Like Michael Jackson and Madonna, Princess Di and Prince (before he was the Artist Formerly Known As), day-glo colors and big hair, Jeep Cherokee was a 1980s icon. The boxy, no frills Cherokee set the stage for the modern SUV revolution, and, a year after its introduction, became the first Jeep vehicle in nearly 20 years to be offered without four-wheel drive.
After a brief hiatus, Cherokee is back, superior to both the original and the Liberty it supplants in the Jeep lineup. While the first generation Cherokee was a no frills, basic off-road vehicle, this version takes a different approach. It’s a mid-sized SUV that slots below the Grand Cherokee and above the Compass and Patriot on the roster. Not as rugged as, say, Wrangler models, Cherokee is nonetheless very capable in off-road situations when equipped with the optional Active Drive II system; Active Drive I is standard on Limited models and is good for lighter duty.
But, it’s also very friendly as a daily commuter, and most drivers will keep their Cherokees firmly on the pavement. The standard 184-horsepower engine is adequate, but the optional 271-horsepower V-6 is well worth the upgrade. Cherokee is powerful, perhaps not as sporty as some competitors, but with a first-in-class nine-speed automatic transmission, acceleration is smooth and refined.
Most will agree that the new Cherokee is a winner, as evidenced by a slew of awards, including Rocky Mountain Press Association’s SUV of the Year, Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year, MotorWeek’s Drivers’ Choice Award, and Carspondent.com Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year’s Best Value On-Road Vehicle — and add IIHS Top Safety Pick to the list.
With all those accolades under its belt, the Cherokee may not win any automotive beauty pageants, however. The controversial “bent grille” design has many shaking their heads. Inside is another story. High-quality, soft-touch materials abound; the sturdy thick steering wheel and comfortable seats make the driver feel settled in and in control. It’s a vast improvement over the utilitarian Jeep interiors of old, and certainly contributes to the luxury factor behind the wheel. Thoughtful storage features and state-of-the-art technology make it a very user-friendly SUV.
If the standard amenities aren’t enough for you, Mopar offers more than 100 parts and accessories to personalize your Cherokee, including rock rails, a pet carrier, chrome mirrors and more.
Overall, the new Cherokee is the best of both worlds: a supremely comfortable everyday ride and off-road performance capability that make it worthy of the Jeep badge on the trunk-lid.
Cherokee is offered in four trim levels with the top line Limited starting at $27,995 and the off-road oriented Trailhawk priced at $29,495. Other models include Sport ($22,995) and Latitude ($24,495).