This review is part of a 10-car comparison of compact crossover SUVs. The Jeep Cherokee is ranked 8th place of 10.
In many cases, a car that trails near the back of its class is generally mediocre. That’s not the case with the 2016 Jeep Cherokee. This Jeep – introduced in 2014, the brand’s first true effort to take on the leading crossovers – gives off a feeling of impressive sophistication. The Cherokee’s ride, handling, and interior quality feel like they belong in a bigger, pricier vehicle.
Forget about the utilitarian Cherokee of the past and consider this vehicle to be like a smaller, more radically styled version of the posh Grand Cherokee (though there’s no mechanical relationship). Today’s Cherokee is also filled with links to the Jeep heritage, both in terms of clever aesthetic details and in the promise of better off-road performance than most competing crossovers.
But there are just too many areas where this Jeep comes up short against its very strong competition. Fuel economy ratings and crash test scores are near the back of the class. The high, narrow cargo hold trails every competitor. The standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder is noisier and slower than the class norm. And even after generous discounts, expect to pay more for the Jeep than for most models in this class.
The Cherokee’s high levels of luxury make it a compelling alternative to a larger crossover or SUV, at least from the driver’s seat. And if you’re comparing it to those bigger models it becomes a more compelling value for the money, and you can justify springing for the punchier, quieter 3.2-liter V6.
Even then, though, you’re accepting a compromised cargo hold and a spotty safety record. A number of highly qualified competitors don’t have those flaws. Shop it carefully.
The vehicle reviewed for this comparison – a 2016 Jeep Cherokee Latitude 4WD equipped with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, automatic transmission, power driver’s seat, sunroof, automatic climate control, infotainment screen, blind-spot monitoring, and alloy wheels – has a sticker price of $32,565 and has an estimated transaction price of $27,726.
Why to buy it
If you’re discerning about how your crossover drives, the Cherokee stands among the best in its class for a stable, composed ride; steady handling; and a generally sophisticated feel. This crossover weighs a hefty two tons, but the suspension handles the mass well – rather than feeling ponderous or clumsy, this Jeep feels like a more solid vehicle than many lighter competitors. Even if you don’t prioritize driving dynamics, you may well find that you appreciate the Cherokee’s difference.
The Cherokee also has a pleasant interior, with high-quality materials, good panel fit, and more stylistic flair than the class norm. The front and rear seats are comfortable as well.
Today’s Jeeps are filled with whimsical touches, and today’s Cherokee is no exception, with details ranging from hidden outlines of classic Army Jeeps on the windshield to “since 1941” on the steering wheel. The details are subtle, though, so don’t worry about feeling self-conscious if some of these touches were sounding just a little cutesy.
Also true to the Jeep heritage is an extra dose of off-road ability. There are available all-wheel-drive settings tailored for snow, mud/sand, or “sport” in addition the standard “auto.” Ground clearance of 8.7 inches ties for the best in this comparison, 2.6 inches above lowest competitor. The Cherokee Trailhawk model is further designed for off-pavement prowess, at least by crossover standards. The mechanicals of the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart sedans ride under the Cherokee’s body, but they’ve been beefed up more than you’d find from the average compact crossover.
Why to skip it
The Cherokee falls flattest if you’re looking at small crossovers to serve as a practical family vehicle. The Jeep has a roomy passenger compartment, but the cargo hold is unusually high and narrow, cutting deeply into its volume, behind the rear seat in particular. Several competitors have about 60 percent more space with all the seats in place; its 24.6 cubic feet is only on par with an economy hatchback, and in the Cherokee the cargo floor is located inconveniently high off the ground.
Folding the rear seat down brings the Cherokee closer to the class norm, with 54.9 cubic feet (it’s one of just two vehicles in this comparison where folding the rear seat more than doubles the cargo volume), but that figure is still worst-in-class.
As a family car, the Cherokee’s second-lowest rating of Marginal in an IIHS crash test may also raise eyebrows. Although a number of crossovers performed badly in this difficult small-overlap test just a few years ago, the Cherokee is now only one of two models in this comparison to fail to achieve the top score. It also earned a mediocre four out of five stars in NHTSA testing.
The Jeep’s powertrain is another weak point. This reviewer didn’t find it as frustratingly lethargic as some critics have contended, and didn’t encounter harsh shifts from the controversial nine-speed automatic transmission, but there’s no question that the Cherokee lacks the pep found in the average compact crossover. Blame the Cherokee’s hefty weight, which also brings its EPA fuel economy ratings toward the back of the class: 21 miles per gallon in the city, 28 mpg on the highway, and 24 mpg overall. That’s 4 mpg short of the class leader. (You can pay extra for a quiet, powerful V6 that has a fuel efficiency penalty of just 1 mpg in the city, an option that doesn’t exist on most of the competition.)
