As you may have heard, SUVs are the next big thing, with buyers snapping them up left right and center.
Some manufacturers have given up on cars, relying on crossovers and SUVs to support their bottom line. The Jeep brand has always been based on their utility vehicles, so in order to maintain and expand their market share, they’re gradually increasing the number of models in their lineup. Enter the 2020 Jeep Cherokee High Altitude 4×4, their rugged compact off-roader with no less than nine different variations to choose from.
The Cherokee competes in one of the toughest segments in the market, being up against popular entries such as the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, and Subaru Forester, not to mention some size overlap with Jeep’s own Compass. Vying for the same customers is no easy task, so Jeep has tried to put their best foot forward in order to compete with the real heavyweights. The Cherokee, especially our High Altitude packaged tester with its 19-inch graphite wheels and body-colour cladding, offers bold and aggressive styling in hopes to differentiate itself from the “soft-roader” look many rivals offer.
Our Cherokee tester arrived outfitted with a new 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine, which is the top-tier engine for this model. It offers one more horsepower than the 3.2-liter Pentastar V6, and 56 additional pound-feet of torque, for 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft. Power is sufficient with punchy response, however the nine-speed automatic transmission on board is still one of the weaknesses of this model. It doesn’t feel well-calibrated to this engine and much more suited to the V6 or the naturally-aspirated 2.4-liter four we recently sampled in the Compass. Shifts aren’t quite as smooth as they can be, and there is an awkward relationship between the throttle and transmission.
We observed combined efficiency of 10.9L/100km in winter conditions, a bit beyond the 9.1L/100km combined rating and closer to the V6’s rating of 10.2L/100km. The Cherokee is in its element on the highway, where the smooth ride quality makes up for the transmission’s shortcomings, and the nine-speed keeps revs low. Buyers who want to haul will want to stick with the V6 for the higher tow rating, and all models of the Cherokee get by just fine on regular-grade gasoline.
Jeep has succeeded in making the Cherokee’s ride quite smooth for use as a daily driver. It does soak up potholes and railway crossings with ease, but drivers will notice a bit of a bobbing motion when travelling on particularly uneven roads. It’s not a deal breaker but something to test for yourself. The cabin is notably quiet and absorbs the highway miles serenely. The Cherokee’s Selec-Terrain Traction Management System makes quick work of the snow and slushy roads, and if buyers opt for winter tires, the little crossover really does end up being a tame beast to tackle the urban jungle with.
Inside, the quality of materials is typical in the segment with a mix of plastics and leather. Build quality is consistent with even panel gaps, and the leather-wrapped steering wheel is surprisingly chunky and something that other manufacturers should take note of. The heated seats and steering wheel warm up quickly enough for most Canadians to appreciate.
For connectivity, Jeeps’ Uconnect system has been praised for its zippy response time and ease of use. While it’s definitely intuitive at first, the amount of customization can be a bit overwhelming, especially when digging through menus to find the heated seat controls on a cold winter day. The 8.4-inch touchscreen is especially large for the segment, though the rear-view camera resolution needs better resolution to keep up with the rest of the system.
Interior space is more than sufficient too, with excellent leg, shoulder and head room even with my 6’3 frame. Four adults will fit comfortably in the Cherokee with the driver able to achieve an optimal driving position with no fuss whatsoever. However, rear cargo capacity at 730-liters is down from the Ford Escape and Honda CR-V, at 962 and 1,110-liters respectively.
Buyers will be glad to know that the Cherokee comes in several different flavours starting at a low $29,545, and allowing for plenty of personalization. The High Altitude model starts at $38,935, and is available with a plethora of options – the as-tested sticker on the pictured vehicle is $48,810. Those wanting all of the gizmos and gadgets should start with the luxury-oriented Overland, at $41,645 and also available with additional options. With the variety available, we recommend buyers to do their due diligence to see which one best suits their needs.
With the Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape and Subaru Forester having seen a major redesign within the past year, the Jeep Cherokee has an uphill battle at the moment, one that will only get tougher until its next major redesign. While it has seen incremental updates over the years, this iteration of the Cherokee was first seen for the 2014 model year, so it really is getting on in age. At the time of this writing, some great discounts available both at the manufacturer and dealer level are making for substantial value on the 2020 Jeep Cherokee, pricing it well below its similarly-equipped competition.