Four model years after the Cherokee nameplate returned to the market, the 2017 Jeep Cherokee still looks like the Jeep of the future, and it still provides the off-road capability of models past. That combination has helped Jeep’s compact SUV become one of the most popular products in the brand’s current lineup.
The Cherokee roster features five trims: Sport, Latitude, Trailhawk, Limited and Overland. All trims offer a choice of front-wheel drive and four-wheel drive, with the sole exception being the off-road-focused Cherokee Trailhawk, which is four-wheel drive only.
For 2017, the Cherokee adds xenon headlights as standard equipment on all trims except the Cherokee Sport. Expanding the 2017 Cherokee’s appeal are three special edition models: Altitude, High Altitude and 75th Anniversary.
The Cherokee flips the traditional Jeep design script in terms of exterior appearance. While the iconic Jeep Wrangler is well known for its upright proportions and angular shape, the Cherokee is smooth and aerodynamic. Even its classic grille slots are curved over at the top.
The Cherokee’s front lighting is particularly distinctive. The lights resembling slim headlights near the hood are actually the vehicle’s standard LED daytime running lights. The true headlights are unobtrusively positioned below the running lights, where they look like undramatic fog lamps. Actual fog lamps are standard in all trims except the Sport model.
Jeep supplies multiple 17- and 18-inch wheel designs for the Cherokee, depending on model and trim, and the brand also has unique details for the different versions. Our Trailhawk edition, for example, showed off a bird-of-prey badge on the rear liftgate, a matte-black hood decal and a “Trail Rated” indicator high on the front quarter panel.
Other key exterior options include a dual-pane panoramic sunroof, a power rear liftgate and heated side mirrors with turn-signal indicators.
The Cherokee’s cabin provides impressive levels of comfort. Front and rear outboard seats are bolstered and contoured and feature individual headrests. Rear-seat passengers have a surprising 40.3 inches of legroom, which is 3 inches more than you’ll find in a 2017 Ford Escape.
Separately themed, two-tone cloth seats are used for the Sport and Latitude grades, with Limited, Trailhawk and Overland grades introducing leather trim. Our Cherokee Trailhawk review vehicle had optional heated and ventilated seats up front, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat and an optional heated steering wheel.
The back row has a 60/40 split for cargo versatility, enhanced by simple-to-fold seatbacks. Expect some compromises in terms of cargo capacity. The Cherokee’s rear cargo hold can fit 24.6 cubic feet of gear behind the back seats, and then 54.9 cubic feet overall. The Escape has 34 cubic feet of standard storage space and 68 with its rear seats folded.
Two engines, both paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission, are available for the 2017 Cherokee. Standard for most trims is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, and that unit makes 184 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque. A 3.2-liter V6 that produces 271 horsepower and 239 pound-feet of torque is standard on four-wheel-drive Overland models and optional on all other trims.
Our Cherokee Trailhawk relied on the V6 for a strong initial burst of acceleration and impressive highway cruising. Fuel efficiency results were right in line with those from the EPA. We nearly hit 21 mpg in 210 miles of combined driving in our Trailhawk, and the vehicle’s EPA rating is 18/24 mpg city/highway. The four-cylinder Cherokee checks in with EPA ratings of up to 21/30 mpg city/highway.
Automatic stop/start and an innovative four-wheel-drive system helped improve fuel economy in our test SUV. The former shuts off the engine at stoplights and in similar scenarios, and the power plant restarts as soon as the driver’s foot releases the brake. As for the Cherokee’s four-wheel-drive system, it can disconnect the rear axle to operate in a higher-efficiency front-drive mode when travel conditions don’t call for maximum traction.
That feature is found on all three of the four-wheel-drive powertrains available for the Cherokee. They enable increasing levels of capability, with the Active Drive Lock system in our Cherokee Trailhawk boasting a two-speed power-transfer unit with a dedicated low range and a locking rear differential. No other mainstream compact SUV can offer that kind of off-road hardware.
The Cherokee matches its futuristic exterior with a fair amount of infotainment technology, including a standard six-speaker audio system, a 5-inch touch screen and Bluetooth with voice recognition.
For uplevel trims, Jeep supplies an 8.4-inch touch screen and a steadily increasing range of tech enhancements that includes a wireless smartphone charging pad. Our test vehicle, for example, had the available navigation system, an Alpine premium nine-speaker stereo, an app-access interface, satellite radio and 3G mobile Wi-Fi capability. And if that sounds typical for a brand-new SUV nowadays, our Cherokee’s infotainment execution and performance were anything but.
Take the touch screen itself: Instead of a standard split-screen mode, it had a screen-within-a screen alternative, with the navigation map, for instance, surrounded by other system information. The display could be customized, allowing owners to set the vehicle shown on the map to look like specific Jeeps and other Fiat-Chrysler products (but oddly, not the Cherokee). Moreover, there were some nifty shortcuts, like a button that takes you directly to the climate-control page for the seats and steering wheel, bypassing the overall climate-system page.
Even the steering-wheel-mounted audio controls are unexpected, as they’re on the reverse of the steering-wheel rim. Also deserving special recognition: the sophisticated graphics of the 7-inch information display for the instrument panel.
The Cherokee’s voice recognition system worked well, and that plus the touch screen help make up for the minimal amount of physical controls.
A rearview camera system highlights the standard driver-assistance content for the 2017 Cherokee. With our test vehicle’s 8.4-inch screen, the display was impressively bright and clear even in poor conditions. The list of optional technology is extensive. Notable are the available blind spot monitor, full-speed forward collision warning, automatic braking, lane departure warning, rear cross-path detection, front and rear parking sensors and adaptive cruise control.
In crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Cherokee scored four out of five stars for overall crash protection.
In tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Cherokee scored a top Good rating in four out of five categories, with a Marginal rating in the small-overlap front-impact test. The Jeep scored a Superior rating for its crash-avoidance technology.
The Cherokee has a base price of $23,595, not including a destination charge of $995. This makes it a little less expensive than its mainstream rivals, and it has a much more distinctive exterior design. On the other hand, it also trails the competition in fuel economy and cargo capacity.
For most shoppers, the Latitude model will be the best bet, since it provides access to useful driver-assistive technology and a larger touch screen. A Latitude equipped with the Safety/Convenience Group package ($985) and the Uconnect 8.4 infotainment system ($895) will cost you $28,420.
For diehard trail busters, the trim to get is the Cherokee Trailhawk, which offers exceptional off-road skills. Pricing starts at $32,190. Our Trailhawk review vehicle came with all the bells and whistles, and it had a price tag of $41,530.
There’s a saying Jeep fans have for people who can’t relate to the brand’s unique appeal: “It’s a Jeep thing. You wouldn’t understand.”
That also may be a good description of what’s going on with the 2017 Cherokee.
From a practical standpoint, factors like fuel economy and cargo space make it seem like the Cherokee offers less bang for the buck than its rivals. But for customers who value membership in Jeep Nation – along with stylish sheet metal and the thrills of off-road driving – the price of admission will seem quite reasonable.