SUVs and crossover-utility vehicles are the hottest things on the market right now, accounting for half of U.S. new vehicle sales last year, and few brands have done a better job riding that wave than Jeep.
The Fiat Chrysler Automobiles brand is looking to hit record global sales of 2 million this year. That’d be double what Jeep delivered as recently as 2014 and more than triple its volume when Chrysler was taken over by Italy’s Fiat at the beginning of the decade.
Give credit to several factors, including not only the surge in overall demand for utility vehicles but the rapid expansion of the Jeep line-up and the race to keep existing models fresh. That includes the 2019 Jeep Cherokee that’s making its debut at this year’s North American International Auto Show.
(No sale. FCA not breaking up, selling Jeep to Chinese, says CEO. Click Here for the story.)
The Cherokee nameplate has been around for more than four decades, though it was briefly renamed Liberty here in the U.S. When the nameplate was revived for the 2014 model-year it set heads spinning and tongues clacking due to the unusual design – especially its unusual, two-tier lighting.
“It was a polarizing design,” acknowledged Michael Manley, the head of FCA’s Jeep and Ram divisions. “We needed that to get attention” after the lackluster success of the supremely forgettable Liberty. “Jeep had pretty much abandoned the segment.”
Since bringing back the Cherokee nameplate, the brand has tripled its share in that fast-growing market segment, and it is looking to do even better with what Manley dubs “a more premium design.” But he also said, during a backgrounder on the new compact ute, that its beauty is more than skin deep and that there are other notable updates to the 2019 model. That includes an all-new turbo-four engine with stop-start technology to improve fuel economy, and improvements to the Jeep Cherokee’s onboard technology.
Visually, the most immediately apparent update can be seen right up front. The 2019 model’s LED lights are consolidated into a single array framing the classic, keystone-style Jeep seven-slat grille.
But “we didn’t want to take all the weirdness out of it,” joked Mark Allen, the Jeep Design director, during that background briefing.
From the back, the overall look is less slab-sided, with what appear to be new LED taillamps that flow further into the rear quarter panels, as well as an integrated spoiler lip just above the tailgate. The license plate holder has been moved, as well.
What you won’t immediately realize is that Jeep also took steps to lighten the 2019 Cherokee – which already had a light aluminum hood. It now gets a composite liftgate, as well, shaving 17 pounds. And it’s now power-operated.
Inside, there are some subtle refinements, especially around the climate controls and the touchscreen display atop the center console. And that now grows from five to seven inches in base trim, and 8.4 inches with navigation. The interior also sees the introduction of new, more upgraded materials, including satin chrome and piano black accents. Meanwhile, there are more USB ports and even a 115-volt outlet.
The Jeep Cherokee now gets FCA’s fourth-generation Uconnect infotainment system, and gets new features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Cargo space is up with the ’19, and there are improvements to the cargo storage space layout.
(Click Here for our review of the all-new Jeep Wrangler.)
There are several different powertrain options for 2019, including the prior model’s 3.2-liter Pentastar V-6, which makes 271 horsepower and 239 pound-feet of torque – with a towing capacity of 4,500 pounds. The base engine is a 2.4-liter Tigershark with Stop/Start making 180 hp and 170 lb-ft.
But the big addition is that inline four-cylinder 2.0-liter turbo which all but matches the V-6 in power, at 270 hp, and punches out even more torque, at 295 lb-ft. While Jeep isn’t talking mileage yet, it’s expected to beat the V-6 in fuel economy.
All powertrains will now be paired to a gas-stingy nine-speed automatic transmission. A rear-axle disconnect, meanwhile, engages when the Cherokee can operate in two-wheel-drive mode to further reduce fuel consumption.
As with all Jeep models, the new Cherokee wasn’t designed to be a “soft-roader,” and there’ll be a Trailhawk model for 2019 designed for some serious off-road duties. It features unique front and rear fascia, as well as a one-inch lift, skid plates and “signature” front red tow hooks. The locking rear differential also has a low range.
For other models, there are two different Active Track Drive systems to enhance traction, whether on-road or off, Jeep noted.
In recent years, Jeep has rolled out a number of new or updated models, including the little Renegade and the completely redesigned Wrangler that has long been the brand’s icon. The addition of an updated Cherokee for 2019 should give it still more momentum to keep climbing.
(Click Here for more FCA’s $1B investment to bring truck production back to Michigan from Mexico.)