Jeep is one of the most popular SUV brands sold in America, and the smaller Jeep Cherokee has typically remained in the shadow of its bigger sibling, the flagship Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Not anymore.

The 2019 Jeep Cherokee, with five trims, has become the brand’s second-best seller through the first three quarters of 2018, behind only the Jeep Wrangler, also showing a strong popularity surge.

Outfitted with a newly designed exterior, upgraded technology interface and other tweaks, the 2019 version ensures the solid reputation it has earned since launched as a Cherokee (SJ) 44 years ago.

Jeeps have won numerous awards for above-average reliability, versatility and decent resale value.

Our test drive was Cherokee’s top trim, Outlander 4X4, labeled a small SUV, but feeling more like a mid-size with elevated seating and ample cabin and cargo space.

Muscle came from a 3.2-liter V6 transversely mounted engine with a seamlessly shifting nine-speed automatic transmission capable of towing 4,500 pounds, best-in-class when properly equipped. Mileage is below average for the segment.

An optional 2.0-liter turbo engine is new for 2019.

Adding to the competitive base price was a much-needed Technology Group package for $995 that included safety features such as parking assist, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, collision mitigation and a slightly jerky start/stop. An elongated sunroof option added $1,285.

Jeep Cherokees include Latitude, Latitude Plus, Limited, the athletic off-road Trailhawk and Overland.

Off-road capable, Overland has Selec-Terrain for three different drive modes, such as snow or mud, but Trailhawk is specifically designed to navigate the roughest passable terrain.

On the road, however, Overland excels with excellent acceleration, a smooth ride on 19-inch wheels wrapped in low-profile tires using a revised suspension, and responsive handling.

Outside, the Jeep profile is identifiable with iconic 7-slat rectangle front grill, arched wheel flanges, roof rails, chrome tow hooks in front and dual chrome-tipped exhaust pipes.

Inside the lavishly outfitted cabin boasts premium soft-touch Nappa leather, comfortable seats and excellent ergonomics. A dashboard tray adds to many storage spaces.

Everything is easily manipulatable on a 7-inch touchscreen linked via UConnect with a smartphone (there is a phone storage bin) for phone apps and other features. There is no CD player. Voice recognition for navigation was excellent.

Rear seats slide back and forth and fold easily for ample cargo space above a spare tire.

Visors are extendable. It hasn’t yet been crash tested.

LIKES: Versatility, comfort, ride, handling, looks, price.

DISLIKES: Mileage, jerky stop/start, no CD player.

BOTTOM LINE: 2019 improvements have caught fire with smaller SUV buyers.




Base price w/destination charge: $39,220 ($$41,510 as tested)

Vehicle weigh: 4,332 lbs.

Wheelbase 106.3 inches

Length: 182 inches

Width: 73.2 inches

Engine: 3.2-liter, V-6, DOHC, VVT

Horsepower: 271 hp at 6,500 rpm

Torque: 239 ft.-lbs. at 4,400 rpm

Transmission: 9-speed automatic w/manual slip-side

EPA rating: 19 mpg city/27 mpg hwy

Range: 15.8-gallons, mid-grade

Performance: 0-60 in 7.1 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.