The Jeep Cherokee occupies a unique place in the hot compact crossover market, with real off-road features and capability offered by almost none of the competition. If you don’t want an economy car disguised as a crossover, buy a Jeep. If you still want decent fuel economy and a comfortable daily driver, buy a Cherokee. Here’s a look at this all-American adventurer.
The fifth-generation Cherokee (called “KL” by Jeep people) debuted in 2014 to serious press and recognition. The avant-garde exterior with real value for the money made the Cherokee a critical and sales success. With several years behind the initial release, we can accurately see where the Cherokee hits home runs and where it strikes out.
Consumer Reports ranked the KL Cherokee a 65 out of 100, 11th place out of 18 compact SUVs and crossovers. That initially doesn’t sound great, but the CR data shows this is right in between the Mitsubishi Outlander and the Honda CR-V. CR reports an owner satisfaction score of 4 out of 5, so owners like it more than pro reviewers, specifically listing the Cherokee’s high points as exterior styling, the attractive and quiet interior, and the intuitive infotainment system. Owners dislike the gas mileage and say the base engine needs more power. CR reports that 79% of Cherokee owners would buy it again, a number ahead of the Volvo XC60. Owner review website Cars.com shows even higher satisfaction, with owners giving Cherokee a 4.9 out of 5, and 92% would buy it again.
Car & Driver scored it a 4 out of 5, saying “the Cherokee mixes off-road capability with mainstream appeal.” Motor Trend considered it for their 2015 SUV of the Year award, due to liking the fun-to-drive nature and impressive interior, but saying it didn’t earn the award due to “high cost of ownership, and low fuel economy.”
U.S. News & World Report listed the Cherokee as the top-ranked affordable compact SUV at its launch in 2014. A more recent report from them stated that the Cherokee buyer trends five years younger than the average crossover buyer, is slightly more budget conscious, but more likely than average to want a vehicle that stands out from the crowd.
Looking at owner reviews and forums, trends appear in what owners like and dislike when living with their Cherokee.
Appealing and different exterior styling. Quiet and easy to drive on-road or off. Also rather fun to drive in everyday conditions. Interior design successfully mimics the more expensive Jeep Grand Cherokee. Uconnect infotainment is intuitive and responsive.
Owners Don’t Love:
The base four cylinder is a bit pokey. Fuel economy with the V6 is average at best. Cargo space is noticeably behind class leaders.
There are a lot of good features packed into this compact. With competition fierce in the compact crossover segment, manufacturers are adding high-end technology and comfort features, making higher trims a near luxury experience.
Rather than being stuck with one choice of engine, transmission, and drive wheels, Cherokee has lots of options to fit your lifestyle. For 2014 through 2018, the smaller engine is the 2.4-liter “Tigershark” inline four cylinder with 184 horsepower and 171 ft-lb of torque. A V6 is optional, the 3.2-liter “Pentastar” making 271 horsepower and 239 ft-lb. A mid-cycle refresh in 2019 revised the styling and gained an additional engine. A 2.0-liter turbocharged engine is nearly universal in the compact crossover class, so Jeep brought their “Hurricane,” making an impressive 270 horsepower and 295 ft-lb. A nine-speed auto is the only transmission available, but it shifts smoothly and operates efficiently. Jeep allows you to opt for four-wheel drive with any trim level, from base to luxury.
The Cherokee offers tech features unavailable at any price just a few years ago. One of the cool highlights is the digital cluster display that replaces gauges with a completely customizable information center, so you can have the vehicle info you want in line of sight. There’s also Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, as well as Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant. Additional features up front include SiriusXM satellite radio, navigation, Bluetooth, and voice command. CommandView is a goofy name for the cool dual-pane panoramic sunroof. It’s powered up front, fixed in the rear, and feels like it stretches nearly the length of the roof. The upgraded audio system is a quality unit from Alpine that upgrades the speakers and adds a subwoofer. There’s also USB ports, Aux, 12V and 115V power, and storage bins everywhere for all your tech stuff.
The Cherokee has off-road capability built into its DNA. You can see this in features like the Select-Terrain Traction Management that lets you select five driving modes that optimize 12 different vehicle systems, like snow, sand, and rock modes. Rather than listing it as “all-wheel drive” on the Jeep website, Cherokee has levels of four-wheel drive. Active Drive I 4×4 keeps the base 4WD capability but adds a rear differential disconnect feature for improved efficiency, effectively making it a FWD vehicle during good road conditions. Active Drive II adds a low range and neutral mode for additional off-road capability. The Active Drive Lock system locks the rear axles together for increased grip in slippery situations.
