Once upon a time, sport-utility vehicles were covered in mud, traversing streams and doing it all in the face of frugality. In the decades since, though, most auto shoppers have realized that more sensible crossover SUVs are the way to go for everyday use. Jeep has tried to apply its off-roading heritage to some of its more civilized small crossovers (think Compass and Patriot), but the results have been disappointing. Thankfully, the 2015 Jeep Cherokee finally does come close to delivering the best of both real-world usability and capable off-road performance.
A crossover SUV, the 2015 Jeep Cherokee comes in Sport, Latitude, Trailhawk and Limited trim levels. This is the Limited.
That real-world usability starts with the Cherokee’s quiet, cozy and even plush drive quality compared with that of some other small crossovers. The well-laid-out interior is another bonus, and it comes with some fantastic standard and optional tech features. We’re also fond of the Cherokee’s optional V6 engine, which is smooth and has plenty of power and decent fuel economy ratings. Once the pavement ends, Jeep has you covered with the Cherokee Trailhawk trim level. With low-range gearing and special equipment like a locking rear differential, the Trailhawk can go much farther off-road than your standard all-wheel-drive crossover.
The Cherokee is likable, no doubt, but there are a few deficiencies worth noting. Despite its upscale interior, it may not be the best option if you frequently need to transport a lot of stuff. While the backseat is roomy for passengers, the rear cargo area is relatively small in comparison. Rivals are roomier, especially with the rear seats folded. Also, the Cherokee’s 4-cylinder engine is a mediocre performer, and the nine-speed automatic transmission can be annoyingly reluctant to downshift while at cruising speeds.
If you don’t find the Cherokee quite to your liking, the 2015 Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, 2015 Mazda CX-5 and Toyota RAV4 are all excellent choices for this class. The CR-V and RAV4 have considerably more interior space than the Cherokee, while the CX-5 and Escape are more enjoyable to drive, thanks to their sharper steering and handling. The Subaru Forester and XV Crosstrek might also be worth a look, given their better-than-average off-road abilities. Overall, though, the 2015 Cherokee is the best small Jeep not named Wrangler that we’ve driven in a long time.
Although the 4-cylinder engine has as much horsepower as most rivals’ base engines, the Cherokee is heavy for a small crossover SUV, which makes the engine feel sluggish when accelerating up to highway speeds. This engine also has a more raucous sound than other four-cylinders in this class.
We really like the V6 engine, though, as it gives the 2015 Jeep Cherokee a relaxed, refined demeanor not found in any SUV with a 4-cylinder engine. There’s plenty of power here, and the nine-speed automatic provides smooth upshifts. But once you’re cruising in top gear, the Cherokee can be a bit reluctant to downshift in response to your gas pedal inputs.
The Cherokee is exceptionally quiet at highway speeds. And over rough city streets, the Cherokee offers about as cushy a drive as you’ll get in this class. The downside is that the Jeep feels heavy and soft when going around turns. Its steering is precise, but the new Cherokee isn’t sporty like the Escape or CX-5.
Ride comfort is excellent in the Jeep Cherokee, and it’s one of only a few compact crossover SUVs with a V6 engine.
All Cherokees have a bit more ground clearance than the norm, but it’s the Cherokee Trailhawk, which earned an "B" rating from our testing department, that stands out for off-road ability. If you have the inclination, the Trailhawk can take on some pretty serious trails, thanks to its advanced 4WD system and rear locking differential.
For more driving impressions, be sure to check out our long-term test of the 2014 Jeep Cherokee as well.
The 2015 Jeep Cherokee is a five-passenger crossover SUV offered in four trim levels: Sport, Latitude, Trailhawk and Limited.
Standard equipment on the Sport includes 17-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning, power accessories, keyless remote entry, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a 60/40-split rear seat, sliding and reclining rear seats, Bluetooth phone and sound connectivity and a six-speaker sound system with a 5-inch touchscreen interface, USB/iPod integration, an auxiliary sound input and an SD card reader. A Cold Weather Group package is available with a wiper de-icer, remote ignition, heated power-folding mirrors, heated front seats and a heated steering wheel. You can also get alloy wheels, a rearview camera, satellite radio and a CD player as stand-alone options.
The Latitude adds alloy wheels, roof rails, foglights, automatic headlights, a rearview camera, body-colored door handles and mirrors, privacy-tinted glass, LED interior lighting, a folding front passenger seat with a storage compartment inside the seat cushion, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a 115-volt outlet. Latitudes also come with a wider range of options including a V6 engine, dual sunroofs (the front roof opens; the rear glass is fixed), an upgraded nine-speaker sound system and an 8.4-inch touchscreen interface with smartphone app integration. The Comfort/Convenience package bundles a power liftgate, automatic headlights, dual-zone automatic climate control, an eight-way power driver seat (with four-way power lumbar), satellite radio, remote start and a cargo cover and net.
Leather upholstery is standard in the Cherokee Limited, as is the 8.4-inch touchscreen interface. Navigation is optional.
The off-road-themed Trailhawk is four-wheel-drive only and comes with low-range gears, slightly wider 17-inch wheels and all-terrain tires, off-road oriented suspension tuning, a rear locking differential, skid plates, haul hooks, unique exterior trim, upgraded interior surfaces, a bigger gauge cluster display, the 8.4-inch touchscreen and satellite radio. Options on the Trailhawk include the Comfort/Convenience package (power liftgate, automatic headlights, dual-zone automatic climate control, an eight-way power driver seat, auto-dimming rearview mirror, satellite radio and remote start), the Technology Group package (automatic high-beam control, adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning and low-speed crash mitigation, lane-departure warning and mitigation systems and an automated parallel and perpendicular parking system), leather upholstery, a navigation system and an upgraded sound system.
