Jeep made a few upgrades to the cabin for 2019, such as more piano-black finishes and a larger bin at the front of the center console, but very little needed attention. The touchscreens are well-executed, starting with a 7-inch display in the Latitude trim level and stepping up to an 8.4-inch version, with or without built-in navigation, in higher trims. The new fourth-generation Uconnect adds Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility regardless of screen size. Our test models had the 8.4-inch touchscreen, which remains among the best systems on the market for controlling various aspects of the vehicle. Android Auto was super buggy for me, but we’ve found these glitches to depend as much or more on the make, model and operating system of the phone attached as they do the vehicle in question. By the time we returned the Cherokee, an app update had already improved performance somewhat.
Ease of use is no small feat in today’s cars, and it’s one of the Cherokee’s strengths. In addition to the favorable Uconnect, the dashboard has simple mechanical buttons and knobs and is gloriously free of touch-sensitive panels, remotely positioned control interfaces and other such claptrap. The only shortcoming of the traditional PRND gear selector lever is that it’s connected to such a disappointing gearbox. One of the Cherokee’s triumphs is that there’s nothing flat-out stupid about it. That’s how low the bar can be these days.
As in other areas, the Cherokee’s cabin dimensions are somewhere between compact and mid-size. According to the specifications, it has more front legroom than the Tiguan but less than the Forester and Outback, yet it has at least a couple of inches more backseat legroom than those models (see them compared) as well as the mid-size Hyundai Santa Fe Sport and large-compact Nissan Rogue (see them compared). Having a split, folding backseat that can be adjusted forward and back is another benefit in the Cherokee, as it allows you to give more space to occupants or to cargo based on your need.
Again, by the numbers, the Cherokee has less backseat headroom than the other models mentioned except the Rogue, which it equals, but at 6 feet tall, I was perfectly comfortable back there despite the presence of a headroom-robbing panoramic moonroof.
Modest Cargo Space
Jeep scooped out the walls of the cargo area for 2019, adding more than 3 inches of width and 1.2 cubic feet overall, but cargo volume isn’t the model’s strongest suit. Bearing in mind that the sliding backseat grants flexibility and seems to favor the backseat legroom specification detailed above, the Cherokee’s 25.8 cubic feet of volume behind the backseat trails the Forester (34.4 cubic feet), Outback (35.5), Santa Fe Sport (35.4), Rogue (39.3) and Tiguan (33 cubic feet behind the second row).
Removing the backseat from the equation, the Cherokee’s maximum, seats-folded volume is 54.9 cubic feet; most other models provide 70 cubic feet or more. Raise the cargo floor and you’ll find a few inches’ more depth even with the temporary spare tire in place. Overall, the relatively high cargo area is well-designed and versatile, but its size is no leader even among compact competitors. The Compass is larger at 27.2 and 59.8 cubic feet behind the backseat and maximum, respectively.
As of publication, the refreshed 2019 Cherokee had not been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, though the organization plans a test for sometime this summer. The earlier generation earned a disappointing score of marginal (out of a possible good, acceptable, marginal or poor) in the driver-side small overlap front crash test, which was its only substandard rating and definitely below average among competitors. Jeep says it has made changes that could improve the 2019’s score, but we won’t know until test results are posted. Look for the 2019 Cherokee on the Institute’s mid-size SUVs page in place of the 2018 report.
The Cherokee’s safety report card is otherwise very good. It now offers a slew of advanced safety and driver-assist features, including forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control that works down to a stop, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring with cross-traffic detection, rain-sensing wipers, automatic high-beams and active parallel/perpendicular parking assist. Unfortunately, the optional Technology Group that includes these features isn’t available on Latitude trim levels. A backup camera is standard.
The 2019 Cherokee also earned straight A’s for child-safety seat accommodation, a rarity even among large five-seat SUVs. See the details in our Car Seat Check. For offspring of driving age, the subscription-based Family Connect can alert parents if the driver exceeds preset speed, curfew or geographic limitations.
About the Styling …
I’m one of the few oddballs who liked the old Cherokee’s oddball styling, which positioned bright LED daytime running light eyebrows up high and headlights rather low, where people didn’t realize that’s what they were. I was in the minority, and Jeep not only resisted extending this design to other models but has abandoned it altogether with the 2019 Cherokee, which now groups the DRLs and standard LED headlights higher up in more conventional clusters. (Hyundai has already adopted this design — less deftly, if you ask me — in the Kona and redesigned 2019 Santa Fe.) Additionally, the waterfall grille that formerly began above a crease in the leading edge of the hood and then cascaded down — you know, like a waterfall — now has a more conventional look on a more vertically oriented nose.
I admit this design will appeal to more shoppers, and it looks fine on the Trailhawk version of the Cherokee with its gray bumper, but to me, the body-colored versions look doctored rather than holistic, with a too-broad swath of bumper where the headlights once were. That’s my parting shot.
Honor Student Breaks Bad
In addition to all the other upsides, the Cherokee is built in the U.S. in Belvidere, Ill., and the 2018 model ranked No. 1 on the Cars.com American-Made Index. (The 2019’s rank will depend both on its criteria and the rest of the 2019 field, to be determined in June 2019.) If we seem overly harsh about the Cherokee’s transmission, it’s for the same reason you’re hard on an honor student who does something really stupid: It’s otherwise really, really good. I believe that someday this transmission will be abandoned, and industry folk who are currently mum will talk openly about it as a known problem that couldn’t be replaced quickly enough. Or maybe the same will be said about me and my animosity toward this gearbox. But my money’s still on the ZF nine-speed dying a welcome and overdue death first. It’s 2018; we can do better, and many transmissions do.
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