The off-roadiest version of Jeep’s Cherokee.
Review and photos by Tom Sedens
Pricing: 2020 Jeep Cherokee
Base price (Trailhawk Elite 4×4 trim): $40,545
Options: $2,995 Customer Preferred Package 2ZL; $895 SafetyTec Group; $1,095 Technology Group; $995 2L turbo-4-cylinder engine; $1,595 panoramic sunroof; $920 Connect nav system with 8.4″ display; $100 Velvet Red Pearl paint
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $51,135
I’m quite partial to the Cherokee nameplate. We used to own one – a gorgeous 1998 Cherokee Classic, black on black. It ran flawlessly for 160,000 km until we got rid of it, and we heard it ran for many years after that. Somehow that vehicle felt absolutely bomb-proof. It handled any weather, it could fit a ton of stuff, it was comfortable, it towed our little RV up and down mountains and all the way to California and back several times, and never cost us a dime outside of regular maintenance. The Cherokee was also one of the original SUVs. The real deal – with a legit 4×4 system, off-road ready and easy to fix.
This is not that Cherokee. Times are different now, and this makes our Cherokee seems like ancient history. Styling-wise, powertrain and drivetrain-wise, electronically, and everything else in between – there is nothing in common between the two vehicles save the name.
I always enjoy Jeep’s marketing speak, because it ranges from funny to downright goofy. They describe the Cherokee’s styling as urban modern. Which doesn’t mean anything.
To me, the Cherokee’s evolved looks are handsome. It’s a bit of a jellybean, but overall, I like it. It does fit in well in the urban-scape, and looks at home off the beaten path too. Thankfully Jeep changed its squinty headlights a few years ago, and this new front-end is so much better. The Trailhawk trim is visually toughened-up with a few aesthetic differences.
Filling out the square wheel wells is some seriously chunky-looking rubber on 17-inch rims. I think this is one of my favourite parts of the Trailhawk add-ons.
Jeep describes the Cherokee interior with the words “Refined Luxury”. That’s a bit rich, if you ask me. There’s nothing wrong with the cabin, but it’s definitely not luxurious. The materials are decent, with plenty of soft-touch-ish areas but these are not high-end plastics, and the space is dark, dark, dark. Also, the entire underside of the dash and centre console are hard plastic. The design language in these Jeeps is starting to age as well. With all that said, it all works well.
There are a few nice Trailhawk trim touches including the contrasting red stitching throughout.
The meaty heated steering wheel sits in front of two traditional gauges, which flank a customizable driver information screen.
We felt the Cherokee’s heated and ventilated power-adjustable seats, upholstered in gorgeous Nappa leather, were very comfortable and nicely bolstered – they’re also very nice to look at.
Centered in the dash is the now-familiar 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen. The interface is getting a bit old, but still works very well and integrates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto nicely. Below that are some knobs and hard button controls for the sound system and the dual-zone automatic climate control – much appreciated.
Overhead is a huge panoramic sunroof which makes the dark cabin a tad airier.
My review Cherokee came with a ton of driver assistance technology, although sadly much of it comes as part of option packages rather than standard – and that’s silly at this price level. But I guess it’s s nice way to gouge the customer, since most will opt up for these features. You get a rear-view camera, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-path detection, side distance warning, parallel and perpendicular parking assist, forward collision warning and active braking, lane departure warning and lane keep assist, automatic high-beams and adaptive cruise control.
Back here the leg room isn’t great and it’s not as spacious as it might look from the outside. Rear passengers get two USB-As, two USB-Cs and a 115V household plug.
The floor is not flat in the middle, and the centre seating section is narrow, so it’s not a great place for an adult.
The front of the centre console has a weird wide slot that doesn’t really fit anything but hey, it’s there. Behind it are auxiliary, USB and 12v plugs. The bin under the armrest lid has a couple of levels, and includes another set of USB and 12V plugs. There is also a storage bin under a pop-up lid on the dash, which is my least favourite place to hide stuff.
You can open the power liftgate with a hands-free function (although it only worked some of the time for me). The trunk is large, although Jeep doesn’t seem to share the actual volume – or doesn’t make it easy to find. There’s a retractable tonneau cover as well. If you need more space, you can fold down the rear seats in a 60/40 split.
Under the Hood
Motivating my review unit was the optional 2L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine paired with a 9-speed automatic and an all-wheel drive system. The engine puts out 270 HP and 295 lb.ft of torque. This combination is rated at 11.8/9.2 L/100 km (city/highway). We ended up with an average of 12L/100 km which isn’t that great. In the Cherokee’s defence, we only really did urban driving, however we were driving it pretty economically as well.
Remember I mentioned some things that should be standard aren’t on this vehicle? That goes for the push-button start too. Yep, it’s part of an option package. The remote starter is as well, and it was much appreciated to let things warm up a bit.
The upgraded turbo engine is a great fit for this vehicle. It pulls strongly off the line once it overcomes some momentary lag, and has enough jam for any driving situation. Sport mode definitely picks things up even more .The transmission is the sore spot in the vehicle’s performance. In the lower gears and at lower speeds it will become really lurchy between gears, and it will find the highest possible gear as soon as possible to save on fuel, which means when you step on it to pass someone, etc. it will often be caught flat-footed in a much-too-high gear and it takes its sweet time to get into the right one.
The ride is a bit jiggly, but remains comfortable. It will happily soak up the biggest hits the road can dish out, which leads me to believe it will be a pothole season champ. I didn’t really test the suspension out off road, although we tried to trail-whack a bit and it handled anything we threw at it with ease. What I was super impressed with was the Cherokee’s handling. It can be thrown into corners with abandon, and was surprisingly athletic considering its size and height. It can be downright fun to drive, which is great stuff.
Gears can be shifted manually with the gear selector – it’s not a particularly quick or rewarding experience.
The brakes are excellent and visibility out of the vehicle is good. One thing we noticed right away is that there seems to be a combination of driveline noise and road noise from the aggressive tires – it is constant as you roll around town.
Being a car-based Trailhawk model, most of this Cherokee’s off-roading abilities (thanks to honest-to-goodness off-road suspension bits) are augmented electronically. There’s a Active Drive Lock 4×4 system with low gearing and a locking rear axle, Selec-Terrain (allowing you choose between Auto, Sport, Snow, Sand/Mud and Rock modes), Selec-Speed Control with hill ascent and descent modules and trim-specific heavy-duty engine cooling.
You’re working with 8.7″ of ground clearance, pretty impressive approach and departure angles and the ability to ford 19″ of water, thanks to a high air intake.
So here is something crazy. When the climate control fan ramps up, say if you’re using automatic mode and it’s a chilly morning, this is bar none the loudest vehicle I have ever been in. I have literally never heard a louder fan. It is so loud that it overwhelms the stereo and you can not hear other passengers talking. That’s just downright weird.
WAF (Wife Approval Factor) was surprisingly high. She didn’t like the overt butchy looks of this Trailhawk trim, but overall she enjoyed driving it and said it was easy to handle.
I too felt this is an easy vehicle to live with – it’s compact enough to be an easy parking vehicle, and it’s fun to drive around town. If you’re the kind of person who buys a Jeep to actually head off the beaten path (I suspect the vast, vast majority of Jeep owners do NOT do that, particularly Cherokee owners), then it is quite capable there too. It offers enough utility and cargo space for normal owners as well. It’s not particularly efficient, nor is the back seat very roomy. And in this trim, optioned as it was, you’re going to find a lot of competition at this price level.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by FCA Canada.
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