Whether it’s crawling over rocks or cruising to the stadium, Jeep is undeniably on a roll. Parent company Fiat Chrysler reported 17 percent sales gains for the Jeep brand last year and is said to be struggling to meet demand for its new Wrangler.
Meanwhile, it plans to build a new assembly plant in Detroit and revamp five others as the lineup continues to grow. Three new models are in the works, including a Ram-based Wagoneer/Grand Wagoneer and a three-row Grand Cherokee. Hybrid versions of those, plus a fully electric Jeep, are not far behind, Jeep reports.
With all those headlines, it may have been easy to overlook the Cherokee’s subtle “return to normalcy,” to borrow a famous presidential quote. The 2019 Cherokee gets a redesigned front end and no longer has the squinty-eyed headlights that many folks loathed. They have been replaced with more conventional headlights and a new cascading grille that resembles its Jeep brethren.
The new top-level Cherokee Overland 4x4 also gets a lightweight composite lift gate (with hands-free feature) and new LED lamps in the rear, and a new aluminum hood. Under the hood is the best surprise: an all-new 2.0-liter turbocharged engine with more punch and better mileage (24 mpg combined).
The direct-injected four-cylinder engine, shared with the sporty Alfa Romeo, has more kick from the line than even the 3.2-liter V-6. It puts out 270 hp and 295 pound-feet of torque and gets to 60 mph in 7 seconds flat. Both engines use Jeep’s 9-speed automatic transmission, which has been recalibrated and feels more decisive now at slower speeds.
Ride quality is great. Atop 19-inch tires, Cherokee offers good road feedback with its new and nicely-weighted electronic steering. Curves and swerves are well controlled thanks to upgraded dampers and anti-roll bars.
Of course, few can compete with Jeep when the pavement turns to gravel, mud. snow and rock. The 4x4 Overland comes with Jeep’s Active Drive I which is like an all-wheel-drive system, engaging other wheels when needed for extra traction. Two other 4-wheel-drive systems are available.
All Cherokees also get Selec-Terrain, which adapts the mechanics for various road conditions, including snow, sport and sand/mud. When the going gets rocky, Cherokee is ready and able with an impressive approach angle of 29.9 degrees and departure at 32.2.
Inside, driver and front passenger are kept comfortable with bolstered, ventilated seats. “Overland” is embroidered on seat backs; seats are trimmed in upgraded leather. Both driver and passenger seats are power adjustable.
Rear seats slide back to expand legroom, but taller folks still may find headroom a little cramped. Perhaps a huge two-panel sunroof will brighten the experience back there.
Cargo space is up by three cubic feet behind the rear seat, now at 25.8 cubic feet. But, with total capacity at 54.7 cubes, one can do better among rivals if that’s a high priority. There is a shallow storage area underneath the cargo floor and a small compartment atop the dash.
Simple, easy-to-reach knobs and dials make it a breeze to control climate and the 9-speaker Alpine audio system. And Jeep’s 4th-generation (faster processors this year) Uconnect infotainment system continues to be one of the most user-friendly on the road. An 8.4-inch touchscreen offers sharp color and graphics and it is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Speaking of technology, a safety package ($995) provides of bevy of high-tech features, including adaptive cruise with stop and go, collision warning with crash mitigation, lane-departure warning, and parking assist for both parallel and perpendicular spots.
The Cherokee Overland 4x4, with its new looks and turbo power, likely will contribute to Jeep’s growing success on whatever terrain folks choose to rumble over.
Base price: $37,775
As tested: $40,715 (Includes Technology group, $995; 2.0-liter I-4 turbo engine, $500)
What’s all the excitement about? No more alien-eyed headlights (redesigned front end) and a new available engine
Powertrain: 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder turbocharged engine capable of 295 pound-feet of torque; mated to 9-speed transmission
How’s the performance? Improved acceleration – makes 60 mph in 7 seconds; New suspension translates to great daily ride quality and handling
What about fuel economy? EPA-rated at 21 mpg city, 29 highway (24 combined)