Odd look, old name, new purpose, same Jeep
by Aaron Gold
If you're old enough to drive, you're old enough to remember the Jeep Cherokee
, a boxy off-roader that helped usher in the SUV craze in the late 1980s.
Despite its cramped cabin and agricultural attitude, the old Cherokee won our hearts with incredible ability off-road and surprisingly good handling on-road. Jeep replaced the Cherokee with the Liberty in 2002, but now the Cherokee is back -- and it's aiming to do its '80s-era namesake proud.
The new Cherokee's front-end styling has been the subject of controversy; as we've said before, it looks much better in person, where one can appreciate the 3-D effect of the jutting seven-slot grille. Ironically, Jeep's stylists seem to have been so exhausted from designing the front that they forgot about the back -- it's easy to mistake the Cherokee's rump for that of a Kia Sportage.
The entry-level Cherokee Sport is the most austere, with blacked-out window trim and plastic wheel covers. The Latitude adds roof rails, alloy wheels and extra brightwork, while the top-of-the-line Limited model gets even more adornment. Coolest of all is the Trailhawk, its black bumpers punctuated by bright red tow hooks (which can support 150% of the Cherokee's weight), plus knobbly tires, underbody skid plates and a matte-black hood panel, which compliments the dechromed grille.
Inside, all Cherokees feature a soft-touch padded dash smartly detailed with high-quality trim bits. Knobs and dials work with precision, except for the four-wheel-drive control knob, which feels stiff and clunky.
A clearly-marked speedometer and tachometer flank a user-configurable display; lesser trims get a monochrome screen while nicer Cherokees get a 7-inch color display. Our one issue with the design is the contrasting-color stitching atop the dash, which reflects in the windshield and puts a double-dotted line right in the line of sight.
The Cherokee's interior is awash in storage cubbies and we were pleased to find audio and power ports on the center stack as well as inside the center console. All Cherokees get Chrysler's Uconnect touch-screen interface for the stereo, Bluetooth and (optional) navigation system; Sport and Latitude models get a 5-inch screen, while a big 8.4-inch display is optional on Latitude, standard on Limited and Trailhawk. Uconnect is one of the more intuitive infotainment systems on the market and we were able to use stereo, phone and nav with minimal attention and effort.
SPACE AND SAFETY
We found the Cherokee's thickly-bolstered front seats to be particularly comfortable and supportive. While the Cherokee feels wider from the inside than it looks on the outside, all-round visibility is very good, supplemented by big side-view mirrors. The comfortable back seat offers good leg- and head-room, but cargo capacity trails the competition at 24.6 cubic feet -- though you can slide the back seats forward up to six inches to add another four-and-a-half cubes, or fold them flat for 54.9. The front passenger seat folds as well, perfect for trips to Home Depot or Surf City.
Ten airbags are concealed beneath the Cherokee's interior trim, and before those come into play, there are plenty of accident-avoidance options: Blind-spot warning, lane-departure warning, and active cruise control with a collision-warning system (which worked excellently when a slow-moving pickup truck suddenly changed lanes into our path). The Cherokee offers a self-parking system that handles both parallel and perpendicular (stall) parking: Press a button and the Cherokee finds a spot, then steers itself into place while the driver works the brakes and the shifter. (The on-screen display shows the Cherokee parking between two old-time military Jeeps. Cute.)