2016 Jeep Cherokee Latitude 3.2 V6 4x4
Styling isn’t all that separates the Cherokee from most others in this class. The real differentiator is its ability to venture way off the grid. Base trim comes with front-wheel drive, as is the case with most of its rivals, but ante up with the entry-level Sport or Latitude model’s optional Active Drive I four-wheel drive system with its simple single-speed power transfer unit and automatic 4WD, or even better Jeep’s more capable Active Drive II that’s available with Latitude and Limited models and features more ground clearance, a slightly stiffer suspension and a two-speed transfer case with a low gearing range plus a 56:1 crawl ratio, and you’re off to the trails. The former is for lighter trails, of course, but both include Jeep’s Selec-Terrain with Auto, Snow, Sport and Sand/Mud settings.
If you’re really into adventure, you’ll find an even more capable 4×4 system on the top-of-the-line “Trail Rated” Trailhawk variant that comes with “Active Drive Lock” rear axle lock, plus the same 56:1 crawl ratio combined with a total of 8.7 inches of ground clearance and the same Selec-Terrain traction management system, good enough to win it Four Wheeler magazine’s 2015 “Four Wheeler of the Year.”
Most SUV buyers are never going to venture off pavement, and this is why I was happy to get my hands on this variant that simply had Jeep’s Active Drive I system, which basically powers the front wheels to save fuel until slippage occurs, at which point the rear wheels engage as needed to improve traction and safety. This, the added visibility of raised ride height, and the feeling of being able to go just about anywhere they dare to is what most people want from their SUV after all. Buy one of the competitors and you know it’s just a tall wagon with some tough looking body cladding, but with the Cherokee there’s a belief that it could very well tackle the famed Rubicon Trail, even if it’s not Trail Rated. It’s all marketing, but it’s good marketing that Jeep backs up with the ability to buy that all-conquering four-wheeled hero if you’re willing to pay a bit more.
As it is the 2016 Cherokee Latitude will only set you back $25,295 plus freight and dealer fees, which is very reasonable for such a nicely finished, well equipped SUV. Mine had options, however, starting with an upgraded 3.2-liter V6 and four-wheel drive pushing the base price up to $29,040. My tester included a number of additional upgrades too, which I’ll detail as I go along.
The Cherokee is finished to a higher standard than most of its key rivals, even those that sell better (so far), which gives Jeep an edge in this market and you, the potential buyer, a more premium experience. For instance, all Cherokee trims get a soft-touch dash top that wraps completely over the instrument panel before edging each side of the center stack, while the door uppers are soft synthetic as well, both front and back. This is unusual in this class, while there’s yet more that separates it from the CUV masses. My Cherokee Latitude had attractive mesh cloth covered door inserts plus padded and contrast-stitched leatherette armrests, while that stylish stitching curves around the top of the dash and surrounds the well bolstered sport seats. My ride was finished with cloth upholstery but was also outfitted with an $845 Cold Weather Package that added two-way heated front seats, heated steering wheel and side mirrors, a windshield wiper de-icer, remote start, a block heater, and all-season floor mats.
Back to my Latitude’s upgrades, mine included a leather-wrapped steering wheel that not only included stitched leather around the rim but also on the spokes. The switches on those spokes are superb, with very little side-to-side wiggle and excellent damping for a quality feel. Some of these buttons control the extremely useful 3.5-inch multi-information display housed in the slightly revised instrument cluster. The steering column itself has been improved to work better with the Cherokee’s redesigned seats, and while I’ll get to those latter items in a moment I also wanted to mention that the steering wheel stalks are higher in quality than some premium-branded compact SUVs, as is the switchgear on the center stack and the aforementioned rotating Selec-Terrain driving mode dial on the lower console that features a nice rubber wrapping for an upscale feel and excellent grip when used during winter with gloves.
