2015 Jeep Cherokee Limited 4×4: Inspiring love, or at least ‘like’

What’s Jeep’s secret? Before saddling up in our 2015 Jeep Cherokee test car, we read some reviews that revealed decidedly mixed reactions. “Underdeveloped and unrefined,” remarked Consumer Reports magazine, which noted the Cherokee’s reliability is much worse than average. “The Cherokee is likable, no doubt, but there are a few deficiencies worth noting,” observed www.edmunds.com. Our own April 2014 review of the Cherokee, an iconic model that was revived for the 2014 model year, was generally favorable … but: “Scanning the competition, the bottom line is you can land a softer-riding, less expensive, more fuel-efficient model if your priorities run in those directions.”

Such reviews can suppress the bottom line. But Jeep must be doing something right. Through August, Cherokee sales are 24 percent of last year, at nearly 141,000 units sold. And like the rugged Wrangler, the Cherokee presents a contradiction to Consumer Reports readers. While the reviews are tough and the reliability records are poor, owners report high levels of satisfaction with both vehicles.

Likable, indeed.

We liked our test Cherokee, too. The Deep Cherry Red SUV was smooth-riding, quiet, powerful, roomy, and lavishly equipped with comfort, technology and safety features. The Cherokee really treated us like royalty on a trip from western Connecticut to northern New Jersey, and it delivered more than 27 mpg. But we couldn’t help but wonder if we’d like the base model – modestly priced at $23,095 – nearly as much. Our Cherokee Limited 4×4 had sticker price of $36,970, and it had the option packages and flourishes to match.

The base Cherokee Sport comes with a 4-cylinder engine and rear-wheel drive. Most New England drivers would opt for the 4×4 option, which costs about $2,000 more. We’ve never driven a Cherokee thus equipped, but most reviewers recommend the 271-horsepower V-6, a $1,745 option. Still, we suspect the Cherokee would be quite easy to live with in the under-$27,000 range.

Options that brought our Cherokee to a point $9,000 higher included blind spot and cross-path detection system, $995; Technology Group, including parking assist, adaptive cruise control and rain-sensitive windshield wipers, $1,495; and the UConnect system that includes GPS navigation. (Our car’s audio system worked perfectly in Connecticut but became balky and sometimes unresponsive in New Jersey.)

While this Cherokee doesn’t look or drive like the one that developed so strong a following in decades past, it does share one quality with its predecessor: off-road prowess. Our test car had the Selec-Terrain system, through which drivers could program the car to handle specific road conditions; electronic roll mitigation, all-speed traction control, hill-start assist, 4×4 drive and plenty of ground clearance. As an off-road warrior, the Cherokee is at the head of its class.

Cherokees have performed well in crash tests, receiving the top “Good” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in every category except the small-overlap frontal crash. It received four stars out of five in government crash tests, including five-star ratings in side-impact crashes.

Steven Macoy (semacoy@gmail.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.

Price: $36,970

Engine: 3.2-liter V-6, 271 horsepower, 239 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: shiftable 9-speed automatic

Drive: 4-wheel

Ground clearance: 8.7 in.

Weight: 4,044 lb.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear

Wheels: 18×7-in. polished aluminum

Tires: P225/60R18 all-season

Max. towing capacity: 4,500 lb.

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 24.8 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 54.9 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 15.8 gal.

Fuel economy: 20 mpg city, 28 mpg highway

Fuel type: Regular unleaded