Is the 2015 Jeep Cherokee the Perfect SUV? [First Impression]

Oft criticized for its edgy mug, the 2015 Jeep Cherokee's functional design grows on you quickly.
Oft criticized for its edgy mug, the 2015 Jeep Cherokee’s functional design grows on you quickly.

The 2015 Jeep Cherokee is an SUV that attempts to be everything to everyone.  Want great fuel economy?  There’s an engine for that.  Want loads of crazy tech features?  There’s a package for that.  Want true off-road capability?  There’s an option (and an entirely-devoted Trailhawk model) for that.  Is the 2015 Jeep Cherokee, then, the perfect SUV?

From the outside, the design is initially polarizing but grows on you quickly.  The traditional seven-slot Jeep grille stands prominently between a pair of daytime running light/turn signal “eyebrows” and separated projector beam headlamps.  To some, the design looks contrived – but there’s no mistaking a Cherokee coming towards you, day or night.  Mission: Design Exclusivity, accomplished.

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On that same point, out here in Colorado, there are 2015 Jeep Cherokees everywhere – mostly Limiteds and Trailhawks, the most expensive of the bunch.  Maybe it’s because folks in our rugged homeland appreciate off-road capability with a dash of luxury and exclusivity, or maybe it’s because there’s plenty of storage in which to hide your, uh, “greenery.”

Either way, if your travels take you to higher elevations, the 3.2-L Pentastar V6 is a must.  Its 271 HP and 239 lb-ft of torque pull strongly at any RPM, and lend themselves to a class-leading 4,500-lb towing capacity.  The standard engine is a 2.4-L four-cylinder with 184 HP and 171 lb-ft which, although adequate at lower elevations, I’ve found to struggle under load at a mile above sea level.

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Then, there’s the elephant in the room; the ZF nine-speed automatic transmission.  Chrysler just released their third software update for the ‘box, and I’m not sure which level my tester is on.  What is apparent, though, is the 9-speed’s tendency to hang onto low gears, particularly in the 2-3 upshift at city speeds.  Interestingly, the transmission is brilliant on the highway, with quick downshifts followed by rapid-fire upshifts.  I haven’t seen 9th gear staying within legal speeds (below 75 MPH), however.

The 2015 Jeep Cherokee Limited’s ride, as equipped with the off-road suspension package, is choppy in the city but smooth and stable on the highway.  On the plus side, undulating over the urban jungle’s frost heaves and speed bumps reveals a tremendous amount of suspension travel and flexibility.  It feels much as a nod to the Wrangler in the way it makes me feel confident enough to tackle just about anything in my way.

In snow the Cherokee excels, its Selec-Terrain traction control system’s aptly named “snow” mode exemplifying pure witchcraft.  I’ve been caught in three(!) snow storms this week and in normal driving never felt any sense of wheel slippage, tail happiness, or general loss of control.

The 2015 Jeep Cherokee Limited loves playing in the snow.
The 2015 Jeep Cherokee Limited loves playing in the snow.

When the tarmac is dry, the 2015 Jeep Cherokee Limited is quite a handler, too.  That somewhat choppy city ride pays dividends with crisp turn in, minimal body roll, and good steering response.  Overall, the independent suspension setup and electric-assist steering provide a compliant, capable, even sporty feel.

Inside, the front seats are comfortable but fall short on leg room for taller drivers.  Head and shoulder room isn’t an issue, however, and the rear seats are reasonably sized for two grown adults or a pair of teenagers and a child seat.  The rear seats fold flat, as does the front passenger seat, to reveal 58.9 combined cubic feet of cargo volume; enough for reasonable camping quarters, even for us tall folk.

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Fuel economy for my Active Drive II-equipped 2015 Jeep Cherokee Limited is a mixed bag, with my tester’s V6 claiming 19/26/21 city/highway/combined MPG.  I’ve been able to meet and exceed the highway rating, achieving upwards of 28 MPG at a steady 65-70 MPH.  In the city, though, I can’t seem to muster more than 15-16 MPG which, averaged out with highway jaunts, has left me with a 20.5 MPG average.  Maybe those future updates to the 9-speed automatic will help.

Either way, at $39,505 as-tested, my loaded 2015 Jeep Cherokee Limited leaves me wanting for nothing, save for the curiously absent dual-pane panoramic sunroof.  It’s a pricey ride, but then again, that’s with every single box checked except for the panoramic roof and a wireless charging pad.

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With Jeep sales up 23 percent in January 2015, there’s no doubt the Cherokee had a contributing role.  Does the sum of its parts make the 2015 Jeep Cherokee the perfect SUV, then?  As far as I can tell thus far, not necessarily, but it’s the closest I’ve come yet.

If you’re in the market, it’s definitely worth checking out this TFLcar first drive review of the Jeep Cherokee: