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2016 Jeep Cherokee Review By Steve Purdy

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Review By Steve Purdy
The Auto Channel
Michigan Bureau

Having just reviewed the Wrangler off-roader, and having recently done an off-road Jeep-trail adventure in Southern California I was a bit unprepared for the sophistication of the new Cherokee in our driveway this week.

As it happened the Cherokee arrived the week of the Midwest Auto Media Association’s Spring Rally at the Road America race track near Elkhart Lake, WI. That means I’ll do two 9-hour drives within three days, over and back, through Michigan’s pristine Upper Peninsula. I am one for whom a long, solitary drive is therapeutic. I seldom have the radio on, just quiet, thoughtful cruising up through the spine of Michigan, along the north shore of Lake Michigan and through the productive farmland of northeast Wisconsin.

Each spring the MAMA organization assembles about a hundred vehicles and invites about 90 journalists to spend a day and a half driving as many cars and light trucks as they can on the challenging, 4-mile Road America race track, over the rural Wisconsin country roads and on two off-road courses. While I did not get any off-road time with our test Cherokee on the drive to or from Wisconsin, I was able to take a nearly identical one through the off-road course at Road America. More on that later.

From its introduction in 2014 the new Cherokee exterior styling engendered criticism. It looks quite striking from the front, not really trucky, sort of sophisticated, with squinty, LED-accented headlights, deeply sculpted hood and vertical slotted grille. The side view is dominated by an upsloped chin and tail hinting at substantial break-over angles like a competent off-roader. The rear view is mostly unremarkable looking like any conventional CUV. It does not have a particularly rugged look but our Trail Rated test vehicle has skid plates, extra ground clearance, transmission cooler, 18-inch wheels shod with a slightly aggressive tires and red tow hooks protruding out the front.

The Cherokee’s cabin is a nice place to spend time, even on such long drives as I did with it. Ingress and egress are easy, seats comfortable and accommodating, controls easily managed and it is very quiet on the road. Many systems and components are shared with other FCA products including the 8.4-inch multifunction touchscreen where we find large icons logically arranged and convenient. The connections for your electronic devises reside at the base of the center stack, as God intended.

Under the hood of our tester is the optional 3.2-liter V6 good for 271 horsepower and 239 pound-feet of torque mated to an amazing 9-speed automatic transmission. Acceleration is strong and mileage is impressive. We managed just over 27 mpg on a steady, 60-mph cruise across the UP and just about 24 for the whole trip. This is a front-wheel drive CUV with four-wheel drive optional and we have all the four-wheel drive extra stuff including low range and locking rear differential. Properly optioned the Cherokee can become as competent as other Jeep products with the exception of the Wrangler.

The standard engine in the Cherokee is a tepid 2.4-liter making 184 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque. The base Cherokee with front-wheel drive starts at just $24,490 and our Trailhawk version shows a base price of $35,175.

This Cherokee is among the very few vehicles that come with a full-size spare tire and wheel – both of which match what’s on the truck. A classic scissor jack is secured across the top of the spare. Full size spare with scissor jack takes up a lot of space resulting in less cargo area than many competitors in the small SUV/CUV category. The tires are a bit knobby but not enough to make a too much noise on the highway.

While at the MAMA Spring Rally we got to take a nearly identical Cherokee though one of the off road courses, one that required low range for rock climbing and slow crawling along steep, slanted, rutty and slippery two-tracks. Its smaller size was an advantage as some sections of the course were lined with trees close to the path. We accessed the skid plates a couple of times traversing rock and log piles. This “Trail Rated” Cherokee will make all but the most serious off-roader very happy. There are some things, though, that only a Wrangler will do.

FCA’s new vehicle warranty covers the whole vehicle for 3 years or 36,000 mile and the powertrain for 5 years or 60,000 miles.

So, as far as my road therapy need was concerned the Cherokee served the purpose well in terms of comfort, convenience, style and even efficiency. I flipped on the Sirrius/POTUS news occasionally but otherwise cruised in silence. Though I did not take the time, it was gratifying to know that I could take off on any of the back roads and two-tracks presenting themselves along the way if I wanted to.

While considered a “small” SUV/CUV it looks and feels more like a mid-size. Competing in that segment is tough with some very strong competition. It will best them all in off-road capability when properly equipped.

©Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved

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