Squeaky-clean Jeep Cherokee debuts

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

The compact Jeep Cherokee debuted in 2013 with a polarizing face, three stacks of lights and its license plate hanging below its, um, beltline. What, no piercings?

The second-generation 2019 ute debuted Tuesday at the Detroit auto show, and after those awkward youth years, the Cherokee has been cleaned up to look like a respectable member of the family. The seven-slot grille is more upright, the headlights and running lights properly consolidated under one lens cover, and the license relocated to the middle of the tailgate, just like big brother Grand Cherokee.

2019 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk.

“We took the geekiness out of it,” said designer Mark Allen, a 30-year veteran of Jeep. “Now Cherokee is more closely aligned with the rest of the brand.”

For all its geekiness, though, the redesign did what it had to do, re-interpreting the iconic Cherokee name as a compact SUV in the hottest segment in autodom and tripling sales of its predecessor, the Liberty.

“Yes, the first Cherokee was very progressive,” said Jeep boss Mike Manley, “but we needed to do it to break through in the segment.

All told, the new ute’s wardrobe doesn’t change between the fenders, but gets a new front clip, taller front end, and composite liftgate that saves 17 pounds. That lighter touch hints at a mid-cycle product refresh that is more comprehensive than most.

Read more:

Jeep puts a new face on Cherokee

Jeep Wrangler: Detroit News Vehicle of the Year

Top reveals, news at Detroit auto show

New world order: Jeep is a sales titan

Payne: Hulk-like Jeep Wrangler gets manners

Payne: All I want for Christmas is a Jeep Hellcat

Determined that Jeep’s reformation be more than skin deep, the Cherokee team has put the Cherokee on a 200-pound diet, introduced a premium 2.0-liter turbo-4 and expanded the rear cargo-hold.

Even Jeep’s award-winning UConnect infotainment system gets a refresh as the standard center touchscreen grows from 5 to 7 inches and gains smartphone app connectivity. An optional 8.4-inch screen is available.

The light-weighting should benefit fuel efficiency in the Jeep’s carryover 3.2 liter V-6. But the real prize is the up-trim turbo-4 mated to a 9-speed transmission that puts out a stump-pulling 295 pound-feet of torque. That’s significantly more than the 235 pound-feet from the larger displacement V-6, which the turbo replaces as the Cherokee’s top-spec engine. The V-6 still beats the new block in towing ability with class-leading 4,500 pounds.

The turbo-4’s added grunt should thrill off-road buyers, who will get a typically fearsome-looking Trailhawk option with trail-rated capability (approach angle of 29.9 degrees; departure angle of 32.2) to ford streams and conquer rocky heights.

The base ute gets a 2.4-liter “Tigershark” 4-banger with 180 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque.

Other nifty details include a capless fuel filler and an available, dual-pane sunroof, hands-free kick-open tailgate, and Storm Blue interior — inspired by Iceland, naturally, with its dark volcanos, black ash and blue skies.

More refined customers who want to arrive at the club in something other than a mud-caked (or ash-covered) Trailhawk can opt for the top-trim Overland model and its a 19-inch premium polished aluminum wheels. With truck width increased 3 inches and 27 cubic feet overall, the Cherokee can finally swallow two golf bags.

Briefly the sales darling of Jeep’s lineup, Cherokee dropped back to #3 in 2017 with 169,882 in sales behind the Grand Cherokee and Wrangler. With its remade second-gen, Jeep hopes to get its mojo back. The Cherokee slots between the Compass and Grand Cherokee in Jeep’s all-ute lineup.

Consumers will have a choice of 12 exterior colors: the aforementioned Blue Shade, Sting-Gray, Velvet Red, Firecracker Red, Olive Green, Hydro Blue, Light Brownstone, Granite Crystal, Billet Silver, Diamond Black Crystal, Pearl White and Bright White.

Available in five trim configurations — Latitude, Latitude Plus, Limited, Overland and Trailhawk — the Cherokee is manufactured at the Belvidere Assembly in Illinois. It arrives in showrooms — showered and respectable — in the first quarter of 2018.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-1 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.