Jeep has revamped the Cherokee for the 2019 model year, adding a new design, more interior room, and another engine option. The 2019 Cherokee is otherwise largely the same as the previous-gen crossover, which isn't a bad thing. After a week in one, we think it's a vehicle that is worthy of carrying the Jeep Cherokee name.

When the 2019 Jeep Cherokee was unveiled in Detroit at the North American International Auto Show, the new body design was front and center. The narrow, polarizing front fascia and oddly-shaped slotted grille was gone, replaced by a more Jeep-contemporary, flatter-faced front grille with the familiar Jeep slots.

The new design of the 2019 Cherokee is now in line with the entire Jeep crossover lineup, fitting the Cherokee's look into place between the smaller Compass (re-introduced last year) and the larger Grand Cherokee. The wider face, taller-appearing grille slots, and larger headlamps make for a much softer, but robust-appearing front fascia for the new Cherokee.

The rear also sees some changes, with a less bulbous look than its previous design and with better flow throughout the bodywork to match. Added for 2019 are some convenience features, such as the standard capless fuel door, and a more integrated look to the tail lamps with an LED light wrapping around its edges. The liftgate is made of composites and far lighter than it was before. Its release handle, formerly far down near the bumper, is now up higher for easier access. A hands-free liftgate option is also available.

Powertrains – and then there were three

Joining the capable base 2.4-liter four-cylinder and larger 3.2-liter V6 is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, which splits the difference by keeping most of the good fuel economy of the 2.4 while adding more of the muscle and confidence of the 3.2L.

The 2.0L turbocharged four is rated at 270 hp (201 kW) and 295 lb-ft (400 Nm) of torque. The same nine-speed automatic transmission found on other Cherokee models mates to the new engine, as do the same two four-wheel-drive transmission options (Freedom Drive 1 and 2). This engine, with front-wheel drive, is EPA-rated at 26 mpg (9 l/100km) combined, with 23 mpg (10.2 l/100km) in the city and 31 mpg (7.6 l/100km) on the highway. In four-wheel-drive, those MPG numbers change to 25 mpg combined (9.4 l/100km), with 22 mpg city and 31 mpg highway (10.7 l/100km and 7.6 l/100km). Those numbers are comparable to the 2.4L base engine, which returns 25 mpg combined in FWD and 24 mpg combined in 4WD.

Outside of the new turbocharged engine, the Cherokee's base four- and six-cylinder engines remain largely untouched for the 2019 model year. We spent our week in the V6, which has a power rating of 271 hp (202 kW) and 239 lb-ft (324 Nm) of torque. While that latter number is lower in the V6, the tow rating of the six-cylinder-powered Cherokee is higher than with the turbo as the capability of the bigger engine allows for a full 4,500 pounds (2,041 kg) of pull compared to the smaller engine's 4,000 (1,814 kg).

The more traditional V6 also brings less punchiness to the get-up-and-go of the 2019 Cherokee and lets the big SUV be more daily-drive-friendly and sedate without sacrificing any confidence. Where the 2.0L turbo will shine is off-road where low RPM torque delivery and big final drive ratios are king. The price difference between the two engines is a mere US$500. Our recommendation to anyone shopping the Cherokee is to try both engines and see which fits your driving style better.

New inside, too

Where the outside and the powertrain get most of the attention, the most impressive changes we saw were inside the new crossover. With a less bulky center stack and noticeably more usable cargo space, the Cherokee is roomier than it was before. It's also much more upscale inside, with less monotone and more variety in trim materials.

The center stack has a more streamlined look, with the infotainment system screen placed inside the bezel and surrounded by better-designed vents. The dashboard is slightly higher and more forward compared to previous designs, giving the impression of more roominess. We also like added touches like the padded slot under the infotainment screen where a phone or MP3 player can reside in close proximity to the USB plugs. Now that Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard with Jeep's Uconnect system, that's a nice addition.

Infotaiment in the Cherokee is the latest-generation Uconnect, which is one of the best systems available. It offers big, clear, crisp graphics, a smart menu system, and fast responses. It's one of the more capable infotainment systems as well, offering Wi-Fi connections, speech-to-text capability, and more.

Seating is as comfortable as ever, offering plenty of bolster and padding for just about anyone's derrière. Added interior accents include two-tone coloring and satin chrome and piano black trim for a more diverse look to the design. This gives a softer feel to the cabin than the monotone black of yesteryear.

Not too much is changed for the rear seating, which still provides plenty of room for three across and nicely-done padding in the outboards. The split-fold bench is standard, allowing for varied cargo options, and the bench folds almost completely flat to give maximum load space when required. Getting kids' safety seats into place is also a cinch thanks to better placement of LATCH and overhead tether points.

Cargo space is set at 25.8 cu ft (730.5 L) behind the second row and 54.9 cu ft (1,554.5 L) with those seats folded. Bigger side pockets back there and the familiar Jeep tie-down placements are added boons to cargo hauling in the Cherokee.

Driving the New Cherokee

Out on the road, the 2019 Jeep Cherokee is noticeably more comfortable to drive. Improvements to the chassis make for a smoother and quieter ride. The Jeep branded "bounce" is still there, of course, but has been tempered in this model in favor of better road smoothing and improved highway presence. This 2019 Cherokee is a big step up, in terms of ride quality, from the previous model and brings a more upscale feel to the crossover.

Off the road, though, things haven't changed. It's still as capable and robust as would be expected of a Jeep. The three drivetrain options start with the front-wheel-drive model. For four-wheel drive, the Freedom Drive I system offers a simpler, more everyday off-road and AWD-style driving experience for those who aren't planning to get out into the wilderness but need all-weather and good light-duty off-road capability. This transmission requires little input from the driver.

Freedom Drive II is the more robust of the off-road options, adding terrain selection and better off-pavement traction control for superior off-road performance. For those who really want to get off the beaten path, the Cherokee Trailhawk model is the choice to be made. Yet our Limited model with Freedom Drive II was more than capable of getting around in inclement weather and on moderate off-pavement jaunts.

The 2019 Jeep Cherokee has a price tag starting at US$23,995. Our test model rang in at $39,799.

Product Page: 2019 Jeep Cherokee

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