Jeep reliability is a mixed bag, but a well maintained example should last for years with few issues. Here’s what the pros think of Cherokee’s reliability, and what to look for when buying used.
JD Power ranked the 2014 model Cherokee reliability a 5 out of 10, and Consumer Reports rated it a 1 out of 5. Not great, but this first year of the new generation suffered from transmission problems, while 2015 and later model years prove less problematic. 2014 and 2015 were recalled by Jeep, and by today, most of the Cherokees have received the transmission fix. Still, ’14 and ’15 do suffer in reviewer ratings and resale value because of this issue, so those years are best to avoid unless you can verify the recall work was completed. 2016 sees a dramatic improvement in reliability ratings.
While JD Power didn’t re-rank the Cherokee’s reliability, they put the quality of a 2018 model at 9 out of 10. Consumer Reports reported a Cherokee reliability score of 4 out of 5 overall, with the 2018 model working out the kinks and scoring a perfect 5. A Cherokee should prove reliable as long as you follow the maintenance schedule in the owner’s manual.
Maintenance is probably on you to perform, as Cherokee’s complimentary maintenance matches the industry standard, covering only the first two years. The limited bumper-to-bumper warranty is three years, or 36,000 miles, while powertrain warranty is five years, or 60,000 miles. That’s above average for the class, with only the Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson offering longer warranties.
Safety is a common reason buyers shop crossovers instead of similarly priced sedans, with the higher seating position and increased weight perceived as “more safe.” With the Cherokee, that actually holds true, with its impressive collection of solid safety scores. Here’s where it excels, and where it falls short.
Crash Test Scores
The Feds at the NHTSA give the 2019 Cherokee an overall rating of 4 stars out of 5. In the details, a front impact showed the driver with four stars, while the front passenger gets five stars. Side impact is five stars for everyone. NHTSA couldn’t get it to rollover in their test, but still gave a four-star rollover rating with a 17% chance of rollover in a loss of control situation.
The IIHS granted the Cherokee its highest Good score in all six crash-worthiness categories. Those tests are: small overlap front driver-side, small overlap front passenger-side, moderate overlap front, side impact, roof strength, and head restraints and seats. IIHS also rated Cherokee’s crash prevention as Superior, with the optional safety equipment.
Since this crossover sells worldwide, other regions crash test the Cherokee too. The EU’s NCAP gave Cherokee five stars in every category, as did Australia’s ANCAP, scoring the Cherokee an impressive 36.16 out of a possible 37 points.
Not Quite Perfect
While those are impressive scores, it doesn’t earn the vaunted IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award due to the headlights. While the IIHS tests show the standard LED headlights provide plenty of light and not much glare, they are not curve-adaptive for shining through corners. Only vehicles with the Technology Package receive a higher score thanks to high-beam assist. This system automatically turns the high-beams on and off as other drivers approach, allowing more use of high-beams to overcome the low-beam’s shortcomings in corners.
When new, the Cherokee competes in the tough mid-$20k to mid-$30k market, packed with contenders from every manufacturer. There are a few Cherokee trim levels that stand out as offering more for your money. Here are the best values in Carvana’s inventory, and what that price buys.
Below $18,000 – Cherokee Latitude
It is possible to find a good example of a Cherokee below $15,000 in Carvana’s inventory, but that is likely an early-year base Sport trim. It’s a rock-solid vehicle, but lower on value for the dollar versus the sub-$18,000 Latitude trim. This price point sees a two or three year old Cherokee with low miles and plenty of desirable features like fog lights, heated seats, remote start, 4WD, and trailer sway damping. This is the ideal value for the daily driver.
Between $18,000 and $24,000 – Cherokee Trailhawk
Going upmarket a bit offers the Limited and Trailhawk packages. Limited is semi-luxury, and probably worth it, but Trailhawk stands out as the value for the price that no competitor can match. This price buys a two to four year old Trailhawk with upgraded looks, the stout V6 engine, 4WD, off-road suspension, skidplates, tow hooks, and hill-decent control. This Cherokee is the value winner for the active outdoors enthusiast.
Above $24,000 – Cherokee Overland
Well under $30,000 buys a top-of-the-line Overland package, often with super low miles. There’s chrome exterior trim, larger polished aluminum wheels, panoramic sunroof, bi-xenon HID headlights, dual-zone climate control, power front seats with heating, ventilation, and memory, extra sound insulation, and leather wrapped surfaces. It’s like a Lexus NX for a lot less money. If you regularly carry passengers, they’ll appreciate your Overland.
