Or as the British say, the KL Jeep Cherokee is now "sorted."
The current Jeep Cherokee (chassis code KL) has been a solid hit for Jeep. It was, until this year, a strong fleet vehicle (Jeep says it will no longer be sold as one). It was a popular choice at rental counters. And it generally sold between 150K and 200K units per year. It's a profitable car in the most competitive car segment in the US. The addition of the Overland trim in 2016 made it even more profitable. And it replaced a truck that very few people miss. Jeep made the correct call bringing back the Cherokee name and putting it on this vehicle.
But Jeep's parent, FCA, is slower to redesign vehicles, opting to keep platforms longer, refreshing them periodically. This means that FCA vehicles have lagged-behind most other manufactures in meeting the highest safety standards. It took a few model years for the Jeep Renegade, Cherokee, and Grand Cherokee to pass the brutal IIHS "moderate overlap front" test. But in 2017, they finally passed. I'm just speculating, but I wonder if FCA got any help from Hyundai Steel. They do work together sometimes.
The KL Cherokee was introduced in 2013 and went on sale in 2014. I was excited to see it developed and released nearly five years ago. And while an all-new Grand Cherokee is still three years away, it was time to refresh the Cherokee. Jeep sales have flattened. The brand is healthy. But I don't know if Jeep will ever sell 1.3 Million vehicles in the US again. Not again this decade, anyway.
This refresh seems like a new start for the KL. Here is some of what has changed:
- A new front fascia and rear end. The front end keeps the short, raked seven-slot grille, but eliminates "stacked" lights in favor of a more traditional headlamp and turn signal cluster. And it looks really good.
- A new FCA two-liter turbo (same as the one available in the new Wrangler, minus the mild hybrid system). This new motor provides V6 power with the CO2 emissions of an inline four cylinder, which it is.
- It appears that "Ski Gray" is going to be a new interior color choice for the Limited. So one doesn't have to get the top of the line Overland trim to have an interior color palette similar to a Land Rover Discovery Sport.
- The center stack has been redesigned to allow a phone storage slot, LED lights below the climate controls, and the new 8.4-inch Uconnect screen with Apple Car play will be available (just like the new Wrangler Sahara and top trim Grand Cherokee).
- The lift-over height for the rear cargo area is still at least an inch higher than competitors (due to the fact that you can store a full-size spare tire under the floor). But the cargo floor is now wider.
- The 2019 Cherokee has lost 200 pounds, thanks in part to an aluminum hood and a redesigned, composite rear hatch. The hatch can now by activated by sticking your foot underneath the vehicle, just like the Ford Escape and Edge.
These changes should be enough to maintain Cherokee sales. But I don't see its sales catching up to the Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Subaru Forester or Ford Escape. That's because this Jeep is unique in its drivetrain configurations and off-road capability. It's frankly a little weird. You can spend $35,000 and get it with two electronically-controlled transfer cases and a locking rear differential. That's very truck-like, even though it has a longitudinally mounted engine for a front-wheel drive bias in normal pavement driving. Or you can spend $22,000 and essentially get a fleet vehicle / rental car version, with either front-wheel drive or part-time AWD, the inefficient-but-dependable Tigershark motor, black cloth seats, and a soft steering feel. So you can get a Cherokee that can easily traverse the Valley of the Gods, or get a basic Cherokee to move you and the kids around town. The Cherokee can be as wild or as anonymous as you like, all in the same platform. Jeep knows it can't beat Hyundai or Honda's features at the base price. But the brand is so attractive, enough people find a Cherokee that suits their needs. And more important for FCA, enough people buy premium Cherokees to keep the model very profitable. I look forward to seeing it at this year's New York International Auto Show.
Here is this morning's press event, in which Jeep CEO Mike Manley introduced the revised Cherokee.