Are updated styling and a turbo keys to sustaining 2018 Cherokee’s success?

What changes will make the 2018 Jeep Cherokee different?

Fresh styling, suspension revisions, maybe even a new engine. These will be the first major updates to this compact crossover since its model-year 2014 introduction. Positioned as the smaller companion to the midsize Grand Cherokee, this SUV launched to mixed reviews of its unusual front-end styling. But it’s proven a hit, overtaking the Grand Cherokee as the brand’s best-selling model. Jeep’s challenge for the ’18 revamp is to evolve the styling, keep the individuality, and improve the mileage.

Why should I wait for the 2018?

To drive the latest edition of this versatile five-seater. You’ll again choose a base four-cylinder or more powerful V-6, with the possibility of a high-performance turbocharged four-cylinder as a new underhood option. On the menu will be a wide variety of trim and equipment levels, and drivetrains spanning urban-tame front-wheel drive to wilderness-taming all-wheel drive. Waiting for the ‘18 gets you the updated styling and the mechanical spec that’ll see Cherokee through to its next full redesign, likely for model year 2019 or ’20. That’ll help you look current and should benefit resale value, which will offset some of the inevitable model-year price escalation. Expect the model line to again feature base Sport, up-trim Latitude, upscale Limited, and luxury Overland trim levels, plus the off-road oriented Trailhawk.

Should I buy a 2017 model instead?

Yes, if you like its overall look and find something on the deep model menu to suit your taste and budget. The styling revisions won’t be drastic, and the ’17 will have the same understructure and basic body shape as the ’18. The base four-cylinder and V-6 engine choices will be the same, and the ’17 already offers a substantial roster of features, including self-parking, Apple Siri Eyes Free, automatic braking, and best-in-class 4,500-pound towing ability. Nothing in the competitive set is as off-road capable as the Trailhawk. And the only other rival to offer the smoothness of a V-6 is the far less-desirable Mitsubishi Outlander. A ’17 will be less expensive than an ‘18, too, with deals sweetened by model-year clearance sales to make room for the revised Cherokee.

Will the styling be different?

Yes. Look for a slightly more aerodynamic shape, with the biggest change at the front. The 2014 intro marked a departure from Jeep’s tradition of upright grille designs. It was the most controversial aspect of this Cherokee, but helped establish an identity in a crowded market segment. Certain to return updated in some form is the brand’s trademark seven-vertical-slot grille. Same for the distinctive arrangement of bladelike daytime running lamps/turn signals in the upper fenders with the actual headlamps tucked below. Reshaped bumpers and fasciae front and rear, freshened taillamps, and new wheel designs also are probable. Otherwise, Cherokee will retain its basic body shape and dimensions, along with an understructure based on Fiat engineering and shared with the compact Dodge Dart and midsize Chrysler 200 sedans. Operating under the FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) banner, the Italian automaker owns the Jeep, Dodge, Chrysler, and Ram truck brands. The result here is a compact crossover that emphasizes passenger room and comfort — it’s among the most spacious in the class – while falling slightly below par for cargo volume.

Any mechanical changes?

Expect suspension and steering tweaks to upgrade handling precision. Cherokee already rides quite well but would benefit from more body control in turns and over bumps. Underhood, look for the standard engine to remain a 2.4-liter four-cylinder and to again make around 184 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque. Along with Outlander, this almost certainly will remain the only compact crossover to offer a V-6. A 3.2-liter with some 271 horsepower and 239 pound-feet of torque should again be optional across the board. A third engine could join them: some sources say a turbocharged four-cylinder of nearly 300 horsepower may be added, perhaps in a performance-tuned new model dubbed the Trackhawk. Front-wheel drive will remain standard. All-wheel drive (AWD) will remain optional on all and standard on Trailhawk (and on any Trackhawk). In fact, depending on the model, Cherokee will repeat with multiple AWD systems, from basic all-weather assist to back-trail-conquering on the Trailhawk. The sole transmission will likely remain a nine-speed automatic, with ongoing development aimed at solving drivability glitches.

Will fuel economy improve?

Perhaps. Jeep will look to boost EPA ratings that have been below midpack for the class. Some vehicle-weight reduction and improvements in aerodynamics and drivetrain efficiency would help. So would a turbo four-cylinder that would equal or better the performance of the V-6, but with higher mileage. The six has been the choice of about 50 percent of Cherokee buyers, most of whom also order AWD. The 2017 EPA ratings to beat are the four-cylinder’s 21/30/25 mpg city/highway/combined with front-drive and 21/28/23 with AWD (19/25/22 for the Trailhawk). The V-6 ratings bogie is 21/29/24 mpg with front-drive and 20/27/23 with AWD (18/24/21 for Trailhawk.) The AWD system will again feature an economy-enhancing rear-axle disconnect and the V-6 would continue with automatic stop-start to save a bit of gas in city commuting.

Will it have new features?

Not a whole lot to add to an already-comprehensive list of standard and optional equipment. In addition to the aforementioned items, the list includes such amenities as cooled front seats, a heated steering wheel, wireless charging for mobile devices, Nappa leather upholstery, power-folding mirrors, and a dual-pane panoramic sunroof. File under returning driver aids: parallel and perpendicular park assist, adaptive cruise control with front-collision-mitigating automatic braking, lane-maintaining automatic steering, and rear cross-path detection. Standard or available on all models except the Sport has been Chrysler’s nicely executed Uconnect navigation/infotainment system with an 8.4-inch dashboard screen. Some of these items could be shifted, with dual-zone automatic climate control standard instead of optional on the Trailhawk, for example. We’d like to see the safety-enhancing driver-aids package made available beyond the Limited, Trailhawk, and Overland models. And automatic emergency braking that could bring the vehicle to a full stop would improve safety ratings. More likely are additional specialty trims. The ’16 model year alone saw the line expand with gussied-up Altitude and high-zoot Overland variants, plus a 75th Anniversary edition to mark Jeep’s 1941 founding. The rumored Trackhawk, with unique styling touches, sport seats, uprated suspension and tires, and possibly a turbo engine would fit this bill.

How will 2017 prices be different?

It’s a good bet they’ll increase to capitalize on the ’18 changes and on strong demand for anything wearing a Jeep badge. Cherokee sales helped drive the brand to a 16.5 percent sales increase during the first half of 2016, making it one of the healthiest automotive makes. Including Cherokee’s destination fee – it was $995 for 2017 – estimated 2018 base prices are $24,900 for the Sport, $26,800 for the Latitude, $30,800 for the Limited, $32,500 for the Trailhawk, and $37,900 for the Overland. To that, expect to add around $1,750 for the V-6 and $2,000 for AWD. Uconnect should again cost a reasonable $795, the panoramic roof around $1,600.

When will it come out?

Anticipate a 2018 Cherokee release during the first half of 2017.

Best competitors

Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Nissan Rogue, Toyota RAV4,

What change would make it better?

Jeep’s on the right track if it’s planning to make Cherokee available with a turbocharged four-cylinder, but it needs to be a better engine than the wheezy turbo 1.4-liter available in the Dodge Dart and several Fiats. Two turbo fours, one a high-output edition for a possible Trackhawk, is a possibility. A smoother, more responsive automatic transmission would be welcome, too. And instead of simply slowing it, the automatic-braking feature needs to acquire the ability to bring the vehicle to a full stop to avoid a frontal collision. That would make the ’18 Cherokee eligible for coveted Top Safety Pick+ status from the influential Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]