Nobody could deny the huge popularity of SUVs and crossovers, the sales of which now greatly outnumber those of sedans. Although many automakers can lay claim to pioneering the SUV concept, including Land Rover and Ford, most auto industry analysts point to the 1984 Jeep Cherokee as the vehicle that truly jump-started the market.
The original Cherokee was a simple 2-door sport utility with offroad capability, but it caught the imagination of the vehicle-buying public and spawned countless imitators that led to the vast selection of SUVs we have today. No automaker that wants to stay in business can ignore the SUV market and almost none do. Even high-end makers like Bentley, Jaguar, Maserati and Lamborghini have launched products in this segment and Rolls-Royce is entering the fray.
The Cherokee was sold in various guises over the years and then the hallowed nameplate disappeared from the Canadian market for a while, only to return in 2014 as an all-new product on a platform jointly developed by Jeep in North America and Fiat in Italy. The model was quite extensively updated both stylistically and mechanically for the 2019 model year and it’s sure to win more buyers with these changes.
One of the most visible changes is to the iconic Jeep grille up front that has been re-styled to be closer to the original Cherokee concept. Early (2014 model) Cherokees had a “waterfall” treatment of the grille that was not liked by Jeep fans, a conservative group when it comes to tradition. There’s other tidying-up around the bodywork and the lighting has been changed to LED.
Other key upgrades include a handsfree power liftgate, new wheel designs, an available dual-pane sunroof, better cargo volume and more convenient storage space. There are three basic trim levels – Sport, North and Altitude.
Base engine is a 2.4-litre 4-cylinder with 180-horsepower and this one is the economy choice. Alternatively, there’s an all-new 2.0-litre direct-injection 4-cylinder turbo developing 270-horsepower. It uses engine stop-start technology to enhance fuel economy. Buyers with towing duties in mind would likely go for the 3.2-litre Pentastar V-6 engine with 271-horses. All engines use a 9-speed automatic transmission.
Jeep offers several enhanced four-wheel drive systems for this product and a Selec-Terrain traction control system has five customized modes – auto, snow, sport, sand/mud and rock. As with all Jeep models, this is a thoroughly developed vehicle that can take you just anywhere anything with four wheels can go.
The cockpit has quite a luxurious ambiance for a product in this price class. The level of comfort and convenience is light years away from the Cherokees of old and should please just about everybody. The seats are well shaped and supportive and promise a relaxing experience on a long road trip. On some models, the steering wheel carries no less than 16 control buttons so the driver doesn’t even have to stretch the short distance to the instrument panel. Infotainment is taken care of with one of FCA’s big touch screens that many consider among the best in the industry.
Jeep points out that the Cherokee has over 80 specific safety and security features, so it seems to be a very difficult vehicle to get into trouble with. Most of these are electronic or electronically activated.
There are lots of similar SUV/crossovers on the market that compete closely with the Cherokee, but of course, this is the only one that’s a “real Jeep” and too many buyers, that’s a very important point to consider.
SPECS AT A GLANCE…
BODY STYLE: Four-door SUV/crossover
ENGINE: 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo, 2.4-litre 4-cylinder, 3.2-litre V-6
TRANSMISSION: 9-speed automatic
TOWING CAPACITY: 4,500 lbs (V-6)
FUEL ECONOMY: 7.6-litres/100 km highway (2.4-litre)
PRICE: Starts at around $27,000 MSRP