Back in the fold, and better for it: 2020 Jeep Cherokee

2020 Jeep Cherokee

2020 Jeep Cherokee

What changes will make the 2020 Jeep Cherokee different?

Little of note following a model-year 2019 update that added a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and defused a styling controversy. The ’19 changes were the first significant revisions to this popular compact-crossover SUV since its model-year 2014 introduction. They also upgraded Cherokee’s connectivity and expanded its cargo room and should sustain the Jeep until its next full redesign, likely in model-year 2022.

The 2020 edition of this five-seater will again slot into Jeep’s crossover lineup between the subcompact Renegade and the midsize Grand Cherokee. It’ll also continue to share the automaker’s compact-crossover roster with the smaller, less expensive, less off-road-capable Jeep Compass. Adopting a name most associated with the classic 1984-2001 Jeep SUV, today’s Cherokee was a showroom success from the start, but the 2019 refresh seems to have broadened its appeal. Demand was up nearly 40 percent through June 2018, thanks in part to a styling fix that replaced its squinty-eyed face with a more traditional Jeep look.

Should I wait for the 2020 model or buy a 2019?

Buy a ’19. You’ll benefit from the midcycle refresh, get a vehicle that won’t change much for several years, and avoid almost-certain model-year price increases. The 2020 Cherokee will carryover the ‘19’s styling, which brought it more in line with the Grand Cherokee — and the recently refreshed Compass. The ’20 Cherokee will also reprise the ‘19’s engine roster, which added a turbocharged four-cylinder to the returning entry-level four-cylinder and the available V-6. Expect the model lineup to repeat, as well, beginning with the Latitude trim and ascending through better-equipped Latitude Plus, fancier Limited, off-road-optimized Trailhawk, and flagship Overland.

The ’20 Cherokee will also remain among the Jeeps covered by the brand’s recently introduced Jeep Wave support program. It provides two free oil changes and tire rotations annually, discounts on brand merchandise, preferred access to Jeep events, a one-day free rental vehicle when your Jeep is in for service, live support and chat, and trip-interruption coverage up to $1,000 per occurrence for lodging, meals, and emergency transportation. In the Cherokee line, Jeep Wave covered owners of 2019 Trailhawk and Overland models, automatically enrolling them in a 24-month membership. Jeep could extend the service to buyers of other Cherokee models for 2020.

Will the styling be different?

No, other than a possible new color choice or two. The ’20 Cherokee will wear the model-year-’19 facelift that refashioned the nose with integrated headlamps, turn signals, and daytime running lights. That replaced an odd arrangement of separate headlights, turn signals, and fog lamps. The original look helped establish Cherokee’s identity in a crowded market segment, but it was polarizing. Other elements of the facelift that’ll carry over include a reshaped front fascia and a lightweight composite liftgate that repositioned the release handle for easier opening.

Expect models to again be visually differentiated by wheel design and size – 19-inchers on the Overland, 18s on the Limited, and 17s on the others – with the Trailhawk again distinguished by unique body trim, fender flares, an anti-glare hood decal, red tow hooks, and available black alloy wheels.

Inside, the ’20 Cherokee will profit from model-year-2019 tweaks that included the addition of piano-black accents, a resculpted center console, and new color themes. They enhance a decidedly upscale cabin ambience highlighted by a classy dash layout, quality materials, and on uplevel models, premium-grade leather upholstery. A fairly stingy greenhouse denies the cabin a feeling of airiness, but Cherokee remains among the larger compact crossovers and that translates into above-average passenger space front and rear.

Cargo volume, however, will again be subpar, even after Jeep managed to widen the luggage bay 3 inches in the model-year-’19 refresh. The 60/40 split/folding rear seat slides six inches fore and aft to balance passenger and cargo room, but even the maximum arrangement results in a below-class-average 29.1 cubic feet behind the seat and 54.7 with it folded.

Any mechanical changes?

Nothing likely. The ’20 Cherokee will continue with three engine choices, all of which link to a 9-speed automatic transmission and are available in combination with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (AWD).

Expect Latitude, Latitude, and Limited models to again come standard with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder of 180 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque. Apt to remain optional on those models and standard on Trailhawk, the AWD Limited, and the Overland is a 3.2-liter V-6 of 271 horsepower and 239 pound-feet of torque. It’s a far superior performer over the base four and would sustain the ’20 Cherokee as one of just two compact crossovers available with a six-cylinder engine (the other being the Mitsubishi Outlander).

Look for the ’20 Cherokee’s top engine to again be a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 270 horses and 295 pound-feet of torque. Among the most powerful engines in the compact-crossover class, the turbo four should again be optional for all but the base Limited model and provide more midrange and high-speed kick than the V-6 but with a less linear delivery of power.

We’d ask Jeep to give the ’20 Cherokee a bit more steering feel, but there’s no need to alter suspension tuning that should again deliver an outstanding combination of ride comfort and handling sureness. That achievement is impressive given Cherokee’s credible claim as the best off-road crossover in the class. Most Cherokee buyers opt for AWD, and the standard setup is Jeep Active Drive I; it automatically shuffles power from the front wheels to the rear when sensors detect tire slip.

