The Cherokee will easily handle whatever a young family could ask of it.
It’s almost impossible to not mention the Jeep brand name when you’re talking about SUVs. It’s a brand that’s been so intertwined with the segment since its conception that it’s played a key role in shaping what the SUV is today. Depending on how you view it, that may or may not be a good thing. In the earlier days, SUVs were all about capability and utility; they were rough and rugged gas guzzling beasts that everybody had to have. From that point onwards, the segment has steadily moved towards the more urbanized car-like examples that populate our roads on a mass scale today.
Despite the fact that Jeeps are well known for their rugged capability, they were actually responsible for the unibody design that became one of the most popular SUVs of all time – the XJ Cherokee. The XJ Cherokee’s stiffened unibody design went up against its traditional body-on-frame competitors, proving that the design could be just as capable off-road and still offer improved on-road dynamics.
While today’s SUVs may seem like a far departure from their crude beginnings, I give Jeep a lot of credit for not only sparking, but embracing and evolving with the changing needs and expectations of the SUV market. The current Cherokee is a perfect example of that evolution; Cherokee buyers have always been young families, and today’s families are obviously looking for something that’s much different than their parents’ old XJ Cherokee. I spent a week with a mid-range 2015 Jeep Cherokee North, equipped with front-wheel-drive, to try and determine for myself just how in-tune it is with today’s market.
On the outside, the Cherokee is nothing like its predecessors; gone are the boxy truck-like lines of the past, replaced with an edgy and modern design that is certainly more at home in the driveway of today’s urban families. Personally, even after spending some time around it, I am not entirely sold on the look; however, I do appreciate that the designers have retained the signature 7-slot front grill and squared-off wheel arches. Regardless of my own qualms, the front fascia of the Cherokee is unlike anything else on the road, so it’s absolutely identifiable and doesn’t blend in with the more mundane looking mid-size SUVs on the road. The 3-stacked lighting system in the front with LED running lights, headlights and fog lights is the most distinguishable feature, and it made for a rather interesting light show on one densely foggy morning.
While the exterior is distinctive, the interior is corporate Chrysler all the way. Fortunately, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In my opinion, Chrysler has recently been offering some of the best technology on the market; my tester came equipped with the Uconnect 8.4 infotainment system ($800) and the SafetyTec package ($895). The Safety package includes a park-assist program, blind spot detection and cross-path detection. The systems run smoothly and really help when navigating the tight confines of the city. The infotainment system is one of the better ones on the market, and the nice 8.4” touch screen serves as a great focal point for the dashboard. The system is easy to use, responds quickly, paired to my devices in seconds, and the version I had was navigation ready, meaning I could have a dealer update the software to include navigation after the fact and have a fully integrated system.
Technology aside though, the interior of the Cherokee is not what I would consider a strong point. I found the front seats uncomfortable – particularly the non-adjustable angle of the headrests. The overall fit, finish and quality of materials are also unimpressive. Unlike some of the other mid-size SUVs I’ve driven recently, I didn’t find the interior of the Cherokee to be a place where I wanted to spend a lot of time, frankly, because it feels unrefined and cheap. I also took up issue with the climate control system; not only is it a fully manual system, but I found it very difficult to find a comfortable and moderate temperature. Plus, this isn’t a bargain basement compact, it’s a well-regarded SUV – give me an automatic system.
The biggest strong point for the cabin in the Cherokee is the space utilization. From the large door pockets and center console up front, to the luxurious head and legroom in the rear seats, not to mention the large cargo area complete with a handy tie-down bar, the interior is very well thought out to maximize utility. Even the front passenger’s seat bottom flips forward to reveal a large plastic storage bin – perfect for those roadside emergency kits that everyone typically has rolling around in the trunk.
The other thing I found a little peculiar about my particular test Cherokee is that it is only two-wheel drive, and the front wheels at that. That’s a big departure from all the rugged and capable images I get in my head every time I hear the name Jeep, and quite honestly, I think I am still coming to terms with it. Of course, a 4×4 option is available, as is the very capable TrailHawk trim if that’s what you’re interested in. However, the cold hard fact is that most of today’s Cherokee buyers don’t need 4×4, nor would they ever use it to even half of its capability; so why not go 2WD and save some costs, fuel and mechanical complexity.
What my tester does have is the optional 3.2L Pentastar V6, an extra $1600, pushing out a healthy 271 ponies – a very worthwhile improvement over the 184 horsepower in the base 2.4L 4-cylinder. Either engine is mated to Chrysler’s 9-speed automatic, a transmission I’ve not traditionally been a fan of. I’m not sure whether it’s the engineers improving the software or maybe the transmission is just better suited to this application, but I had no issues or complaints to report with it this time around. With the V6 power, the Cherokee is quiet, peppy and nimble on its feet, and has plenty of smooth passing power when you do decide to step on it.
The ride in the Cherokee is very agreeable, as it does a good job to absorb the worst of the bumps and remains reasonably well composed through twisty side roads, or at speed on the highway. Being the more urban 2×4 model, my tester was equipped with a set of all-season tires better suited for highway use than what you’d find on the 4×4 versions, helping keep road noise to a minimum and aid steering response. The steering in general is well weighted, but doesn’t offer much in the way of feedback, which is something I miss from the more traditional Jeeps.
Being a rather low-key looking and feeling Cherokee, it was easy to relax my right foot and just enjoy the quiet ride. Based on this, and the fact that I wasn’t lugging around a 4×4 system underneath the SUV, I was hoping for great fuel economy. What I got was an average of 9.6L/100km over my week of mixed commuting; not what I would call outstanding, but still very palatable for a mid-sized SUV.
The base price for a Cherokee North comes in a touch over $28,000. My tester with its aforementioned options and the Altitude package ($495), which adds the gloss black 18” rims and blacked out trim, put my as tested price at $33,720.
There’s definitely value here, at this trim level, for a young urban family looking for a spacious yet city friendly SUV. The Cherokee will easily handle whatever a young family could ask of it, and with a unique style and reputation that can only be Jeep.