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Driving the 2019 Cherokee: part one (on-road)

by Patrick Rall on

FCA recently invited us to come out to California to drive the refreshed 2019 Jeep Cherokee.

2019 cherokee on the beach

As midcycle refreshes go, this one makes a big difference, because the midsized SUV now features the new 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder, packing 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. Unlike the Wrangler 2.0, the Cherokee does not include the mild hybrid system; fortunately, it doesn’t need the electric boost to make this the best engine in the model lineup.

During our day in California driving the 2019 Cherokee, we spent time in a few different models — an Overland and Trailhawk with the 2.0L turbo, and a Limited with the 3.2L Pentastar V6. The first two were on-road testers; the Trailhawk was tested on an intricate off-road course.


Our day with the 2019 Jeep Cherokee began with a couple of hours driving around California in an Overland with the 2.0L turbo engine. We drove and loved this engine in the new Wrangler, but the question was whether or not the eTorque system made a big difference. It does, but this mill still makes the Cherokee a quick midsized SUV.

The key difference in drivability between the two Jeep turbo engines is that the Wrangler’s eTorque system works hardest on launch, providing gobs of electric torque from the second that you touch the throttle. With the Cherokee, that electric low end torque isn’t present, so the Cherokee isn’t quite as responsive at the point of launch, but without driving the Wrangler with eTorque and the Cherokee without it, you won’t miss it.

oops - 2019 Jeep Cherokee on trail

The turbocharged Cherokee doesn’t feel quite as stout from a stop, but boost and power levels come up quickly, allowing the midsized Jeep to pull strong through the midrange better than those models with the V6. That midrange power translates to great acceleration in all of the driving situations where it matters most, like when you are climbing up to speed on the highway or hurrying around slower moving traffic.

Later in the day, we spent the day in a V6-powered Cherokee Limited. That engine also pulls well through then midrange, but it isn’t quite a strong as the turbo motor. However, the larger, naturally aspirated Pentastar offers a touch more torque on launch, so in a drag race between the two, the V6 might get you off of the line quicker, but the turbo model has the advantage once you’re moving and the engine RPMs increase. For the record, we did not stage a drag race between the two, but the “seat of the pants dyno” leads us to this conclusion. (The two engines are roughly equal in horsepower, but the turbo has more torque, and peaks at a lower rpm.)

Regardless of the engine, the 2019 Jeep Cherokee has a smooth, quiet ride on paved roads and surprisingly, handles the curves well. A long portion of our road test took us down some of California’s most famous twisty roads, including Mullholland Drive. While midsized SUVs certainly aren’t known or purchased for their handling prowess, the 2019 Cherokee does a fine job of slipping through the tight turns with confidence.

You might not buy a 2019 Cherokee for its handling capabilities, this midsized Jeep is fun to drive and, more importantly, it has a very quiet cabin for the daily commute and that is an aspect of this SUV that owners will really appreciate.

Finally, during our on-road drive of the 2019 Cherokee, we got to experience the “enhanced” 9-speed automatic transmission. Honestly, I’ve never had any complaints with this transmission, but some owners have complained about how it shifted, so FCA has been consistently working to smooth out any unusual shifts. In this new midsized Jeep, the 9-speed does a great job of keeping the engine in the powerband when you need it while keeping engine RPMs low when cruising on the highway. Upshifts and downshifts were smooth and relatively unnoticeable, seemingly giving owners little to complain about when it comes to this refined gearbox.

Coming tomorrow: taking the Cherokee Trailhawk off-road.

Patrick Rall was raised a Mopar boy, spending years racing a Dodge Mirada while working his way through college. After spending a few years post-college in the tax accounting field, Patrick made the jump to the world of journalism and his work has been published in magazines and websites around the world.

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