27.6 cubic feet behind the rear seats with the cargo floor in its lowest position and 54.7 cubes overall. The RAV4, meanwhile, goes big with 37.6 and 69.8 cubic feet, respectively, and the CR-V goes gigantic with 39.2 and 75.8. Heck, even the Mazda CX-5 with its sharply sloping rear hatch offers more cargo space.
However, there are a fair amount of small storage cubbies in the Cherokee, with a little bin in the front console and a hidey-hole on the dash. Large pockets extend nearly the full length of the front doors.
The 2020 Jeep Cherokee starts at $27,580, including $1,495 for destination, but my High Altitude 4x4 tester comes in at a much more substantial $42,715. Personally, I'd grab the Cherokee Trailhawk, add the Cold Weather package (I must have heated seats) and select the towing package to take advantage of the Jeep's 4,500-pound tow rating. Very nicely equipped, a Cherokee Trailhawk like my dream spec slots below $40,000, though it doesn't include many advanced driving aids.
If off-roading is a regular part of your life, the Cherokee is an excellent choice. With all its rugged options and bona fide off-road hardware, it'll out-shine any other small SUV in the dirt. On pavement, however, the Cherokee can't quite keep up with its more efficient, better equipped, more spacious competition. The Cherokee is fantastic for Jeep stuff, but as a daily driver, it suffers.