NAIAS 2018: 2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee Debuts New Four Cylinder, Refined Technology

Jeep is riding a proverbial whirlwind of success following the recent unveiling of the 2019 Jeep Wrangler, as well as continually strong sales numbers from the venerable Grand Cherokee SUV. However, the iconic American brand knows that compact crossovers are the current trend for U.S. buyers, and has given the smaller Cherokee the facelift it needs to help it stand out from the competition for the new model year.

Shining brightly under the lights of Cobo Center in Detroit, MI, the first thing that buyers will notice is its decidedly more conventional looking face. When the Cherokee first appeared five years ago, Jeep designers tried to go for a decidedly futuristic look that unfortunately received mixed reviews from journalists and buyers alike. Jeep brand Chief Mike Manley admitted that the old look was “very progressive and modern” and at the time Jeep had to what it had to do to break through the segment. It certainly worked (for better or for worse) and Jeep designers chose to add more refinement to this active canvas for 2019.

The end result is a Cherokee that shares much of its looks with the Jeep Compass. The more traditional nose eliminates its beak like tip, which improves aerodynamics, and allows the trademark seven slat grille to be a more vertical arrangement than before. LED headlights are standard on all trim levels, and the use of this single arrangement helps cut down on manufacturing costs for all versions of the Cherokee.

New tail lights flank the redesigned rear liftgate that moves the license plate and opening handle further up in an attempt to improve ergonomics for customers, especially when accessing the cargo area with bulky items. A welcome side effect is that it removes some of the polarizing weirdness from the design, and that’s always a good thing with us, especially when viewed in Trailhawk and Limited guises. The liftgate itself jettisons its old metal construction, and instead embraces composite technology, which shaves 18 lbs of flab off the Cherokee. The 2019 Cherokee also follows the path blazed by recent Ford entries, and now incorporates an all new capless fuel filler for easier and quicker fuel stops.

Like before, the trail ready TrailHawk will serve as the most capable Cherokee entry (Overland models cap the luxury equation.) Like the old model, the 2019 version benefits from a 1-inch suspension lift, and incorporates unique front and rear fascias to enhance approach and departure angles. The latter benefits were displayed at its unveiling, with the Trailhawk easily scampering down a step style rock course FCA had setup at its booth. Blacked out trim replaces chrome elements, and splashes of red trim are present throughout, including its signature red  front mounted tow hooks.

The interior of the 2019 Cherokee may appear the same at first glance (with the bulk of its core design unchanged) but Jeep designers redesigned the air vents, and also reconfigured the shifter and console assemblies to enhance storage space for mobile phones and other devices. The 7 and 8.4 inch infotainment systems will still be offered, but both units now  feature Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality. The rear console also gives passengers an extra USB slot for charging and using mobile devices when out on the beaten trail. Cargo space has also increased, with the 2019 Cherokee now offering 28.0 cubic feet of space (versus the old model’s 24.6 cubic feet.) this allows the Cherokee to be much more competitive with rivals. A notable example of this new found space is Jeep’s claims that the 2019 Cherokee can swallow two full bags of golf clubs, a feat that the old Cherokee could only dream about.

Performance for the 2019 Cherokee will come from three different engines. Two of them (the 2.4 liter four cylinder and the 3.2 liter Pentastar V6) are carried over from the old model with outputs unchanged at 180 and 271 horsepower respectively. The newcomer however is the same 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder engine that first made its debut in the Jeep Wrangler. Jeep claims that this engine is the most advanced 2,0 liter turbo on the market, and its 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque will certainly allow it to make a good first impression. The Cherokee’s iteration of this engine does not have the 48 volt mild hybrid technology found in the bigger Wrangler, but it does raise questions about the long term viability of the 3.2 liter V6, since only 1 horsepower separates the two, and the V6’s only remaining advantage is its slightly higher towing figure.

All three engines are mated to the carryover nine speed automatic transmission. Once known as the proverbial black sheep in the fold due to its delayed rollout and clunky shifts, Jeep claims that new software smooths out shifts, and it also makes the transmission less lethargic and dimwitted when under hard acceleration. Fuel economy is also expected to improve somewhat ,due to the fore-mentioned aerodynamic and weight saving enhancements.

While these updates may seem like a typical mid cycle freshening at first glance, they do address two key areas that many CUV buyers want when purchasing one for their family, roominess, and capability. Those aspects combined with its softened looks, should allow the 2019 Cherokee to bolster the strong sales figures it already possesses, and allow it to be a key cog in Jeep’s broader plans for its globally focused future.