Some would agree that it is not easy being the middle child. In today’s Jeep family, you could argue this is where the Cherokee stands. Mention Jeep Cherokee to any Jeep fan worth his or her salt and they will recall the iconic XJ Cherokee, sold from 1983 to 2001. The XJ was a massive success for Jeep. However by 2001, the beloved Cherokee was hopelessly outdated, and was replaced by the radically different. Still recognizable as a Jeep, the Liberty had curves, and appeared to try to look ‘cute’. When the second generation Liberty came around, Jeep went back to bolt upright styling, but a low rent interior along with an ancient drivetrain. The Liberty was replaced in 2014, which marked the return of the Cherokee name.
Some critics and diehard fans hoped for the second coming of the old, beloved XJ, but appearance-wise, the only thing the XJ and modern Cherokee share is the name badge and the slotted grill up front. That’s easy to understand, but remember, this is the 21st century. Most buyers looking for an SUV are not going to be took keen on the fuel economy and wind noise a shape like the old XJ delivers. And remember, for those who insist that look is part of Jeep’s charm, they will happily sell you a Wrangler. So not only does the Cherokee look different from any Jeep that came before it, it also stands apart from the competition. This is most apparent when you pick the rugged looking, off-road focused Trailhawk we tested. It’s a thoroughly contemporary look with a toughness you will not find elsewhere.
Step inside the Cherokee, and it is immediately evident Jeep got the message about the Liberty’s dungeon-like accomodations. Jeep deserves high praise for taking their interior from bottom to top of the class. There is not a hard angle in sight, and everything you touch is soft, with a premium feel. This is also one of the best screwed together Jeep interiors of all time, so if its been awhile since you’ve stepped inside a Jeep, you owe it to yourself for a refresher course. A five second glance is all it takes to familiarize yourself with all the controls, even in our feature laden test car. The large, 8.4″ UConnect touchscreen interface remains one of the best in the business. Finally, the driver’s seat offers superior comfort and support, which leaves no doubt the Cherokee would make an ideal partner for long distance travel.
The Cherokee is available with a choice of two engines; the base 2.4L four rated at 184hp, or a 3.2L V-6 rated at 271hp. A good deal of the Cherokee’s competition doesn’t even offer a V-6, so the power and refinement of our V-6 Cherokee sets it apart, and is definitely the engine you want. Either engine is paired to a nine-speed automatic. Buyers may also choose between two or four wheel drive, but the Trailhawk is sold as a 4×4 only. And even if you don’t plan to, but can’t accept a Jeep without the respected Trail Rated badge on the front fender, the Trailhawk is a must. The Trailhawk gives you Jeep Active Drive II, Selec-Terrain System, Jeep Active Drive Lock, Hill Start Assist, Hill Descent Control, off rad suspension and front tow hooks. Still, the Cherokee delivers respectable fuel economy with an EPA rating of 19/26 city/highway MPG. And despite the off-road capabilities, our Cherokee delivered a perfectly smooth ride and confidence inspiring handling.
In the Cherokee family, umerous trim levels are available; lower content models, our Trailhawk, and other models with a more luxurious bent. Not that I noticed our test car lacking. Standard equipment is pretty standard fair, and the Trailhawk’s $30,995 pretty much reflects the V-6 and all the aforementioned off-road goodies. Options on our car included the SafetyTec Group (ParkSense rear park assist system and blind spot/cross path detection), Comfort Group (power liftgate, remote start, auto climate control, auto dimming rearview mirror, power driver’s seat), leather interior, heated front seats and steering wheel, ventilated front seats, navigation and HD radio. Including destination, that ratchets up our test car’s total cost to $39,810USD. That’s a long way from where the Trailhawk starts, but my thinking here is with the most capable Cherokee available, Jeep is letting its buyers go for no frills, our outfitted closer to their more upscale trims.
Regardless of how much (or how little) restraint one chooses in checking off option boxes with the Cherokee Trailhawk, there is no denying the excellent all around capability to be found here. The Trailhawk seems to most clearly embody that elusive and desirable quality of Jeep attitude, making it the clear choice for the true Jeep fan. But whatever your needs and budget dictate-the basic base Sport or dripping in luxury Overland, there is a Cherokee for you. With its distinctive styling, comfortable ride, available V-6 and finely executed interior, the Cherokee has earned a spot at the top of its class.