Like almost all compact SUVs, the Cherokee seats five. Standard, these are cloth seats, with manual six-way adjustments to the front, and a 60-40 split folding rear bench seat. Options to the seats include leather, heating and ventilation, with lumbar and power adjustability, and an embossed logo.
Cherokee’s front seat comfort is an area that wins over reviewers and secures customers from test drivers. The seat comfort is high enough for the longest of road trips. The upright seating position gives a good view of the road, and visibility is excellent forward and to the sides, although small rear windows hamper rear visibility. This isn’t an issue when backing due to the standard backup camera.
Taller passengers are comfortable even in the back seats, but the optional sunroof does cut into headroom. Behind the rear seats, there is 36 cu-ft of cargo space, and 68 cu-ft with the rear seats folded down. Compare that to the Honda CR-V’s respective 39 cu-ft and 75.8 cu-ft. Cargo space is one area where the Cherokee is behind competitors, going for style and passenger comfort over maximum cargo space.
From Sport and Latitude to Trailhawk and Overland, let’s look at what the badges get you. Remember that four-wheel drive is an option on every trim level, but standard for Trailhawk. The towing package is also available at every trim level, so if you’re using a Cherokee for work, be sure that option box is checked.
Sport (or Latitude after 2018)
Since no one wants a base model or that awful “SE” badge, Jeep places a Sport badge on their lowest trim level. It’s not a rental car spec either, with plenty of standard features, including: LED headlights and tail lights, Uconnect in a seven-inch touch screen, audio controls on the steering wheel, a six-speaker sound system, and a 60/40 split rear bench seat. A 2.4-liter “MultiAir” four cylinder is standard equipment, along with the nine-speed automatic transmission, FWD, and 17-inch painted wheels. You also get standard safety features like hill start assist, roll mitigation, and a backup camera.
Altitude (replaced Latitude for 2019)
The mass-market model, Altitude gains many standard features crossover buyers are looking for, and additional option packages. Standard features include 18-inch wheels, eight-way power driver’s seat, ambient LED interior lighting, a leather wrapped steering wheel, optional push-button start, and blind-spot detection.
The first of the luxury trims, Limited adds an 8-inch infotainment display, different styled 18-inch wheels, a foot-activated liftgate, ventilated front seats, Tonneau cargo cover, premium leather bucket seats, heated front seats, a 115V power outlet, dual-zone climate control, and heated steering wheel. Options include remote start and a sound system upgrade with nine speakers and a subwoofer.
Trailhawk adds real off-road credibility thanks to standard V6 and four-wheel drive with locking rear differential. The suspension gets upgrades, including a small lift to increase ground clearance, tow hooks front and rear, gnarly protective skidplates under the engine components and fuel tank, and attractive 17-inch wheels with all-terrain tires.
Take everything in the Limited package as a starting point for High Altitude and build on it. The 3.2-liter V6 is standard here, with FWD or 4WD. The wheels get showy with 19-inch “Granite Crystal” (fancy words for dark silver) wheels. All the safety and tech features are standard including push-button start, adaptive cruise control, and blind-spot and cross-path detection. The Alpine sound system upgrade is optional.
Overland rounds out the top trim in a classy looking rig. This top trim level offers exclusive paint colors, and additional interior trim colors. Standard features include striking 19-inch polished wheels, chrome exterior trim, Uconnect 4C with navigation, heated steering wheel, and remote start. Audiophiles should get this one, as the Alpine sound system is standard here.
Ask any crossover owner about their fuel economy and you’ll get a range of answers from “pretty good” to “it’s terrible.” The Cherokee is no different, scoring at- or above-average, and earning surprising mileage in FWD on the highway. If you’re huge on MPG numbers, get the fuel sipping four cylinder. The EPA rates the 2.4-liter at 22 city, 31 highway, trending towards the higher side of average in this class. AWD adds weight, taking a 1 MPG penalty. A V6 adds a lot of power, and drops the numbers to 21/29 respectively. For some perspective, that’s the same gas mileage as the much smaller, lighter, and less powerful Chevy Malibu of 20 years ago, or the same mileage as an equivalent year RAV4. A 15.8 gallon fuel tank means a maximum range of 411 miles with the 2.0-liter engine. Fortunately, all engines only require cheap regular unleaded.
Fuel economy while towing will decrease of course, but at least you can tow above average loads. Maximum towing comes from the V6 with AWD and the optional tow package, allowing you to pull 4,500 lbs. That’s a full 1,000 lbs more than RAV4 or Sorento. Keep it simple with FWD and the four cylinder and you still have a useful 2,000 lb tow capacity.