When the original Jeep Cherokee debuted back in 1984, its compact dimensions, unibody (as opposed to heavier body-on-frame) architecture and go-anywhere capability made it an immediate success. But the SUV scene changed dramatically over the course of its nearly 20-year production run. By the early 2000s, car-based "crossovers" like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 had usurped the antiquated Cherokee's throne. With the arrival of the modernized Jeep Liberty for the 2002 model year, the Cherokee was put out to pasture, its time seemingly having come and gone.
The Liberty never really caught on with consumers, however, whereas the trusty Cherokee's reputation continued to resonate. Accordingly, Jeep resurrected the iconic Cherokee nameplate for the Liberty's successor. Today's Cherokee is a true crossover that shares its platform with the front-wheel-drive Dodge Dart sedan, departing from the rear-wheel-drive tradition established by the original Cherokee and upheld by the Liberty. Its aerodynamic shape, feature-rich interior and carlike driving dynamics speak soothingly to today's pavement-biased shoppers. But rest assured, it's still a Jeep -- so if you do want to hit up some trails, three available four-wheel-drive systems plus numerous off-road-ready options ensure you won't get left in the dust.
Current Jeep Cherokee
The current Cherokee is offered in Sport, Latitude, Trailhawk and Limited trim levels. The Sport is pretty spartan, but it provides convenience features like power accessories, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and a six-speaker touchscreen stereo with USB/Bluetooth connectivity. The better-equipped Latitude entices with its alloy wheels, foglights, LED interior lighting and options like dual sunroofs, nine-speaker audio and the excellent 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen interface. The Trailhawk focuses on heavy-duty hardware, including standard 4WD with the locking rear differential, flared fenders, wider wheels and tires, skid plates, tow hooks and an off-road suspension with a 1-inch lift. The fancy Limited lacks those rough-and-ready items but boasts bigger alloy wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery and other luxury-oriented provisions. A panoramic sunroof replaces the dual sunroofs on the options list for both the Trailhawk and Limited.
In the engine room, the Cherokee is powered by either a 2.4-liter four-cylinder (184 horsepower) or a 3.2-liter V6 (271 hp). The transmission for both is a nine-speed automatic. Front-wheel-drive is standard, but Jeep offers three four-wheel-drive systems: an introductory setup with a single-speed power transfer unit (referred to by most automakers as "all-wheel drive"), a two-speed unit with low-range gearing, and an upgraded two-speed system with a locking rear differential that's exclusive to the Trailhawk.
In reviews, we've found the Cherokee's four-cylinder engine underwhelming in terms of both power and refinement, but the V6 is a nice upgrade considering its smooth, satisfying acceleration. We're pleasantly surprised that Jeep offers it, as V6s have largely disappeared from this segment in favor of more fuel-efficient fours. As noted, the Cherokee's V6 isn't much less efficient than the base four, so it's pretty much a win-win. We're not convinced that the transmission really needs all nine speeds, but it goes about its business unobtrusively for the most part.
From the driver seat, the Cherokee isn't as sporty as the Ford Escape or Mazda CX-5, but it handles well enough, and its cushy, quiet ride makes commuting a breeze. Off-roaders intrigued by the Cherokee's refinement will be pleased to learn that there's some real bushwhacking potential here, particularly in the "Trail Rated" Trailhawk, which also looks considerably meaner from the curb. What's not found in the Cherokee is an abundance of cargo space -- it brings up the rear among comparable crossovers -- but on the bright side, the sliding-and-reclining backseat is thoroughly adult-friendly.
Used Jeep Cherokee Models
The current, second-generation Jeep Cherokee debuted for the 2014 model year.
The first-generation Jeep Cherokee was unveiled for the 1984 model year as an austere, tough-as-nails SUV, with only its then-radical unibody construction separating it from true truck status. Two- and four-door versions were available. Built on a short wheelbase and tipping the scales at approximately 3,100 pounds, the Cherokee was nimble and responsive compared to the Chevy Blazers and Ford Broncos of its day. On the other hand, getting in and out could be tricky due to the high step-up and small doors, and the rear seat was quite cramped.
The original Cherokee evolved with mostly minor changes over the years, highlighted by the arrival of a fuel-injected four-cylinder engine for 1986 and the popular 4.0-liter inline-6 engine for 1987. A refreshed Cherokee was introduced for 1997 with slightly smoother exterior styling, some structural tweaks for improved refinement and a new dashboard (including dual airbags), but its utilitarian, no-nonsense character remained fully intact.
In our road test of a '97 Cherokee, we found the Jeep unequalled off-road, yet still respectable on the blacktop in terms of acceleration and handling. We liked the firm, sporty ride, although some may find it too stiff and trucklike. At this point, finding a clean and well-maintained first-generation Cherokee is going to be tricky, but modifying the vehicle for enhanced off-road use is very popular.
For more information on the original Jeep Cherokee, go to our Jeep Cherokee History page.
Read the most recent 2015 Jeep Cherokee review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used Jeep Cherokee page.
For more on past Jeep Cherokee models, view our Jeep Cherokee history page.