2019 Jeep Cherokee First Look: Still on Comeback Trail


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The Jeep name can be a license to print money, and the Cherokee midsize SUV is in the largest SUV segment that shows no signs of sales slowing anytime soon. But FCA still has some work to do, which is why the 2019 Jeep Cherokee—which makes its debut at the 2018 Detroit auto show—gets a major update.

The Cherokee debuted in 2013, replacing the Jeep Liberty that had only 3.5 percent market share. The renamed Cherokee had work to do it if Jeep wanted to regain its position in the segment. The SUV underwent a dramatic design change and was rewarded with a tripling of its market share.

There is still more catching up to do. U.S. Cherokee sales of almost 170,000 last year were down 15 percent from 2016, so it falls to the refreshed 2019 model making its world debut at the 2018 North American International Auto Show to rebuild demand. Built at the Belvidere, Illinois assembly plant, the 2019 Cherokee goes on sale this quarter.

“It is the most modern look for Jeep to date,” said FCA design chief Ralph Gilles, citing the new signature lighting and less body cladding. “It will feel like a new car.”

Being a refresh, the 2019 Cherokee’s wheelbase and chassis are the same but it now shares the new family look already on the refreshed Jeep Grand Cherokee.

The 2019 Cherokee gets a new face with a more vertical hood made of aluminum, new headlights that incorporate the daytime running lights into a single unit, as well as a new front clip and fascia. There is a new dual-pane sunroof, five new wheel designs, new colors, updated taillights, rear fascia, and dual exhaust. All halogen lights have been replaced by LEDs, even on base models. The new composite liftgate saves 18 pounds by ditching the old aluminum one and is now hands-free; open it with a swift kick of a leg under the sensor.

A new 2.0-liter direct-injection turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine gets 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque and has start-stop for better fuel economy, although figures were not given. The engine, also in the new 2018 Wrangler, becomes the new premium engine for the 2019 Cherokee.

Carryover engines include the 180-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 170 lb-ft of torque and the 3.2-liter V-6 that gets 271 hp and 239 lb-ft of torque. Both have been tweaked to improve fuel economy. All are paired to the nine-speed automatic transmission.

Three all-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive systems are available, and all have been enhanced. Active Drive I is fully automatic; Active Drive II has a two-speed power transfer unit with torque management and low range. You can lock 4-low mode and there is an extra inch of ride height. Active Drive Lock adds a locking rear differential for gnarlier off-road conditions. It is standard on the Cherokee Trailhawk. All offer a terrain traction control system with auto snow, sport, sand/mud and rock modes.

The aluminum hood, composite liftgate, lighter LEDs, new engine cradle and new suspension geometry contribute to a 200–pound weight loss.

The Cherokee comes in Latitude, Latitude Plus, Limited, Overland and Trailhawk trim levels.

Trailhawk is almost a separate model within the Jeep family, and on the 2019 Cherokee, that model sits higher with wide fender flares, new wheels and dedicated 17-inch off-road tires. and the 2019 Cherokee Trailhawk has standard red tow hooks and there is a forged tow/recovery hook in the back.

It was the job of Winnie Cheung, chief interior designer, to add a more premium feel and there are two new interior colors: Storm Blue (available on Latitude and Latitude Plus) and a Dark Sienna earthy tone available on the Overland trim. The Latitude gets a gold interior with higher-end materials for seats and door insets, nicer bezels and a stereo upgrade. The Overland has a softer instrument panel, satin chrome accents and matte piano black surfaces.

Jeep offers a choice between 7.0-inch and 8.4-inch infotainment screens, and the fourth-generation Uconnect system is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A welcome touch is the addition of  more room for a phone near the charger and the addition of a rear USB port. Rear compartments were also redesigned for more storage—the rear cargo area is three inches wider now. Better utilization of interior space provides four more usable cubic feet.

Park assist is available and safety features range from forward collision warning, blind-spot monitoring and electric roll mitigation to adaptive cruise control that can slow the SUV to a complete stop.