The 2021 Jeep Cherokee separates itself from the typical compact crossover with class-leading off-road and towing capabilities. Its Jeep genealogy will appeal to outdoorsy types, some of whom may actually need a vehicle that can handle driving beyond where the pavement ends.
While the Cherokee's bloated façade will get few Instagram likes, the rugged Trailhawk model is more visually and mechanically exciting—especially with its enhanced drivetrain and other exclusive equipment. All Cherokee models can be had with all-wheel drive, and there's a solid selection of engines, including a stout V-6 and a torquey turbocharged four-cylinder.
Still, folks who don't intend to capitalize on the 2021 Cherokee's 4500-pound max towing capacity or ever leave pavement will be disappointed with its poor fuel economy, limited cargo space, and questionable value.
What's New for 2021?
For 2021, Jeep gives the Cherokee several newly standard active safety features. These include automated emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist, and more.
The lineup also benefits from reshuffled standard features. For instance, the base model adds heated exterior mirrors and one-touch up/down front side windows; the Trailhawk adds a heated steering wheel and front seats as well as remote start.
There's also a new 80th Anniversary Edition that's based on the Latitude LUX trim level, so it inherits all the same standard features. Highlights include Granite Crystal 19-inch wheels, leather upholstery with contrast stitching, power-adjustable front seats, the larger 8.4-inch touchscreen, a panoramic sunroof, and more.
Pricing and Which One to Buy
I'd choose the Trailhawk model, which gets the stout V-6 as standard. An advanced all-wheel-drive system that features a locking rear differential is included, too.
Other desirable standard features include an 8.4-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a full-size spare tire, red tow hooks, a matte-black hood decal, an off-road suspension that increases the ride height, and 17-inch wheels with all-terrain tires.
I'd also select the Trailer Tow package, which unlocks the Cherokee's maximum towing capacity of 4500 pounds.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
The standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is joined by an optional 3.2-liter V-6 and turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder. The latter makes 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque (56 lb-ft more than the V-6) and slots at the top of the powertrain pyramid.
The four-cylinder Cherokee has less towing capacity (4000 pounds maximum towing capacity versus the V-6 Cherokee's towing capacity of 4500 pounds).
As you'd expect from a Jeep, the Cherokee drives with heftiness and solidity, making it feel larger than its rivals. Despite its off-road abilities, the Cherokee is still based on a car, meaning it provides a comfortable ride and decent handling on the road.
Relatively firm suspension tuning controls body roll in corners without compromising the ride quality. Impacts are absorbed without much excess reverberation, and the Jeep never feels floaty on the highway, but it's nicely weighted and accurate.
A firm-feeling brake pedal engenders calm in panic-braking scenarios, and the Cherokee's 70-mph-to-zero emergency-braking performance is average for its class.
The Cherokee has among the worst fuel economy in its compact-crossover and SUV segment, according to the EPA, the EPA estimates for either four-cylinder version aren't much higher than those for the V-6.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
With supportive seats and easy-to-use controls, the Cherokee's cabin is comfortable. An attractive dashboard that mimics the larger and more expensive Grand Cherokee's layout helps cultivate an upscale feel.
However, given that the Cherokee is larger on the outside than many of its competitors, I'd expect it to feel more spacious on the inside. Small windows and high windowsills contribute to the feeling of confinement.
The Cherokee's cargo area is smaller than most vehicles this size, and interior cubby storage is average at best. It's more difficult to load items into the rear than into some of its rivals due to the Jeep's high lift-over height.
In addition, its cargo area is significantly smaller than top rivals such as the Ford Escape (34 cubes) and the Honda CR-V (39).
Infotainment and Connectivity
The Jeep's available Uconnect infotainment system is among the best in the business, with well-organized menus and ample features. The standard touchscreen measures 7.0 inches and the larger option is 8.4 inches.
Starting on the Latitude Plus trim, every model adds two USB ports on the back of the center console for use by rear-seat passengers. Every Cherokee has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and a subscription-based Wi-Fi hotspot is available.
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
The 2021 Cherokee earned a five-star crash-test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), but the last version the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) evaluated wasn't named a Top Safety Pick.
Jeep now provides an array of standard driver-assistance technology as well as several optional assists.
Key safety features include:
Standard forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking
Standard lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist
Standard blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert
Warranty and Maintenance Coverage
The Cherokee's warranty coverage is average for its class. Competitors such as the Kia Sportage and the Hyundai Tucson are the only rivals that offer significantly longer power-train warranties.
The Cherokee is available with the Jeep Wave ownership program, which provides original owners with complimentary scheduled maintenance for the first two years.
The Jeep Wave program is standard and Overland and Trailhawk models, but customers of lesser Cherokees can opt-in by paying a fee.
Limited warranty covers three years or 36,000 miles
Power-train warranty covers five years or 60,000 miles
Complimentary maintenance is covered for four visits over two years.