WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. — The 2019 Jeep looked a lot better than the model it will replace.
I was one of those folks who thought it looked a little funny. The DRLs were above the headlamps on the old model and the fog lamps were beneath. It looked a lot better than it sounds, here but still, it was love-it-or-loathe-it styling.
Jeep decided to dump it as it strove for more premium styling which I think it achieved with the 2019 Cherokee. The headlights, DRLs and the fog lamps were placed in a single housing. But designers managed to maintain the vehicle’s catlike eyes and it still had that unique waterfall hood mated to the seven-slot grille. As a single piece, the sloping new hood maintained the Cherokee’s distinctive face.
All the sheet metal on the new Cherokee from the A-pillar forward was changed. There was a new fascia, aluminum hood, standard LED headlamps, daylight running lamps (DRLs) and fog lights. Through design and the use of lightweight materials like the aluminum hood, the 2019 Jeep Cherokee was 150 lbs. lighter than the outgoing model.
And they changed the liftgate too, moving the license plate pocket from the rear fascia to the liftgate, letting them extend the dual cargo floor just a little bit to create more interior space. There were 28 more cubic feet than in the old model. Stick your foot under the rear bumper and the liftgate would open automatically.
A new 2.0-liter direct injected turbocharged four-cylinder engine that made 270 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque joined the engine choices. It was equipped with start stop.
The 3.2-liter V6 remained; it made 271 horsepower and 239 pound-feet of torque and Jeep said it had a best-in-class towing capability of 4,500 lbs.
And then there was a 2.4-liter four cylinder engine that made a not so wimpy 180 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque.
All engines were mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission. Of course there was a four-wheel-drive Trailhawk rated trim line which started at $33,320. It was joined by four other trim lines: the Latitude 4X2, $23,995, Latitude 4X4 $25,495, the Latitude Plus 4X2 $26,495, the Latitude Plus 4X4 $27,995, the Limited $31,875 and the Overland $37,775. Add a $1,195 freight charge to all base prices.
The Limited and the Overland only come in 4X4 trim while the Latitude and the Latitude Plus are available in two-wheel- or four-wheel-drive.
But the proof of Jeep’s intent to upgrade the Cherokee was on the road. The 2019 Cherokee just felt good to drive. The steering wheel was fat to the grip. The seats were comfortable; I was particularly pleased with the way the lumbar support hugged the curves in my lower back.
The suspension was firm. There were no dips when going over deep depressions in the pavement. In other words, there wasn’t a lot of bouncing or sway in the curves. The 2019 Jeep Cherokee felt good going over the road and it was quiet. They did a good job of keeping road noise outside
We were into twists and tight turns almost as soon as we left the hotel, drove about a half mile and took a left onto Lakeview Canyon Road. Then it was a right onto Agoura Road and then a left onto Westlake Road. It was all up from there.
The new Cherokee handled well. Canyons were scenic but when you’re pushing through them, driving a little faster than tourist speed, you find it a stop and go affair, sort of. Speeding up and slowing down for curves, turns and other traffic. But the new Cherokee went where I steered it easily. In other words, it was very responsive to driver input.
These roads can be wearing on the brakes, difficult on steering and a bit tiring because of the concentration required. The two lane twisty affairs like Mulholland Highway, Topanga Canyon Road and Kanan Dume Road and others through these canyons can get up to several thousand feet in elevation. After all, they used to be mountain trails for livestock like mules. The Jeep Cherokee had no problem navigating them.
We had an Overland 4X4 with the 3.2-liter V6, dual pane sunroof, 19.5-inch wheels and the technology option package. As tested, it had a sticker of $41,260.The engine worked a little to get up and over some of the hills. The nine-speed transmission accounted itself well but I think it could have selected a lower gear for more torque more often. However, I could have put it in manual mode and done that myself.
Speaking of modes, the 2019 Jeep Cherokee had five drive modes. Using what the automaker has branded the Jeep Selec-Terrain traction control system they were auto, snow, sports, sand/mud and rock.
I declined to retract the screen on the panoramic roof and let the sun in because I didn’t want to take the chance that glare would distract me from the task of driving, not on elevated narrow two lane roads like these. However, we did switch on the radio and found the sound rich.
Jeep did a really nice job on the interior. They used piano black and satin chrome trim to give the interior an understated premium quality.
The infotainment touch screen was wide and seemed isolated. Jeep has put many controls on the touchscreen itself, thus the template was free of a lot of buttons. Climate controls were in an oval frame under the screen and there were USB and auxiliary jacks at the base of the center console.
They left a lot of space between the odometer and the speedometer. That made the TFT screen look as though it was free-floating and not wedged between the two. It was an airy look that was spread through the entire passenger cabin.
This new Cherokee was equipped with the 4th generation UConnect system. It has a 7.0-inch screen or an 8.4 inch screen or an 8.4 inch screen with a navigation system. There was Bluetooth, satellite radio, you could drag and drop apps on the infotainment screen, and the vehicle could be commanded from anywhere allowing owners to lock, unlock or start the 2019 Jeep Cherokee with their smartphones.
The SOS button will connect with a call center agent who can send emergency assistance to the vehicle’s location. The infotainment system was also equipped with Apple CarPlay or Android. We chose to use the direction app on my smartphone to get back to the hotel via the direct route because the returning test vehicle did not have a navigation system.
On my iPhone I could of course make phone calls but I also could access my music, send and receive messages and receive voice-guided navigation optimized for traffic conditions. There was adaptive cruise control and parallel/perpendicular park assist systems were among some of the creature comforts available.
But, as you know, Jeep’s DNA is off-road driving. Once we arrived at the Canyon Ranch we got the chance to check out the Cherokee’s rock crawling chops.
Jeep said the 2019 Cherokee has a choice of three innovative 4×4 systems that have been enhanced for unmatched 4×4 capabilities for all weather conditions. Jeep Cherokee maintains its place as the benchmark mid-size SUV with rear-axle disconnect technology that results in reduced energy loss when 4×4 capability isn’t needed, while improving fuel efficiency. The rear-axle disconnect seamlessly switches between two- and four-wheel drive for full-time torque management and does not require input from the driver.
Jeep Active Drive I, Jeep Active Drive II and Jeep Active Drive Lock are the three systems. I’ll spare you details because there just is not enough space to write about each. But I can share this: they had several Jeep Cherokee Trailhawks set aside for the off road course here.
After instituting a complicated series of gear set ups, I took my foot off the accelerator and let the Cherokee traverse the course and just steered; there was no braking either.
We did rock crawling, went over really deep ditches and dirt paths and got up and over some really high degree inclines; the kind that were so steep that I could only see the sky until the Cherokee thumped back down to level terrain. There was no mud, no wet gullies and we didn’t have to fjord water. So I’d say the course was a 4.5 or so on a scale of 10.
But don’t be fooled, unless you’re someplace really desolate, in the true sense of the word, the course was way tougher than anything you’re going to encounter in everyday driving. In short, the new Cherokee qualified as a Jeep. It goes on sale during the first quarter of 2018.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com.