The Incomparable Jeep Cherokee

Jeep’s Cherokee straddles the small and midsize utility vehicle segments.


The 2020 Jeep Cherokee supplies off-road capabilities unmatched by its competitors. It comes with three engine choices, a 9-speed automatic transmission, and multiple trim offerings. Front-wheel drive is standard; one of three four-wheel drive systems are available.

Midsize utility vehicles are a hot commodity, with every manufacturer of note offering one. But few have the off-road chops some people desire and that’s where the Jeep Cherokee rides in.

The Jeep Cherokee is one of five utility vehicles offered by this off-road brand, beginning with the Renegade (subcompact), Compass (compact), the Cherokee, and the Grand Cherokee (midsize). The Jeep Wrangler is the outlier of the five, as it offers robust off-roading features that outdo the others. Two more are in the offing — we should see range-topping Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer models arrive sometime in 2021.

As for the Cherokee name, it has been around for nearly 50 years. Its first appearance was in a special trim offering based on the big Wagoneer. Later, it became a distinct model name when it launched in 1984, with that model continuing until 2001. That same year Jeep brought out the Liberty, replacing the Cherokee. The Liberty stayed in production until 2012 and was joined for a time by a Dodge Nitro variant.

From Liberty to Cherokee

Happily, at least from a Jeep fan perspective, the Cherokee name was resurrected in 2014. The current-generation model has undergone several changes since and continues for a seventh year.

One important side note: the Grand Cherokee is its own model, introduced in 1992 and currently in its fourth generation. It is also a midsize model, but is slightly larger (and grander) than the standard model. It currently operates as the brand’s flagship model, but that will change once the Wagoneer duo arrive.

While we won’t be discussing the differences between the Cherokee and Grand Cherokee as part of our review, we will say that both models feature unibody construction versus the body-on-frame arrangement utilized by the Wrangler (as well as the new Gladiator pickup truck). The two models have different powertrains as well as differing drivetrain systems. Both offer four-by-four capability through specially modified all-wheel-drive systems.


2020 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk.

Jeep Cherokee Highlights

There’s a lot to digest about the Jeep Cherokee. Let us count the ways!

1. Modern styling.

Ever since the new breed of Cherokees launched in 2014, the look has been evocative, if not provocative. Early on, the lighting elements were a far departure from what we’d expect a Jeep to offer, but have since toned down. Front to back, the Cherokee’s visage has a much more crossover vibe than its slightly larger Grand Cherokee sibling.

2. Room for five.

How much space do you need? Well, the Cherokee offers ample space up front, including generous head, shoulder, hip, and legroom. Choose the moonroof and you’ll lose a few inches of headroom, which is something tall drivers should keep in mind. The rear seat fits two comfortably and three in a pinch. However, cargo space is below average, measuring 25.8; cubic feet behind the rear seat and 54.7 cubic feet with the rear seat folded.

3. Three engine choices.

What drives the Cherokee? You have three choices, including a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine (180 hp; 171 lb.-ft.), a 3.2-liter V6 (271 hp; 239 lb.-ft.), and a torque-driven 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine (270 hp; 295 lb.-ft.). A 9-speed automatic sends power to the front wheels or all four wheels. Low-end torque is the difference-maker for the second and third engines, the latter perhaps best for off-roading.

4. Enhanced all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive.

The Cherokee’s three four-by-four systems vary, depending on the model at hand. Most models come with Active Drive I, a single-speed four-wheel-drive system. Also available is Active Drive II, a two-speed four-wheel-drive system. Finally, there is Jeep Active Drive Lock, which adds a rear locking differential. All four-by-four models have a Selec-Terrain traction management system, which includes sand/mud, snow, and road modes. The Trailhawk adds an exclusive “rock” mode, which gives it the most robust off-road capabilities.

5. Heading off-road.

So, if you plan to take your four-by-four Cherokee off-road, what can you expect? For starters, ground clearance measures 8.7 inches, matching the Subaru Outback. Water fording is 19 inches or 20 inches in the Trailhawk. When it comes to articulation degrees — (Active Drive I, Active Drive II, and Active Drive Lock) — the approach angle (18.9/21/ 29.9); breakover angle (19.5/21.7/22.9); and departure angle (25/27.3/32.2), the Cherokee outperforms its competitors. This means the Cherokee can go places few crossovers dare follow, especially in Trailhawk guise.


