THE PROS & CONS
- What's Good: Class-leading towing rating, Impressive ride and handling, Actual off-road capability
- What's Bad: Small cargo hold, Mediocre fuel economy, Simply not a great value proposition
When the Jeep Cherokee went from its boxy origins to a more urban, shark-faced crossover, Jeep fans ran to the streets with their pitchforks and angry fists.
The strategy however proved successful for Jeep, selling just over 200,000 units the first year it was released. This next-generation Cherokee presented itself as a more refined vehicle, with superior road manners and more fuel-efficient powertrains all packaged in a family-friendly look. It did all that while keeping the coveted Trail Rated badge and ruggedness expected from a Jeep intact.
But then, the Japanese, German and even Korean brands caught up, dishing out more substantial, more capable and downright better-built products that forced the Cherokee to sit at the back of the segment.
In 2019, FCA gave its compact crossover a fresh dose of updates so it could remain relevant within a dog-eat-dog segment. It got a new turbo engine, new looks and new available safety technology. The Cherokee therefore crosses to the 2020 model year unchanged.
Has the slew of updates done anything to help the Cherokee crawl its way back to the top of the segment? Or should Jeep consider ditching the ready-for-a-first date demeanour in favour of the classic truck-like look of the past?
It’s becoming more and more difficult to follow the Cherokee’s story as Jeep keeps injecting new trim levels each year. There are no less than nine variants of this thing on the market, ranging from the bargain basement Sport at $29,545 to the almighty and not-so-worth it Overland at $41,645.
Our tester was the better-equipped Altitude model, the third and presumably best-selling Cherokee available. It kicks off at $33,940.
We added $2,590 for the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine good for 271 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. Then $100 for the Velvet Red Pearl paint job, $995 for the cold weather group, $895 for the SAFETYTEC group, $995 for an 8.4-inch screen and $1,295 for the Comfort and Convenience group. Our Cherokee ended up costing us $46,505. Yet, it still didn’t have a sunroof.
At least, four-wheel-drive does come standard. We hope so, this being a Jeep. And although it’s a tad less capable than the V6, the four-cylinder Cherokee still boasts a solid towing rating at 4,000 pounds (1,814 kg).
Just Not Feeling It
Perhaps the Cherokee’s biggest issue is that it doesn’t feel as fresh and value-packed as some of its rivals. Let’s face it, it’s now swimming in a pool of supremely engineered machines, things like the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Mazda CX-5, Volkswagen Tiguan, Chevrolet Equinox/GMC Terrain, Ford Escape, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson, and Nissan Rogue.
The Cherokee’s interior is fine, controls are well placed and build quality is ok, but there’s nothing here to make you want to buy one over anything else in this class. It’s also rather small, with barely more cargo space than some newer subcompact crossovers. Max cargo space is rated at 1,548 liters. That’s smaller than a subcompact Kia Seltos.
But maybe even worse is the realization that you’re paying well over 40 grand for a vehicle that doesn’t feel like it. So no, the Cherokee is not a good value proposition.
It does, however, have things going for it. If you absolutely need a compact crossover to tow something heavy, this Jeep has you covered. Handling is also surprisingly composed, with somewhat firm suspension tuning and low levels of body roll, making for an agile crossover around town.
It’s also plenty capable on a beaten trail, altering its 4×4 system between Auto, Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud. Of course, there’s no sway bar disconnect or two-speed transfer case in this Cherokee, but it can nevertheless crawl its way out of some rather complex situations.
We also continue to adore the simplicity and effectiveness of FCA controls, especially its Uconnect infotainment interface. The Cherokee we drove still had the last generation software, so yes, it’s starting to show age. A new, more up to date Uconnect is coming to FCA vehicles soon.
But it’s still the textbook example of how a touch-operated system should work. Menus are easy to find and access, commands, while digital, are a breeze to operate. Big round knobs and buttons make manipulating it easy when wearing gloves, and the heated seats and steering – that reduce their heat after running for a while – are enjoyable during the winter months.
Power from the 2.0-liter turbo, however, is effective and nothing more. In that respect, the available 3.2-liter V6 has more personality and downright more grunt. The turbo engine pulls strong only during a small window, between 2,500 and 5,500 rpm, where it then runs out of puff before kissing redline at 6,000-rpm. There’s nothing exciting or energetic about the way this engine provides power. It merely just provides it.
In turn, the engine’s fuel economy is just as lackluster as its performance. We averaged high nines, low 10s during a mild-early March winter. It’s ok, but not class-leading.
Spending some drive time behind the wheel of the 2020 Jeep Cherokee made us wonder if Jeep should have left the Cherokee name intact. Because while it currently sits at the back of the category, being overshadowed by RAV4s, CRVs and CX-5s, if the Cherokee had remained true to its roots, it could have taken over another niche other carmakers would have envied. Imagine what it would look like today if Jeep had let the Cherokee evolve like it did the Wrangler. That Cherokee would be a juggernaut of a sales success that would crush Toyota 4Runners and Honda Passports in the trails.