Launched as a 2014 model, Jeep Cherokee gets some technological updates for the 2015 model year.
2015 Jeep Cherokee models with the 3.2-liter V6 engine now come with Stop-Start technology, intended to boost fuel economy. Also new for 2015, the Forward Collision Warning system adds low-speed crash mitigation. A rearview camera and automatic headlamps now are standard on 2015 Cherokee Latitude and 2015 Cherokee Trailhawk models. A new SafetyTec Group with Blind-spot Monitoring and Rear Cross Path Detection as well as rear park assist is available for 2015 Cherokee Limited, Latitude, and Trailhawk models. In addition, a Ventilated/Memory Seat Group is optional on Trailhawk models with leather interior.
The 2015 Jeep Cherokee comes standard with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 184 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque, with fuel economy EPA-rated at 21/28 mpg City/Highway. Optional is the 3.2-liter V6 rated at 271 horsepower and 239 pound-feet of torque, EPA-rated at 20/28 mpg City/Highway with 4WD.
For daily driving, we like the four-cylinder, it’s smooth and powerful enough. However, the V6 is only a bit thirstier. The advantage to the V6 is towing, rated to 4500 pounds, versus 2000 pounds for the four-cylinder.
All models come with a 9-speed automatic transmission. It’s a compact marvel, raising the regular-car bar for transmission construction and packaging. We found it shifted smoothly.
The Cherokee Trailhawk offers amazing off-road capability, helped by electronic descent control for steep downhill sections. With its tall 4.7:1 ratio for first gear, the crawl ratio of 56:1 is nearly as high as the Wrangler’s, useful in boulder fields and other rugged terrain.
Three four-wheel-drive systems are available: Active Drive I, with a one-speed Power Transfer Unit; Active Drive II with two-speed PTU and low range; and Active Drive Lock with two-speed PTU, low range and locking rear differential. The basic Active Drive I is all-wheel drive. The Selec-Terrain traction control system has five modes: Auto, Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud, and Rock.
As for looks, Cherokee doesn’t get lost in the SUV crowd. Its designers delivered style and distinction while enhancing the iconic image. The Cherokee Latitude is less blingy than the Limited. Trailhawk says Jeep the loudest, with raised suspension, overfenders and painted tow hooks, plus it gets Jeep’s Trail Rated status, meaning it has passed rigorous real-world off-road testing.
Behind the wheel, Cherokee feels tight. Smooth and solid with a firm ride. The four-cylinder has plenty of power for daily needs, and to cruise easily at freeway speeds. The V6 emits a bit of engine noise, but delivers strong acceleration performance. The V6 models offer good handling, but not as good as those with the lighter four-cylinder engine.
Most emphatically, the Cherokee doesn’t get lost in the SUV crowd. It delivers style and distinction, while clearly standing out as a Jeep. That may be best expressed by the grille, containing seven Jeep slugs backed by eggcrate; one vertical piece with the aluminum hood, a unique design described by Jeep as waterfall. The hood has a hump as on a muscle car, made into a flat-black wedge on the Trailhawk. The slugs are bright chrome in every model but the Trailhawk, where the eggcrate is black, changing the car’s presence. All around, the Trailhawk with its rugged touches (wheels, tires, fender flares, tow hooks) looks more Jeepish.
Other SUVs dream of looking like the Cherokee. Sweet little slits that look like headlamps are actually LED daytime running lights with turn signals, while the projector headlamps rise in black fascias over the front bumper, like bugeyes. They’re so small they look more like foglights, while the foglights themselves are even smaller, down at the bottom corners of the fascia; again, eggcrate black on the Trailhawk.
The Latitude is less blingy than the Limited and, we think, better looking.
Trapezoidal wheel arches have sculpted sides leading back to where the Cherokee tries hard for attention, but struggles. There’s a big, fat horizontal concave in the liftgate, reducing the inherent slab but obscuring the Jeep identity. At a glance, it could almost be a Kia. The 4×4 models have more black fascia in the rear, which tweaks some style out of the slab. Big LED horizontal taillamps extend into the glass with a top-heavy touch that’s apparently aerodynamic.
