The 2017 Jeep Cherokee still antes up considerable trail-riding talent, but other crossover SUVs do a better job of daily driving.
The name is one of the oldest applied to a modern-day SUV, but the 2017 Jeep Cherokee is no Conestoga wagon. It's a thoroughly modern family wagon, recast from its hardcore sport-utility roots into something much broader, more capable in all sorts of conditions.
The Jeep Cherokee is offered in four trim levels: Sport, Latitude, Limited, and Trailhawk.
It's one of the newest Jeeps in the lineup, and does an excellent job holding up the brand's reputation for off-road ability. But it's just average on pavement, and while it's spacious enough, it's lacking in crash-test scores.
Jeep Cherokee styling and performance
Since it was new in 2014, the latest Cherokee has marked a clean break from Jeep's past. Less bluff and blunt than the Liberty it replaced, the Cherokee has a distinct crossover feel in its shape, capped by a front end that's intent on decontenting the Jeep-ness of it all. The wan look splits the headlights into two units, while the grille mutes the effect of the Cherokee's traditional seven-bar grille. From the back, the Cherokee may as well be a Santa Fe or a CR-V, with its completely innocuous shape.
The cabin helps: it's handsomely drawn, well-finished, and neatly organized—and it has myriad little touches that play hide-and-seek with new owners (look for Jeep headlights everywhere, from the storage trays to the windshield).
Jeep sells the Cherokee with either an inline-4 or a V-6. The standard 184-horsepower inline-4 is strong, smooth, and quiet, for what it is; it's fine, provided there isn't too much weight aboard. The 3.2-liter V-6 makes 271 hp, and it's torquey and generally happy with whatever work you throw its way. A 9-speed automatic pairs with both, and it has a wide range of ratios, as well as some balky shifts, when the 'box holds a gear a lot longer than needed.
With the V-6 and a towing package, the Cherokee can pull 4,500 pounds. No matter which version, the Cherokee has fairly numb but accurate steering, with a well-tuned and well-damped ride.
Fuel economy isn't as good as others in its class. Although the Cherokee can manage up to 31 mpg highway on base, inline-4 models, most all-wheel drive Cherokees will earn in the low-20s, which is low for its class.
When it comes to off-roading, the Cherokee excels. It's stuffed with the heart of a Trail Rated Jeep, and has plenty of ground clearance and traction options for times when things get outdoorsy. There are several different all- and 4-wheel drive systems, including Active Drive I, and Active Drive II (adding a simulated low-range transfer case). All models with 4WD have the Selec-Terrain system, with separate modes for Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud, and Rock, and in low-range models with 4-cylinder engines, its crawl ratio is an astonishingly good 56:1.
Jeep's Trail-Rated badge applies to the Trailhawk, and it gets a 1-inch lift, unique front and rear fascias, an Active Drive Lock and locking rear differential, added skid plates, and red tow hooks.
Cherokee utility, safety, and features
The Cherokee really sizes right in with models that would be called compacts in the U.S., like the CR-V, Forester, and Escape. Jeep might call it a mid-sizer, but it's right in with those models. There’s no third-row seat, but it's a relatively roomy five-seater, with a back seat that’s suitable for adults—or even asking three to sit across for shorter distances—but the jutting front headrests might enforce a slouching position that robs some of that rear-seat space. The second row slides fore and aft to choose between legroom and cargo space, and there’s a handy organizer for the more retentive fans.
The Cherokee boasts available adaptive cruise control that can bring it to a full stop if an impending collision is detected; optional lane-departure and frontal-crash warning systems are also an option; and blind-spot monitors and parking sensors that can also trigger the vehicle to a full stop at low speeds, if obstacles are detected. A rearview camera is an option, though, and the Cherokee's crash-test scores are disappointing.
The Cherokee offers lots of options to go with the usual power features, climate control, and AM/FM/Bluetooth audio. Highlights include a panoramic sunroof, memory heated/ventilated seats, and soft nappa leather upholstery with ventilated front seats in the top Limited model. Infotainment systems include the excellent 8.4-inch Uconnect media center audio-streaming app connectivity (Pandora and Slacker, among others); and top models include a full-color configurable LED instrument cluster.
The Jeep Cherokee does a better job of winning over hearts and minds with its tightly composed cabin. We give its styling a 7, mostly for the cockpit's look and feel; the sheet metal is odd up front, bland in the back. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The Cherokee's cabin is sporty, not at all trucklike, and finished in smooth, fine fashion. Wrapped up as tightly in petroleum derivatives as our retirement accounts, it's colorful when it wants to be, subdued in the right ways. It's a handsome look tipped into several color schemes named for places like Iceland, Mount Kilimanjaro and Morocco. (They're just gray, brown, and gold, right?)
The SUV theming is far from humorless, thank goodness. Jeep designers loaded in some great Easter eggs, like the 1941 Jeep Willys you'll find when letting the Cherokee park itself, or like the small, but perfectly, formed Jeep that rests at the base of the windshield, climbing over a sensor like it's a Moab boulder.