I’m not much of an off-road driver, but there are plenty of rough dirt roads in my neighborhood and when the weather isn’t cooperative, there can be ice and even slick snow on the roads. Two wheel drive works okay but knowing how to come out of a skid is helpful, whether you have antilock brakes or not (it’s about steering too). But a 4×4? Now we’re talking: as long as one wheel has some traction, you’ll keep moving forward and retain control of the vehicle even in the toughest terrain.
Which I admit, I did’t test out when I had a week with the 2017 Jeep Cherokee Limited 4×4. Pretty sure they’d be upset if I turned the car back in with some deep gashes along the side and a trashed wheel or two! But it does lead to an interesting question about what percentage of people who buy off-road ready vehicles actually drive them off-road. I found this stat: only 15% of 4×4’s actually go off road. I believe it, actually.
So those dirt roads? Heck, they may be rougher terrain than quite a few of these vehicles ever see in the wild. And here it is, tackling a rural dirt road. Color: Granite:
As you can see, it’s got a nice ground clearance and the entire vehicle seems to be designed for taller drivers, which is a pleasure: A surprising number of cars seem to be aimed at about a 5’10” person, which is uncomfortable when I’m 6’3″.
The Cherokee featured the optional upgraded 3.2-liter V6 with a 9-speed automatic transmission. Which makes it sound like it’s going to be a pretty high performance driving vehicle, but I didn’t find it very good off the line. Indeed, any attempt to rabbit at a green light just revealed the gradual build-up of power in the drive-train. It’s not a sports car disguised as an SUV, that’s for sure. But once you were up to speed, it was pleasantly responsive.
The exterior features an aggressive spoiler atop the rear window, and the overall style is definitely pleasing to the eye, albeit a whole lot like so many other SUVs from competing manufacturers:
Anyone who has ever parked a tiny subcompact in a modern supermarket parking lot — at least here in Colorado — knows what it’s like to be the little guy in a sea of giants. That’s not at all the experience with the 2017 Cherokee: it’s definitely a peer in size and height, a nice, if somewhat subtle benefit if you are in an area where SUVs and trucks are the norm.
But let’s look at the interior, because that’s where the driver and passengers spend all their time. You may be surprised if your vision of a Jeep is an old Wrangler with trashed seats, torn mud flaps and no doors, just a rollbar/cage and a bunch of 20-something yahoo’s hollerin’ and headin’ off to the quarry. (okay, I made that up, but it’s a good image, isn’t it?)
The Cherokee is really a luxury SUV with its heated – and cooled – seats and appointments. Here’s the view as you open the driver’s door. Interior is the premium leather-trimmed bucket seats in Black / Light Frost Beige:
Really quite lovely and definitely comfortable, even for those bold 15% who go off the beaten path with their Jeep.
Swing around into the driver’s seat and once you stop enjoying the heated seat feature, here’s the view you’ll have of the dashboard and controls:
A fairly busy dashboard with the center of the console able to be changed from one mode to another, depending on what you like to have displayed. Look closely at the steering wheel controls too: I was surprised that there wasn’t a volume or channel control for the entertainment system included. Turns out that they’re switches on the back of the steering wheel, so you go up/down on channels and up/down on volume with your left and right hands, respectively, purely on feel. An interesting concept that was quick to master.
However, the Jeep team implemented the channel controls incorrectly. Every vehicle I’ve driven in the last year has used channel up/down to really be pre-programmed channel up/down. But not Jeep. I set specific favorites on my Sirius XM lineup, for example, but if I was listening to 80’s on 8 and wanted to go to my next favorite, The Blend, it would instead simply increment the channel +1 and I’d have to either wade through all the channels I didn’t want (tedious) or reach over to the nav system screen and manipulate the touch screen to get the desired channel (dangerous). Not sure whether there is a setting to change it, but as is the channel controls need to be reprogrammed in my opinion.
Speaking of the entertainment and navigational system, it’s all built on the UConnect system, which features tech from both Garmin and Sirius, and it’s terrific. I was surprised how much I liked how everything integrated neatly and how intuitive all the controls and options were.
I’ll also say this: There’s a lot of useful info on the top line too:
As cars get smarter, we’ll be spending more time and attention on our media systems, so it’s entirely appropriate that they become more sophisticated and (hopefully) easier to use. Uconnect definitely fit the bill, particularly with its voice controls and integration with Siri on my iPhone too.
But that same screen also showed something that I found surprising: The backup camera had a really hard time at night. Many vehicles I drive have surprisingly excellent, crisp and well exposed footage when you’re backing up at night, but the Jeep Cherokee really struggled, as you can (somewhat) see here:
Certainly not a show stopper of any sort, but still, surprising.
To balance that, the Cherokee was equipped with remote start, which is a pretty nice feature in cold weather, I must say! As you would hope, remotely starting the vehicle is not actually enough for someone to slip in and drive away: You need to press Start again, with the key fob adjacent, to get out of remote start and to regular driving, as the dash specifies:
While we’re on the dashboard, I feel that fuel economy is mediocre, though perhaps not for a 4×4. I saw an average of 21.6 mpg across a week of various types of driving. Its EPA rating is 18/26, but I definitely didn’t see close to 26mpg on the highway, whether in sport or automatic mode. A colleague assures me that while gas prices remain so low, car makers won’t pay attention to fuel efficiency, and I fear he’s right. How important is that to you? Well, what if gas jumped up to $5/gal?
I’ve shown closeups of the dash, but here’s the full front console design and layout:
Very attractive and functional. What I really appreciated was that like most modern manufacturers, Jeep has paid attention to plugs and cables, featuring a nice console setup just in front of the shifter:
Impressively, there’s a second 12V “lighter” adapter hidden in the armrest storage too. Props to Jeep for remembering that we drivers still have gadgets and gizmos we want to plug in.
One more photo: The huge moonroof and sunroof of the Cherokee needs to be mentioned:
You can’t really get a sense from the above, I realize, but the moonroof (glass) goes way, way back, allowing you to have huge amounts of sunlight, and the portion that slides back as the sunroof is also impressively wide, almost twice as wide as the sunroof opens in my Toyota Highlander. A nice feature if you want to just enjoy the open road.
With a few reservations, as noted, I really enjoyed a chance to drive the 2017 Jeep Cherokee Limited 4×4, even without any crazy off-road antics. It’s surprisingly comfortable, thoughtfully designed and well appointed, and on the lower end of price for a vehicle of this size and class.
AS DRIVEN: 2017 Jeep Cherokee Limited 4×4 in exterior Granite, interior Black/ Light Frost Beige. With optional Safety Tech Group, Technology Group, Luxury Group, 9-speed Transmission, 3.2L V6, CommandView Dual-Pane Panoramic Sunroof and Uconect 8.4 NAV. As configured: $42,945 MSRP.
Disclosure: Jeep loaned me the 2017 Cherokee for a week in return for this writeup. Thanks, Jeep!