Jeep Cherokee’s interior is stylish and utilitarian, tight and comfortable. Everything has a function, while being easy to reach and operate.
Cherokee Latitude comes with cloth seats that are rugged and sporty, and fit just right. Perforated leather seats replace cloth in the Limited. The excellent fat steering wheel makes you feel like you’re in control. You’re surrounded by the right stuff in the right places: leather armrest/grab handle, deep door pockets and center console, clean and responsive center stack, trim like brown titanium, black vents; plus stitched leather on the dashboard of the Limited. Plenty of knobs, but not too many. Knobs are good.
The knob for terrain selection has four positions: Auto, Sport, Snow, and Sand/Mud. There’s an electronic parking brake, behind the shift lever. Cruise control and audio on the steering wheel. Down on the floor is a big dead pedal.
Digital gauges between the speedometer and tachometer are clear, lit organic white, including a display for the transmission gear. We are slowly becoming accustomed to seeing a 9 displayed. Navigation information on the touchscreen is easy to read, with basic buttons. We wish the radio had a dial, but there’s a lovely storage bin on the dashboard that can hold a laptop.
The standard touch-screen is 5 inches, and the premium one is 8.4 inches. The rearview camera display is big and beautiful. Connectivity goes all the way, including wireless smartphone charging, internet radio, voice-command navigation, media hub with ports galore, and Uconnect access that can do everything from calling 911 to reading incoming text messages to you.
We like the instrument panel’s function more than its design. Jeep designers spent endless hours trying to make the dashboard fluid, like water, with lines like the wings of an osprey. It seems a bit foo-foo for a Jeep. That’s what the Compass was supposed to be for.
The center stack is supposed to harken back to a ’40s Jeep grille, and the vents are supposed to suggest a skeleton. As for colors, it’s a world tour. There are the colors of Mount Vesuvius, Kilimanjaro, the Grand Canyon, Iceland, and Morocco at night. Kilimanjaro inspired the cloth-and-leather Trailhawk interior. Jeep says the Masai tribe that lives there influenced the design (we didn’t ask how). If your imagination runs with the designers, you’ll see it. Either way, the hues are sweet.
Behind the front seat, there’s a lot of room and convenience for passengers and cargo. The 60/40 rear seats fold flat in a heartbeat. The 40.3 inches of rear legroom is nearly 2 inches more than big brother Grand Cherokee has, because the Cherokee’s rear seat is higher. The SAE standard for rear legroom measures hip to ankle, as part of the equation to determine the total in inches.
The power liftgate can be opened with the remote or by pressing the electronic latch button, which is right where you expect it to be. To close the liftgate there’s a button inside that’s conveniently located, but hard to see. Slide out your cargo and press that button, and it’s right there. At night, however, we groped around trying to find it because it is not lighted. Pressing the remote also closes it, of course. The cargo cover gets in the way at times with its big flap.
The first thing we noticed when we drove the Jeep Cherokee is how tight it is: smooth and solid with a firm ride. Steering is precise for an SUV, using a steering wheel that’s satisfying in its shape and function. The steering column made a bit of noise when we turned the wheel on at least one model, however.
We got good seat time in both the 2.4-liter four-cylinder and the 3.2-liter V6, with their 9-speed automatic transmission. You read that right, 9 speeds, squeezed into a box of gears not much bigger than a breadbox. Bold engineering by Chrysler, where good things have been happening lately on the technical front. We don’t mean to write corporate ad slogans, but in this case it’s true.
The V6 we drove wasn’t much smoother than the four. The four-cylinder has plenty of power for daily needs, and to cruise easily at freeway speeds. The V6 is for people who like more acceleration performance, or who tow. The four-cylinder is rated to tow 2000 pounds; the V6 with tow package, a class-leading 4500 pounds. If you don’t tow often, the four-cylinder will be fine. The 9-speed gearbox helps, but it will be busy.
During a day-long drive over varied terrain of freeways, winding two-lanes, mountains and off-road, we watched the transmission do its thing. Theoretically, a 9-speed transmission would shift almost twice as much as a 5-speed; but not in this case, because the ratio of 5th gear is an even 1.00:1. So 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th are all overdrives, to reduce rpm’s at highway speeds and increase fuel mileage. With drive ratios of .81, .70, .58 and .48, there’s very little rev change with each shift, so you don’t often feel more than five gears.
