Aug 28, 2016

Inside the New Jeep Grand Cherokee

The Jeep Cherokee has been selling well over the last two years since its total redesign. With looks and features that make it more like the Grand Cherokee, the crossover doesn’t have to work hard to attract customers.

Among its most unique features, you’ll find big items like extreme off-road capabilities and little surprises like standard illuminated cupholders. Despite its available crash avoidance features and a bevy of airbags, safety remains its biggest drawback.

Cabin Size and Trims

Typical of the Jeep family, the Cherokee comes in five trims with four extra variations. The idea is to allow you to choose unique features and accents that reflect your personality. Jeeps are already among the most customizable vehicles in the country, and giving the consumer many choices has become an extension of this trend.

Even though it is a highly polished, sophisticated ute, the Jeep’s sporty personality shines through. This may be its biggest draw, beating more boring competition like the Honda CR-V just by being different.

Sized appropriately for its class, the Cherokee easily sits four or five. You could say that the Cherokee’s more unique features include its superior backseat. The bench is mounted high, adding legroom without reducing headroom. Rear cushioning, often too thin in other utes, offers ample thigh support. The reclining seats also move forward on a track, allowing you to claim extra cargo space without giving up seating.

The hold is 24.6 cu.ft., a low amount for this class when you consider that the Honda CR-V is offering more than 37 cu.ft. Like most crossovers today, the seats fold to double your flat area, but that still increases it to 54 cu.ft., another subpar number for the class. However, unlike most in its class, the Cherokee does offer a folding front passenger’s seat that lets you haul longer items. Unfortunately, a power liftgate is strictly available on the highest priced trim.

Performance Features and Fuel Efficiency

The standard four-cylinder engine generates 184 horsepower. That’s in line with many in the class. The emphasis is on saving fuel, and this Cherokee can earn 31 mpg highway with front wheel drive. City mpg is just 21 mpg. While much of the competition still hasn’t broken 30 mpg on the highway, the Honda HR-V is pushing 32 mpg. Furthermore, the Nissan Rogue earns 26 mpg city and 33 mpg highway. If you opt for all-wheel drive, the highway fuel economy drops to 28 mpg. This makes the always all-wheel drive Subaru Outback look really good. It earns 33 mpg/highway.

Driving enthusiasts may want the Cherokee V-6 which can be optioned on every edition except the Sport. The powertrain kicks out 271 horsepower which is much more fun to command. With a tow package, the Cherokee can handle 4,500 pounds. Shoppers should remember that the Jeep nameplate does not automatically entitle you to four-wheel drive. For a price, front-wheel drive can traded for Active Drive I, a 4×4 system that is good for trails and excellent for snowy roads. The Trailhawk has standard Active Drive II for more rugged terrain.

Dash Tech: Pros and Cons

The UConnect system has been widely praised as a better system by experts at PC Magazine and Digital Trends. Even though many systems (think Chevy, Ford, Toyota) have improved, it still ranks as one of the best. The Honda system, in particular, definitely lags behind, giving the Cherokee a much needed leg-up on the best-selling CR-V.

The latest UConnect generation added a drag-and-drop menu bar, making the system even simpler. A Do Not Disturb function lets you shut out SMS text messaging and phone calls until you want to take them. Be advised that the lower trim levels have the smaller, less capable five-inch touchscreen. Even with the big screen, you don’t get Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. A wireless charger has been added to the roster of options, but it isn’t standard even on the pricey Overland edition.

Most Affordable Trims: MSRP and Base Features

The Sport, Sport Altitude, and Latitude are the most affordable trims. The MSRP ranges from $23,595 to $25,545 for the front-wheel editions. To get a 4×4, expect to pay $2,000 more. As for value, this Jeep really likes to dress up. So you’ll find lots to like, including cloth door panels, a floor-length console and an overall feeling of polish and quality. Base features typically include:

  • UConnect five-inch touchscreen
  • Six speakers
  • Steering Wheel Mounted Controls
  • Rear vents
  • Split 60/40 rear seatback
  • 8 cargo tie-down loops
  • Illuminated cupholders
  • Fold-flat passenger seat (excludes Sport)

Mid-range Trims: MSRP and Base Features

The 75th Anniversary Edition, the Limited, and the High Altitude are midrange trims with many luxury options. MSRP lists from $28,325 to $30,490. Again, you’ll add about $2,000 extra for all-wheel drive. Base features include:

  • UConnect 8.4-inch Touchscreen
  • One-Year SiriusXM Subscription
  • Seven-inch TFT Color Display
  • Power Driver’s Seat

TrailHawk Editions

With extra skid plates, wider tires, and higher ground clearance, the Trailhawk already looks a bit different from the family. Equipped with the most advanced 4×4 system, this Jeep has terrain management, crawl control, and other electronically-controlled mechanical tools that can take you off road. Critics suggest that it is just shy of Wrangler capability.

Luxury Options

A panoramic sunroof, leather seats, and top amenities are among the reasons to opt for the new Overland. This is the most luxurious Cherokee ever. It moves the Jeep crossover into premium territory, helping it compete with popular near-luxury brands like the Buick Encore. Overland features include:

  • UConnect 8.4 Touchscreen with Navigation and HD radio
  • Five-Year SiriusXM Traffic subscription
  • Nappa leather-trimmed seats with heat and ventilation
  • Leather-wrapped instrument panel
  • Alpine Sound System
  • Power Liftgate

Safety Features: Pros and Cons

A remarkable ten airbags make the Cherokee quite competitive in a class where six or seven is the norm. Adding airbags and making other changes, Jeep clearly hoped that 2017 would be a better year for safety tests, but it once again fell short. Since 2014, the Cherokee has managed only four stars on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests. This mattered less in the earlier years because the testing had changed and many crossovers weren’t making the grade. However, the competition, i.e. the Honda CR-V, can now claim several years of five-star safety.

For 2017, the Cherokee is offering more crash avoidance features than before, and there are more active features. Options include:

  • blind spot monitor/rear cross-traffic alert
  • forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking
  • lane watch with lane-keeping assist
  • adaptive cruise control
  • automated parking system
  • automatic wipers
  • automatic high beams

The Jeep personality, great dash tech, and off-roading possibilities add up to a fun ride. You’ll just have to weigh the pros and cons of its safety record before making a final decision.

lev radin /

lev radin /

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