The 2021 Jeep Cherokee separates itself from the typical compact crossover with class-leading off-road and towing capabilities. Its Jeep genealogy will appeal to outdoorsy types, some of whom may actually need a vehicle that can handle driving beyond where the pavement ends. While the Cherokee’s bloated façade will get few likes, the rugged Trailhawk model is more visually and mechanically exciting—especially with its enhanced drivetrain and other exclusive equipment. All Cherokee models can be had with all-wheel drive, and there’s a solid selection of engines, including a stout V-6 and a torquey turbocharged four-cylinder. Still, folks who don’t intend to capitalize on the 2021 Cherokee’s 4500-pound max towing capacity or ever leave pavement will be disappointed with its poor fuel economy, limited cargo space, and questionable value.
What’s New for 2021?
For 2021, Jeep gives the Cherokee several newly standard active safety features. These include automated emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist, and more. The lineup also benefits from reshuffled standard features. For instance, the base model adds heated exterior mirrors and one-touch up/down front side windows; the Trailhawk adds a heated steering wheel and front seats as well as a remote start. There’s also a new 80th Anniversary Edition that’s based on the Latitude LUX trim level, so it inherits all the same standard features. Highlights include Granite Crystal 19-inch wheels, leather upholstery with contrast stitching, power-adjustable front seats, the larger 8.4-inch touchscreen, a panoramic sunroof, and more.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
The standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is joined by an optional 3.2-liter V-6 and turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder. The latter makes 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque (56 lb-ft more than the V-6) and slots at the top of the powertrain pyramid. While we’ve yet to test the turbo engine at the track, we’ve spent time with it during our first drive. We found it to be lackluster compared with the V-6 due to its dull responses to throttle inputs; the four-cylinder Cherokee also has the less towing capacity (4000 pounds maximum towing capacity versus the V-6 Cherokee’s towing capacity of 4500 pounds). As you’d expect from a Jeep, the Cherokee drives with heftiness and solidity, making it feel larger than its rivals. Despite its off-road abilities, the Cherokee is still based on a car, meaning it provides a comfortable ride and decent handling on the road. Relatively firm suspension tuning controls body roll in corners without compromising the ride quality. Impacts are absorbed without much excess reverberation, and the Jeep never feels floaty on the highway. We wish the steering provided more feedback from the road, but it’s nicely weighted and accurate. A firm-feeling brake pedal engenders calm in panic-braking scenarios, and the Cherokee’s 70-mph-to-zero emergency-braking performance is average for its class.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
With supportive seats and easy-to-use controls, the Cherokee’s cabin is comfortable. An attractive dashboard that mimics the larger and more expensive Grand Cherokee’s layout helps cultivate an upscale feel. However, given that the Cherokee is larger on the outside than many of its competitors, we’d expect it to feel more spacious on the inside. Small windows and high windowsills contribute to the feeling of confinement. The Cherokee’s cargo area is smaller than most vehicles this size, and interior cubby storage is average at best. It’s more difficult to load items into the rear than into some of its rivals due to the Jeep’s high lift-over height. In addition, its cargo area is significantly smaller than top rivals such as the Ford Escape (34 cubes) and the Honda CR-V (39).