The center stack of my tester was filled with a $795 upgraded 8.4-inch infotainment system complete with radio (upgraded to include satellite radio for an additional $195), media, phone connectivity and HVAC controls, plus numerous apps and a backup camera that gets pulled up from the Uconnect5.0 system, enhanced for 2016 with new Siri Eyes Free voice control for iPhone users, a new Do-Not Disturb mode that’s less distractive, plus a Drag and Drop menu that lets you add common functions to the main display. Down below on the console an SD card slot, USB port, aux plug and 12-volt charger join Bluetooth with audio streaming built into the system, all allowing for excellent device connectivity, while another USB port and 12-volt charger gets hidden in the storage bin under the center armrest. Flanking that armrest are two super supportive and truly comfortable seats that were redesigned for 2016. (The $495 Comfort and Sound Group gets you eight-way power driver’s seat with four-way lumbar support, nine amplified speakers and a subwoofer.)
It’s easy to see from the outside that the Cherokee is a bit longer than the compact SUV class average, with rear seat legroom that’s more than ample. Behind those 60/40-split seatbacks is a loading area that’s considerable at 24.6 to 29.1 cubic feet, the variable numbers dependent on the position of the sliding second row. While other vehicles in the class offer easier loading of long items from the rear, with the Cherokee you’ll need walk around to the side doors to fold the seats flat to open up a sizable 54.9 cubic feet of max cargo capacity. A cargo cover and net can be had, and Jeep’s unique cargo management system that gets fitted to the driver’s side rear cargo wall comes standard, allowing secure attachment of an available cargo bin, cooler, first aid kit, off-road accessory kit, and more. Additionally, there’s a narrow but large multi-sectioned compartment for hiding valuables under the cargo floor just above the compact spare tire (upgradeable to a full-size spare when heading into the wilderness). There’s also a handy hidden cargo compartment integrated within the lower cushion of the front passenger seat, and the seatback folds all the way forward so you can load in really long cargo.
As for features, the Cherokee includes a 3.73 final drive ratio with the four-cylinder or 3.25 final drive with the V6, while the base engine gets a 160-amp alternator and the upgraded mill receives a 180-amp unit. Exterior features include chrome grille surrounds, auto on/off bi-functional halogen projector headlamps, LED daytime running lights, fog lamps, LED taillights, body-color door handles and powered side mirrors, bright side window mouldings, silver roof rails, chrome exhaust, deep tint privacy glass and a great looking set of silver-finish 17-inch Y-spoke alloys on 225/65R17 rubber. Inside, you’ll find premium cloth upholstery, illuminated front cupholders, ambient LED interior lighting, a 115-volt household-style power outlet, a rear seat armrest with cupholders, all the usual safety features plus hill start assist, trailer sway damping, tire pressure monitoring, 10 airbags, and more.
The optional 24-valve, DOHC 3.2-liter V6 puts out 271 horsepower and 239 lb-ft of torque, more than ample for getting off the line quickly or passing without worry. It’s mated to a smooth nine-speed transmission that’s as state-of-the-art as gearboxes get, and the pairing allows for best-in-class towing, with a limit of up to 4,500 lbs.
To increase fuel efficiency, the Cherokee is outfitted with a standard auto start/stop system that shuts the engine down when it would otherwise be idling. This system is smoother than many others that attempt the same, turning off and on almost imperceptibly and delivering an EPA rating of 19 mpg city, 26 highway and 22 combined with the V6-powered 4×4 version. The front-drive four-cylinder version is good for 22 city, 31 highway and 25 combined.
While I really enjoyed my week with the Cherokee, I’d personally opt for the Trailhawk version. Don’t get me wrong—the front-drive or Active Drive I-equipped Cherokee competes very well against any other leading model—but the Trailhawk delivers more ability to trek through the great outdoors. Kudos to Jeep for sticking to its core values by bringing a 4×4-capable SUV to market that’s even more refined than most of its lightweight crossover competitors.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press; Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press; Copyright: American Auto Press