By historical standards, the Jeep Cherokee has been a thoroughly mainstream vehicle since 2014. Once a boxy, hardily utilitarian SUV, the more recent Cherokee chased the sales success of the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape by becoming a car-based crossover — resulting in better on-road ride and handling and improved fuel economy.
But Jeep worked hard to maintain its famous off-road capability, which left the Cherokee less fuel-efficient, less spacious, and more expensive than its best-selling rivals in the compact crossover category. At the same time, it had distanced itself from its roots with aggressively modern styling. In particular, the headlights were long slivers running along the sides of the hood away from a curved grille.
For the 2019 model year, Jeep has edged the Cherokee toward the mainstream. In a comprehensive update to the 2014-2018 model, Jeep restyled the front end with more conventional headlights; revised the suspension to improve ride and handling; increased the cargo capacity; upgraded the infotainment features; and added a new powerful yet fuel-efficient turbocharged engine.
The changes make the Cherokee a more appealing choice for someone who was already drawn to its rugged appeal. One could argue that an off-road-ready suspension is useful on a potholed city street, but the Jeep’s daily-use compromises remain despite its improvements.
Creating off-road capability forces a fundamental compromise. A heavy-duty suspension and high ground clearance pushes up the floor, reducing interior volume. And sophisticated off-road engineering and technologies drive up the price.
With its capabilities in mind, the Cherokee’s everyday comfort and fuel efficiency is commendable. It won’t disappoint urban buyers.
But distill this Jeep to a purely practical level, and the Cherokee comes up short against the roomier, even more efficient, and less expensive Honda CR-V or Nissan Rogue, or against the posh and fun to drive Mazda CX-5.
The 2019 Cherokee starts at $25,440, but they increase more quickly than in most compact crossovers. EPA fuel economy ratings range from 21 mpg in mixed driving to up to 26 mpg, depending on the engine, trim level and drivetrain (front-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive). Compare that to the CR-V’s ratings, which range from 27 to 30 mpg.
Note, too, that to get Jeep flavor in a city-friendly package, the brand’s smaller Renegade and Compass models might be the better fit. They’re less expensive than the Cherokee and give up less interior space than you might expect. The main advantage: You can upgrade to a quieter and more powerful engine in the Cherokee than in those two, a choice of a V6 or the new-for-2019 turbo.