Tom Crosby: 2016 Jeep Cherokee honors 75-year legacy

Tom Crosby

It was 75 years ago when the hastily designed Jeep was first manufactured and the four-wheel drive, open-air, reliable vehicle became popularly known as the “vehicle that won World War II.” Fiat Chrysler Automobiles took over the brand in 1987, and is honoring that heritage this year with special 75th editions of all seven Jeep models.

One of those models is the Jeep Cherokee and our test-drive was the mid-size SUV Recon-Green colored Cherokee Latitude 4X4, outfitted with a hefty seven options totaling $8,425 that included $2,850 for the 75th Anniversary Package.

A bronze color theme on roof rails, wheels, grille, 75th badging, and tangerine-colored accents inside under a dual-sunroof help honor Jeep’s legacy.

Included was six-moths free of Chrysler’s UConnect, accessed via an 8.4-inch elevated dashboard screen and upgraded this year. New is a drag-and-drop menu to personalize favorite icons, Siri Eyes Free voice-activated compatibility and a Do Not Disturb function that steers phone calls to voice mail and generates automatic replies to texts.

The only SUV in its class with 9-speed transmission, it meshes smoothly with the variable valve timing engine for smooth acceleration and achieves nice quickness off the line. Our Jeep Active Drive I’s all-wheel-drive alternated wheel spin as needed on or off-road.

Jeep has more than 70 available advanced safety and security features but missing among our options were navigation and adaptive cruise control, which is arguably one of the industry’s best new safety features.

Safety ratings remain top or near top in government crash tests. A new stop-start feature cuts the engine off at a stop and reignites when the gas pedal is touched, helping to slightly increase miles per gallon.

The spacious interior is perfectly suited for a family outing and if towing is needed, the Cherokee has best-in-class towing capability of 4,500 pounds. Seat design was tweaked for 2016 to make the cloth/mesh seats more comfortable and driver position enhanced with more steering wheel tilt. Visors are extendable and there is a spare tire beneath average cargo space.

Off-road chops include Selec-Terrain, which varies power to front or rear wheels, and has mode settings for normal, sport, snow, sand/mud and rock. Jeep handling is excellent in all modes and the ride balanced and absorbent relative to the terrain.

Jeep models include Jeep Cherokee Sport, Cherokee Latitude, Cherokee Limited and the rugged, Trail Rated Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk. all built at FICA’s Toledo, Ohio plant.

Likes: Acceleration, looks, handling, ride, comfort, off-road versatility
Dislikes: Many options needed to optimize comfort, performance
Bottom line: Competitive in tough market, pick your options

Fact File
Jeep Cherokee Latitude 4×4 75th edition

Base price w/destination charge: $28,290 ($36,715 as tested).
Vehicle weight: 4,046 pounds.
Wheelbase: 106.3 inches.
Length: 182 inches.
Width: 74.9 inches.
Engine: 3.2-liter, V-6, DOHC.
Horsepower: 271 hp at 6,500 rpm.
Torque: 239 ft-lbs. at 4,400 rpm.
Transmission: 9-speed automatic.
EPA rating: 19 mpg city/26 mpg hwy.
Range: 15.9-gallon tank, regular.
Performance: 0-60 in under 7 seconds.

Tom Crosby is a former journalist and communications director for AAA Carolinas. He has been reviewing cars since 1996, and has been active in traffic safety issues for more than 30 years.