DETROIT, Michigan—It’s as if Jeep anticipated that Kia would borrow cues from the controversial ’14 Cherokee for its new Kona crossover/utility. The 2019 Jeep Cherokee wipes that controversial face clean as the most obvious part of a mid-cycle update. The new model, unveiled Tuesday at the 2018 North American International Auto Show, goes on sale later in the first quarter of this year.
Jeep has “normalized” the headlamps on the new Cherokee, to use design chief Mark Allen’s description. The new headlamps, now combined into one unit per side and placed rather elegantly under a new aluminum hood, are newly LED (on all trim levels). Of course, along with new sheetmetal fore of the A-pillar, a redesigned composite liftgate and an interior update, comes new wheel designs, with lower rolling resistance tires, and new paint colors.
The composite liftgate saves 18 pounds, and sits above a new, “cleaned up” rear fascia, and dual exhausts on the 2019 Jeep Cherokee Limited model.
Jeep also cut nearly 17 pounds out of the optional Active Drive I automatic 4×4 system by redesigning the rear drive module, which also enhances its efficiency. Jeep will continue to offer Active Drive II, Active Drive Lock, and the trail-rated Trailhawk for 2019.
Jeep considers the Cherokee Trailhawk “almost as a separate model,” according to Allen, and the refreshened 4×4 model again is devoid of chrome, with blacked out trim instead where you’d normally find brightwork. For 2019, it comes with LED foglamps and headlamps, forged front tow hooks, and forged rear recovery hooks.
A thorough redesign of the interior helps take the Jeep Cherokee upmarket. Interior design chief Winnie Cheung describes the theme as “simplicity … forms and shapes are very simple, but rich, with a modern look,” and with “a more premium fit and finish.”
There’s a redesigned center cluster bezel, with new piano black and satin chrome dash accents, and a radio upgrade. The entertainment/information screen is either seven inches in diameter, or 8.4 inches on upmarket trims, or 8.4 inches with navigation, upgrading the Cherokee’s old five-inch screen, and with better resolution and interface. It comes with Apple Car Play and Android Auto, the six most uttered words in the industry over the past year.
The luggage compartment out back has been rearranged to provide more capacity. It’s up four cubic feet, to 28 cubic feet (second row seats not folded).
A new 2.0-liter turbo four is added to the 2019 Jeep Cherokee’s engine lineup, rated 269 horsepower and 295 pound-feet. Engineering chief Mike Downey describes it as having the power of a V-6, with the packaging of a four. The base 2.4-liter I-4 and the 3.2-liter V-6 remain in the lineup, and all are again offered only with the nine-speed automatic.
Downey’s crew also redesigned the engine cradle, to better meet the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s small overlap crash test.
They also changed the suspension geometry and tuning for better on-road feel, ride and handling, and there’s a “kick-away” sensor that allows you to open the liftgate, hands-free.
The re-engineering resulted in a 200-pound diet for the ’19 Jeep Cherokee.
“We have dropped a full test-weight category,” Downey says, which means the ’19 model will see a fuel economy increase in the EPA estimates. Engineers also made tuning and calibration changes for the controversial nine-speed automatic, derived from the Chrysler Town & Country’s tuning and calibrations.
Despite the controversial nose—or perhaps because of it—the Cherokee has been a success for Jeep, which sold 169,882 of them last year.
“We know it was a very contested segment,” says Jeep and Ram brand chief Mike Manley. “We had to do [the nose] to break through.”
And so the Jeep Cherokee did, more than doubling the sales of the Liberty it replaced. The 2019 Jeep Cherokee redesign comes up at the same show another important ‘tweener two-row midsize SUV, the 2019 Ford Edge (142,603 sold last year) premiers. It will be fun to see whether tall sport sedan as halo (Ford Edge ST) or serious off-roader as halo (Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk) proves more popular.