Shifting function is especially important in the Cherokee because in Manual mode, you’ve got those 9 speeds to play with (overdrive notwithstanding). But after you’re in 5th gear, you might as well go back to Auto. Except in Auto, it almost never gets up to 9th on its own. Overall in Manual mode, it shifts a lot on its own, including casual upshifts at 2500 rpm or so.
There are more than 40 shift maps for conditions and forces that software detects, meaning that there’s only a 1-in-40 chance that whatever we say about when it shifts will be correct. It’s going to shift a lot. We didn’t find it intrusive.
Like them all, the transmission is programmed to shift based on data from sensors trying to read the road conditions as well as your pace and style. It seems not unlike Google noting your surfing habits and sending the info to advertisers who try to give (sell) you what you want, on your screen. At least, Jeep isn’t invading your privacy by giving its transmission a potent memory and shifting algorithm.
The other issue with the 9-speed is reliability, and only time will tell. The transmission has four gear sets and six shift elements, including multi-disc clutches, dog clutches and brakes. Just more parts to break, the off-road old-timers with 4-speeds would say.
With the four-cylinder, having less torque than the V6, the transmission kicks down more. However, the Sport mode in 4×4 Selec-Terrain keeps it in the gears longer. We got 22.3 miles per gallon on the winding roads and freeway; it’s EPA-estimated at 21/28 mpg City/Highway with four-wheel drive. In the V6, mileage dropped to 18.1 mpg; it’s rated at 20/28 mpg mpg.
After driving the smooth four-cylinder Latitude, we expected the V6 Limited to be super smooth, but some engine noise appeared. Put your foot down, however, and it flies. Handling is good, but it doesn’t feel as attached to the road surface as the four. The electric power rack-and-pinion steering ratio is the same, but the V6 steering is lighter. And the ride is softer and smoother; it doesn’t take undulations as well as the Latitude, but speed bumps are gentler. The V6 feels bigger because it handles heavier due to the weight of the engine, which is true of all but the most carefully balanced and sophisticatedly suspended cars, none of them SUVs.
But the knockout punch with any Jeep is off-road capability. We spent a few hours facing off-road challenges in a Trailhawk. It breaks new ground, especially in descent control. It will do amazing things. For some of those things it doesn’t need or want your feet to be involved, to screw things up. It will climb up rocks and back down with your feet in the air; the driver just steers, and the machine takes itself down over treacherous terrain perfectly, safely. The descent advancement is that the driver can control the speed in 0.2-mph increments. That’s way better than before.
The transmission uses a numerically high 4.7:1 ratio for first gear, for quicker standing-start acceleration. Coupled with the 4.08:1 final drive with the four-cylinder (3.52:1 in the V6), and the Active Drive II or Active Drive Lock. That setup delivers a crawl ratio of 56:1, nearly as high as that of the Jeep Wrangler.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to test the traction of basic Active Drive I. Just because the Trailhawk with Active Drive Lock has offroad capability beyond real-world needs, it doesn’t mean that Active Drive I will keep you moving in two feet of snow, sand or mud. However, there are modes for those conditions in Selec-Terrain, and it is a Jeep, so we have faith.
At the introduction of the new Cherokee, we were given the opportunity for comparison spins in a Honda CRV, Toyota RAV4, and Ford Escape. Cherokee blew them out of the water. Compared to the Cherokee, the Escape is more nimble but has a mere 5-speed; the RAV4 has no feel and its transmission intrudes; the CR-V is boring and it labors.
The Cherokee claims the categories that matter, for example character, spirit and looks. It has a personality: decisive. Compared to the others, it feels like an Alfa Romeo.
The 2015 Jeep Cherokee is a winner on many fronts, especially exterior and interior design, along with character. The smooth four-cylinder engine works for all but big towing. The 9-speed transmission is smooth, but time will tell on reliability. Fuel mileage could be better. The Trailhawk is in an offroad class of its own.
Sam Moses filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report.