Finally, the Cherokee is one of the pricier models in its class. Base prices are reasonable, but the options add up fast – to a sticker price of over $32,000 for a crossover that still has cloth seats and no navigation system. Generous rebates mean that you should expect to pay less than $28,000 for such a Cherokee, but it’s still one of the most expensive vehicles in this comparison.
There’s also an annoyance worth noting: Chrysler has mastered intuitive yet sophisticated infotainment systems, but you have to pay an extra $800 for the full 8.4-inch screen in the Cherokee. The tested model instead includes a 5-inch screen, which provides less information at a time; is harder to read and use; makes you go through multiple steps to get to basic functions like climate mode; and leaves a lot of empty space around it on the Jeep’s dashboard.
If you just love it
If something about the Cherokee really resonates with you personally – the way it looks, the design of its cupholder, a particular rare feature, or anything else – just be aware of its shortcomings before you sign the dotted line. You’ll feel its strengths during a test drive: the comfortable, pleasant interior and the composed, solid driving dynamics. But you’ll live with the tight cargo hold and mediocre fuel economy throughout the ownership experience, and spend more to buy it. And although you hopefully wouldn’t have to face this weak point, you’d have a vehicle that’s not rated to do as well in a crash as most modern crossovers.
If you just hate it
If something about the Cherokee simply rubs you the wrong way but you do want a car much like this one, the most similar vehicle in this comparison is the Chevrolet Equinox – another big, heavy, comfortable crossover with similar strengths and weaknesses. Its interior is dated and cheep-feeling, though, and it lacks the Cherokee’s agility and its promise of off-road ability.
More well-rounded options include the Honda CR-V and Nissan Rogue, which are spacious, comfortable, well-finished, reasonably priced and fuel efficient. Neither feels as fancy as the Jeep, though, and they’re also designed for lighter-duty situations. The Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, a slightly larger model, is another option as a well-rounded and comparatively upscale-feeling crossover, though it’s at least as expensive as the Jeep.
For driving enjoyment, the Mazda CX-5 is the class leader, with sharp handling and peppy acceleration. It’s not as roomy as some competitors, but it’s still more so than the Jeep.
If off-road ability is important, the Subaru Forester is renowned for its sturdy construction and excellent all-wheel-drive system. It’s also the model that tied the Jeep for the ground clearance winner. But the Subaru feels more basic than the Cherokee. Taking that to even more of an extreme is Jeep’s own Patriot, which is a very basic compact/subcompact crossover that’s been on sale since 2008. (Note that this reviewer did not conduct off-road testing.)
It’s pleasant to drive and pleasant to be in, but the Cherokee suffers from too many design issues at a high price.
Overall grade: B-
More from this comparison:
– Next review: 2016 Hyundai Tucson Sport (7th place)
– Previous review: 2016 Chevrolet Equinox LT (9th place)
– Rating the 10 compact crossovers – how do they compare in different ways, such as comfort, performance, and fuel economy?
– Ranking the 10 compact crossovers – how do they stack up for different types of buyers?
– Introduction to this comparison
More about the 2016 Jeep Cherokee:
Gallery of exterior and interior photos
Vehicle base price (MSRP): $24,390
Version tested: Latitude 4WD
Version base price (MSRP): $28,190
Vehicle price as tested (MSRP): $30,025
Vehicle price as comparable (MSRP):* $32,565
Estimated transaction price as comparable:** $27,726
Test vehicle provided by: Heritage Jeep; Parkville, Md.
Length: 182.0 inches
Width: 73.2 inches
Height: 66.2 inches
Wheelbase: 106.3 inches
Weight: 3,953 pounds
Cargo volume behind rear seat: 24.6 cubic feet
Cargo space, rear seat folded: 54.9 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 2,000 pounds
Ground clearance: 8.7 inches
Turning circle: 37.6 feet
Engine (as tested): 2.4-liter I4
– Horsepower: 184
– Torque: 171 pound-feet
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Drive wheels (as tested): All-wheel-drive
EPA city mileage: 21 miles per gallon
EPA highway mileage: 28 miles per gallon
EPA combined mileage: 24 miles per gallon
Fuel capacity: 15.8 gallons
Assembly location: Ohio
For more information: Jeep website
Review: 2015 Chrysler 200 Limited
Review: 2014 Dodge Dart SXT
* Prices as comparable reflect vehicles equipped with all-wheel-drive, power-adjustable cloth seats, an infotainment system, a sunroof, automatic climate control, and a blind-spot monitoring system, or the nearest equivalent.
** Estimated transaction prices are based on data from Truecar.com and dealer quotes.