Room for five, although four is best.

6. It tows too.

Although on paper the Jeep Cherokee is a midsize utility vehicle, several small or compact models are within three to four inches of this model. Thus, its 4,500-pound towing capacity is impressive when lined up against the likes of the Nissan Rogue (1,102 lbs.); Toyota RAV4 (1,500 to 3,500 lbs.); and Honda CR-V (1,183 to 1,388 lbs.). On the other hand, the Jeep Grand Cherokee has a towing capacity ranging from 3,500 to 7,200 pounds, the latter thanks to the available powerful HEMI engine found in some trims.

7. Tech features for the taking.

Jeep offers the Cherokee in Latitude, Latitude Plus, Upland, Altitude, Limited, High Altitude, Trailhawk, Overland, and Trailhawk Elite trims. Standard tech features include a 7-inch touch-screen display, six speakers, one USB port, and Google Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone compatibility. The list of upgrades include an 8.4-inch touch-screen display, WiFi hotspot, a 9-speaker audio system, satellite radio, HD Radio, navigation, and additional USB ports.

8. Advanced driver-assist features are available.

Jeep says the Cherokee comes with 80 plus standard and available safety features. Beginning with the Latitude Plus, Jeep adds blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and rear park assist. Choose the available Technology Group package and you’ll find such features as lane departure warning with lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control with full stop and go, and parallel and perpendicular park assist.

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If you’re looking for robust off-road capabilities, the Trailhawk is for you. This trim earns its Jeep mantle and will leave every other similar-sized crossover in the dust. Rock crawling is its strong suit and although you won’t likely follow a Wrangler across the toughest terrain, there are rock outcroppings which are entirely suitable for the crossing.

For many buyers, front-wheel drive is acceptable as they have no intention of taking their Jeep off-road nor do they encounter conditions that warrant all- or four-wheel drive, which is a $1,500 upgrade on the Cherokee. Choose a nicely equipped Altitude, add the Comfort/Convenience Group ($995) and Cold Weather Group ($895) packages, and with available discounts for the taking, your price should come in around $30,000.


2020 Jeep Cherokee Specifications


Jeep 2020 Cherokee
Segment Midsize SUV
Price Range $25,045 to $37,390
Destination Charge $1,495
Engine No. 1 2.0-liter, Turbo I4
Horsepower 270 @ 5,250 rpm
Torque (lb.-ft.) 295 @ 3,000-4,500 rpm
Transmission 9-speed automatic
Engine No. 2 3.2-liter, V6
Horsepower 271 @ 6,500 rpm
Torque (lb.-ft.) 239 @ 4,400 rpm
Transmission 9-speed automatic
Engine No. 3 2.4-liter, I4
Horsepower 180 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque (lb.-ft.) 171 @ 4,600 rpm
Transmission 9-speed automatic
Seating 5
Curb Weight (pounds) 3,590 to 4,260
Wheelbase (inches) 106.48 to 107.1
Length (inches) 182.9 or 183.1
Width (inches) 73.2 or 74.9
Height (inches) 66.2
Headroom (f,r…inches) 39.4; 38.5
Legroom (f,r…inches) 41.1; 40.3
Shoulder room (f,r…inches) 57.6; 55.1
Hip room (f,r…inches) 53.8; 49.9
Storage (cubic feet) 25.8; 54.7
Gross vehicle weight (pounds) 5,050 to 5,500
Towing (pounds) 2,000 to 4,500
Payload (pounds) NR
Fuel Regular
Fuel Tank (gallons) 15.9
EPA Fuel MPG (city/highway/combined) 23/31/26; 20/29/23; 22/31/25
Manufacturing Plant Belvidere, Illinois

Data compiled by Tom Keegan. Specifications supplied by the manufacturer. Photos copyright Auto Trends Magazine. All rights reserved.


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Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.