2019 Jeep Cherokee: Midsize SUV loses quirk, goes upscale [First Look]

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2019 Jeep Cherokee (Sinclair Broadcast Group / Jill Ciminillo)

The headlights on the Jeep Cherokee were polarizing.

There. I said it.

Jeep even said it during its press briefing for the refreshed 2019 Jeep Cherokee.

So, it should come as no surprise that the biggest changes on the exterior design come from the A-Pillar forward. The front fascia is all-new. The shape of the hood is new.

And, in case you missed it, the headlight design is really new.

The daytime running light “eyebrow” is still present; it’s just now integrated with the actual headlamp in a single casing.

In addition to looking more refined than the previous iteration, this is a functional change as well. Moving the headlamp higher actually lights the road better at night. Go figure.

A lot of the quirk of the Cherokee centered around the weird headlights and pointy nose, but four years into its lifecycle, Jeep decided it was time for the Cherokee to grow up.

Or at the very least go a little more upscale.

So in addition to the blunted nose and standard LED headlights, the interior gets an upgrade as well with more elegant finishing touches, more content and better touch points.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, as is the 7-inch screen with UConnect. The 8.4-inch screen with Uconnect is available.

Also new for 2019 is the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine that delivers 270 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. This engine is pretty amazing – smooth, quiet and fast in all the right places.

And, get this: It only costs $500 more than the mid-level 3.2-liter V-6 engine. It’s also available at every trim, as is the V-6.

While the V-6 is nice with 271 horsepower and 239 pound-feet of torque, if you’re going to spend $1,745 for that upgrade, you may as well go all the way with $2,245. The new engine is that good.

The base engine is the familiar 2.4-liter Tigershark 4-cylinder engine that delivers 170 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque. While this engine is fuel efficient and fine for tooling around town, it’s loud and a little bit sluggish. I believe the word I used to describe it while driving was “adequate.”

On-road driving – whether you opt for the base or up-level engines – is really nice. Frankly, it’s kind of a surprise, as the folks at Jeep decided to send us on twisty roads better suited to a sports car than a midsize SUV. Yet the Cherokee managed to hold its own.

Interior quietness across the trims and engine selection is also nice. The engine noise with the 2.4-liter is more noticeable under hard acceleration, but at cruising speeds all engines and trims were pleasant.

Another bonus is the phone connectivity. I made a couple calls using both the Bluetooth connection and the wired-in CarPlay connection, and the person on the other side said they were both remarkably clear – though the wired-in connection was a tad more clear.

Another point to note: Even though Jeep added more class to the Cherokee, it still offers a Trailhawk version, which is quite capable and receives the trail-rated demarcation.

We spent some time on a very technical trail, and I was impressed with its ability to crawl on the rocks and maneuver through moguls. No, it’s not Wrangler capable, but yes, it will get you through a lot of tricky off-road situations.

One of the stories Jeep tried to drive home was the value proposition.

The base price of the current Cherokee is $24,395, which is $400 more than the new base – even though Jeep added more content.

Pricing for all trims is as follows (4X2, 4X4):

  • Latitude: $23,995, $25,495
  • Latitude Plus: $25,495, $26,495
  • Trailhawk: $33,320 (only available as a 4X4)
  • Limited: $30,375, $31,875
  • Overland: $36,275, $37,775

The 2019 Jeep Cherokee was revealed in January at the Detroit Auto Show, and it’s slated to hit dealerships by the end of Q1.

The Bottom Line

When Jeep introduced the new Cherokee in 2014, it replaced the outgoing Liberty.

The automaker used this new entry to make waves in the lucrative midsize SUV segment. And though Cherokee had a polarizing design, it seemed to work.

Last year, Cherokee sold 1.4 million units globally in a segment that hovers around 9 million.

Now, Jeep is looking to up its game, get rid of the quirk, go upscale and conquer more sales.

During my brief first look, I’d say Jeep hit the mark. The new Cherokee is a nice vehicle at the base level, and when you add in that new 2.0-liter engine, it’s a homerun.

I’m wracking my brain to think of something I didn’t like about the 2019 Cherokee, and the best I can come up with is the buttons in the Apple CarPlay screen are kind of small on the 7-inch screen.

This critique may change with more time behind the wheel, but for now, I think Jeep has created a vehicle that will compete really well in the midsize SUV segment.

Editor’s Note: Driving impressions in this “First Look” review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Jeep covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.