Optional on Latitude Plus, Limited, and Overland is Active Drive II, which adds low-ranging gearing for valuable extra traction and comes with off-road suspension fortifications. Trailhawks get an extra inch of ground clearance (for 8.7 total) and come with Active Drive Lock, which enhances the Active Drive II features with a locking rear differential. All these AWD setups include Jeep’s Selec-Terrain control that allows drivers to dial in powertrain calibrations tailored for conditions like snow, sand, and mud; Active Drive Lock adds a rock mode.

Will fuel economy improve?

With no powertrain alterations anticipated, 2020 Cherokee EPA ratings aren’t likely to change – for better or worse. Given their class-leading power, Cherokees equipped with the turbo four should again be standouts for fuel economy. Look for them to again be rated 23/32/26 mpg city/highway/combined with front wheel drive. Expect ratings of 22/31/25 mpg with Active Drive I, 20/27/23 with Active Drive II, and 20/26/22 for the Trailhawk and its Active Drive Lock.

On the downside, ratings for 2020 Cherokees with the base four-cylinder engine will likely remain about average for this class, while those for V-6 models should again be subpar. For the four-cylinder, expect ratings of 22/31/25 mpg city/highway/combined with front-drive and 21/29/24 with AWD. With the V-6, expect ratings of 20/29/24 mpg with front-drive, 20/29/23 with Active Drive I, 18/26/21 with Active Drive II, and 18/24/22 for the Trailhawk and its Active Drive Lock.

Part of Cherokee’s fuel-economy challenge is that it’s essentially the heaviest crossover in the class. Credit Jeep with attacking the problem where it can. All the AWD systems, for example, will again feature an economy-enhancing rear-axle disconnect. And all three engines will continue with automatic stop-start to save a bit of gas in city commuting.

Will it have new features?

Probably nothing new, the list of standard and optional equipment is already comprehensive. We do, however, beg Jeep to make the safety of autonomous emergency braking available on all Cherokee’s, not just the most expensive trims. Better yet, it should be standard across the board, to match the bar set by top rivals like the Mazda CX-5, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, and Toyota RAV4.

On the 2019 Cherokee, autonomous emergency braking – which can bring the crossover to a stop automatically to avoid a frontal collision – was exclusive to Limited, Overland, and Trailhawk models as part of the Technology Group option, which added $1,095 to the base price. The option also included other notable driver assists: lane-departure warning with automatic steering correction, adaptive cruise control to a maintain a set distance from traffic ahead, rainsensing windshield wipers, automatic highbeam headlights, and hands-free autonomous parallel and perpendicular parking. Blind-spot and rear-cross-traffic detection was optional on Latitude and Latitude Plus models and standard otherwise.

Apart from democratized safety features, there’s little else one could expect Jeep to add to the ’20 Cherokee. Depending on trim level, it’ll again be available with such amenities as cooled front seats, a heated steering wheel, wireless charging for mobile devices, perforated Nappa leather upholstery, power-folding mirrors, and a dual-pane panoramic sunroof. Keyless entry with pushbutton ignition should return as standard on all but the Latitutde.

Parent-company Chrysler’s nicely executed Uconnect infotainment system will return as standard or optional, with Limited, Overland, and Trailhawk again avaible with the top setup, which includes imbedded navigation with an 8.4-inch dashboard touchscreen. A power liftgate should again be available on all but the Latitude, with handsfree operation (via a kick beneath the rear bumper) optional on the Limited and standard on Overland.

How will 2019 prices be different?

Count on prices increasing, thanks to solid demand for anything with a Jeep badge. Cherokee sales in the crowded and competitive compact-SUV class saw it trailing the RAV4, Rogue, Honda CR-V, Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, and Jeep’s own Wrangler through the first half of 2018. But it is the brand’s second-best seller, after the Wrangler and ahead of the Grand Cherokee.

Estimated base prices here include Jeep’s destination fee, which was $1,445 on the 2019 Cherokee. With the 2.4-liter engine, expect 2020 Cherokee base prices to start around $26,600 for a front-drive Latitude and top out around $32,300 for a front-drive Limited. Expect to again add around $1,750 to equip those models with the V-6. With the six standard, look for ’20 Cherokee starting prices to range from about $35,300 for a Trailhawk to around $39,700 for an AWD Overland.

The turbo four should return as a rather pricey $2,250 option for Latitude, Latitude Plus, and front-drive Limited models and a $500 uptick for Trailhawk, Overland, and AWD Limiteds. A V-6 Trailhawk equipped with the Technology Group should again be a compelling value here, netting you a compact crossover that maximizes both Jeep’s brand image as well as its genuine go-nearly-anywhere chops. Larding a ’20 Overland with every factory option, including the Tech Group and a $1,500 panoramic mooroof should again push the sticker to $44,000 or so, at which point a Grand Cherokee would be the better value.

When will it come out?

Anticipate a 2019 Cherokee release during the third quarter of 2018.

Best competitors

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

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]