The Limited sheds the Trailhawk’s off-road hardware, but includes all of the same interior electronics and gets most of the contents of the Comfort/Convenience package (minus the power liftgate). It also comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel and leather upholstery. The Luxury Group package adds a power liftgate, xenon headlights, memory driver settings and ventilated front seats. The Technology Group package (as previously described with the Trailhawk) is also available on the Limited.
Available on all trim levels except the Sport is the SafetyTec package, which adds blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alerts and rear parking sensors. The Trailer Tow Group package adds a haul hitch, trailer haul wiring harness and an auxiliary transmission cooler.
In the past, the standard Cherokee may have seemed far behind the Grand Cherokee in terms of quality and capability, but no more. The materials in the 2015 Jeep Cherokee have a high-quality look and feel, especially on upper trim levels. The available 8.4-inch touchscreen entertainment and navigation interface (Uconnect) is truly great and worth the extra cost if you can make the jump out of the Sport trim levels. It features easy-to-navigate menus, big touch buttons, voice commands and an accompanying knob that makes whipping through iPod menus a breeze.
Passenger quarters are spacious in the 2015 Jeep Cherokee. It’s easy to get cozy in the available power driver seat, which offers ample adjustability (although the steering wheel has an oddly limited range of height adjustment). The rear seat reclines, allows fore-and-aft adjustment and the high-mounted bench supports adults’ thighs without pushing their heads into the rafters. This is one of the better backseats in the compact crossover class.
Adults will find the Cherokee’s rear seat spacious and comfortable. Rear-facing auto seats fit well back here, too.
Occupants’ comfort comes at the expense of cargo capacity, though. There are just 24.6 cubic feet of space behind the second row and 54.9 with the rear seats folded. Both figures are 10-15 fewer cubic feet than what most other compact crossover SUVs offer. A lack of truly useful storage space up front for your personal effects is another drawback.
Standard safety equipment on all 2015 Cherokees includes antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front and rear seat side airbags, side curtain airbags and front knee airbags. A rearview camera is optional on the Sport trim level and standard on all other models.
Trailhawk and Limited models can also be equipped with an option package that adds adaptive cruise control, a forward-collision warning and mitigation system (with automatic brake intervention in potential collision situations), a lane-departure warning system and blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alerts.
In SUVS brake testing, a Cherokee Trailhawk came to a stop from 60 miles per hour in 131 feet. The all-terrain tires contribute to that lengthy stop, but it’s still one of the longest distances we’ve ever recorded in the segment. A Cherokee Limited with more common all-season tires and 4WD came to a stop in 122 feet, which is a couple feet better than average.
In government crash tests, the Cherokee received an overall rating of four out of five possible stars, with four stars for total frontal impact protection and five stars for total side impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Cherokee a best possible rating of "Good" in moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-crash and roof-strength crash tests. The Cherokee’s seat and head restraint design was also rated "Good" for whiplash protection in rear impacts.
Standard on all 2015 Jeep Cherokees is a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine rated at 184 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque. Optional on all but the base Sport is a 3.2-liter V6 that makes 271 hp and 239 lb-ft of torque. A nine-speed automatic transmission is standard with both engines.
You have your choice of front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive with either engine, but Trailhawk models are 4WD only. Jeep offers two 4WD systems. Standard on four-wheel-drive Sport, Latitude and Limited models is the light-duty Active Drive I 4WD system; it requires no input from the driver and is suitable for driving in wintry conditions. Standard on the Trailhawk and optional on other 4WD Jeep Cherokees is the more deluxe Active Drive II system, which features low-range gearing to give the car extra capability in off-road situations. The Trailhawk also has a locking rear differential to aid progress on rough terrain.
In addition, four-wheel-drive Cherokees feature a Selec-Terrain dial with selectable Auto, Snow, Sport and Sand/Mud modes to optimize traction; the Trailhawk features an additional Rock mode. Hill start assist is standard on all Cherokees, but only the Trailhawk has hill descent control. A haul package is available on all 2015 Jeep Cherokees, and with it included, V6 models have a healthy 4,500-pound towing capacity when properly equipped.
This the Selec-Terrain dial you’ll find in most four-wheel-drive Cherokees. The Trailhawk version also has a Rock mode.
With so many engine/drivetrain combinations for the Cherokee, there are several different mileage ratings from the EPA. Equipped with front-wheel drive and the 4-cylinder engine, the Cherokee is rated at 25 miles per gallon combined (22 city/31 highway). With the V6 and front-wheel drive, the estimate is 24 miles per gallon combined (21/29).
EPA-estimated fuel economy for Cherokees with the Active Drive I 4WD system and 4-cylinder engines is 24 miles per gallon combined (21/28), which is slightly below average for this class, while V6 Cherokees with this 4WD system are rated at 23 miles per gallon combined (20/28). With the Active Drive II system, estimates stand at 23 miles per gallon combined (21/27) with the 4-cylinder and 22 miles per gallon combined with the V6. With its all-terrain tires, the Trailhawk gets an EPA-estimated 22 miles per gallon combined with the 4-cylinder or the V6.
In SUVS testing, a four-wheel-drive Cherokee Limited with the Active Drive I system went from zero to 60 in 7.4 seconds, a good time for the class. A Cherokee Trailhawk (also with the V6) did the sprint in 8.0 seconds.
Smooth and refined V6 engine; smooth and quiet ride; spacious passenger quarters; abundance of available high-end tech features; Trailhawk offers unique off-road capability for the segment.
The 2015 Jeep Cherokee offers more off-road capability than most people will expect from a crossover, but the bigger story is that it’s civilized and cozy enough to drive to work every day. It’s worth a look if you’re shopping for a small SUV.