Jeep celebrated its 75th anniversary last year, but these days just one of its vehicles — the two-door Wrangler convertible — looks much like the classic Army vehicle that formed the basis for the modern brand. Its other vehicles compete against car-based crossovers. Today’s Cherokee, for instance, shares its mechanical underpinnings with Chrysler and Dodge sedans to square off against a Honda CR-V, Ford Escape or Subaru Forester.
But the “Since 1941” badge on the steering wheel isn’t the Cherokee’s only connection to the legendary off-road ability of classic Jeeps. While the Cherokee’s passenger car roots keep it from scurrying over boulders with the ease of a Wrangler, this crossover is built to go places that a Honda CR-V or Ford Escape cannot. From its hardier suspension and higher ground clearance to its more advanced all-wheel-drive system, the Cherokee retains substantive connections to the Jeep heritage.
Off-road ability isn’t without compromise, though. Raising the body high off the ground also raises the Cherokee’s cargo floor, so you have to lift your luggage higher up to load it in, and there’s significantly less total space. Ride and handling polish also suffer if you select the “off-road suspension”; fuel economy significantly trails a CR-V’s; and prices quickly soar beyond the $24,590 base level.
The Cherokee’s capability gives it a unique niche in the compact crossover class, and it’s not unpleasant even in the city. Just be aware of competitors’ extra on-road comfort, versatility and value.
Priciest Golf blends performance, civility
If you think about a $40,000 performance car, you’re probably imagining a sleek coupe or convertible — a car that’s as stunning to look at as to drive. But if you’re more flexible on the former point, Volkswagen’s Golf R might be of interest.
The Golf R looks pretty much like an ordinary Golf economy hatchback. But its boxy five-door body hides a ferocious 292-horsepower engine and a capable all-wheel-drive platform shared with the Audi TT. Acceleration from this mild-looking vehicle can astonish you every time you put your foot down, and its high handling limits also impress.
And then if you’re ready to drive gently, the Golf R settles down to putter around town almost as serenely as any other Volkswagen. Of course, that means that if you only drive in the crowded city, you’ll rarely get to enjoy the car’s extra performance.
For a little more style and luxury, but with less cargo room and a $3,000 premium, you can get the mechanically related Audi S3 sedan. You can also give up 82 horsepower and all-wheel-drive for the still-fun Golf GTI hatchback, starting at $26,415.