With all that's happening in the Jeep world the past six months, it would be understandable to overlook mostly subtle improvements to the 2019 Cherokee.
The first one is not so subtle: The front end has been redesigned. The squinty-eyed headlights that most folks have loathed are gone, replaced with more conventional headlights and a new cascading grille that resembles its Jeep brethren.
The new top-level Cherokee Overland 4x4 also gets a lightweight composite lift gate (with hands-free feature) and new LED lamps in the rear, and a new aluminum hood.
Under the hood is the best surprise: an all-new 2.0-liter turbocharged engine with more punch and better mileage (24 mpg combined).
Jeep has been busy of late with plans for a new assembly plant in Detroit while it revamps five others to accommodate a growing lineup. Three new models are in the works, including a Ram-based Wagoneer/Grand Wagoneer and a three-row Grand Cherokee. Hybrid versions of those plus a fully electric Jeep are not far behind, Jeep has reported.
But Cherokee's upgrades this year are worthy of note. The new direct-injected four-cylinder engine is shared with the sporty Alfa Romeo and has more kick from the line than even the 3.2-liter V-6. It puts out 270 hp and 295 pound-feet of torque and gets to 60 mph in 7 seconds flat. Both engines use Jeep's 9-speed automatic transmission, which has been recalibrated and feels more decisive now at slower speeds.
On-road ride quality is comfortable and confident. Atop 19-inch tires, Cherokee Overland offers good road feedback with its new and nicely-weighted electronic steering. Curves and swerves are well controlled thanks to upgraded dampers and anti-roll bars.
Few can compete with Jeep when the pavement turns to gravel, mud, snow and rock. The 4x4 Overland comes with Jeep's Active Drive I which is like an all-wheel-drive system, engaging other wheels when needed for extra traction. Two other 4-wheel-drive systems are available.
All Cherokees also get Selec-Terrain, which adapts the mechanics for various road conditions, including snow, sport and sand/mud. When the going gets rocky, Cherokee is ready and able with an impressive approach angle of 29.9 degrees, and departure at 32.2.
Inside, driver and front passenger are kept secure and comfortable with bolstered, ventilated seats. Seats are leather trimmed and "Overland" is embroidered on seat backs. Both driver and passenger seats are power adjustable.
Rear seats slide back, expanding legroom, but taller folks still may find headroom a little cramped. Perhaps a huge two-panel sunroof will brighten the experience back there.
Cargo space is up by three cubic feet behind the rear seat, now at 25.8 cubic feet. But, with total capacity at 54.7 cubes, one can do better among rivals. There is a shallow storage area underneath the cargo floor and a small compartment atop the dash.
Simple, easy-to-reach knobs and dials make it a breeze to control climate and the 9-speaker Alpine audio system. And Jeep's 4th-generation (faster processors this year) Uconnect infotainment system continues to be one of the most user-friendly on the road. An 8.4-inch touchscreen offers sharp color and graphics and is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
A safety package ($995) provides of bevy of high-tech features, including adaptive cruise with stop and go, collision warning with crash mitigation, lane-departure warning, and parking assist for both parallel and perpendicular spots.
The Cherokee Overland 4x4, with its new looks and turbo power, likely will contribute to Jeep's growing success on whatever terrain folks choose to rumble over.
2019 Jeep Cherokee Overland 4x4
Base Price: $37,775
As tested: $40,715 (Includes Technology group, $995; 2.0-liter I-4 turbo engine, $500)
What's all the excitement about? No more alien-eyed headlights; It gets a redesigned front end and a new available engine
Powertrain: 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder turbocharged engine capable of 295 pound-feet of torque; mated to 9-speed transmission
How's the performance? Improved acceleration - makes 60 mph in 7 seconds; New suspension translates to great daily ride quality and handling
What about fuel economy? EPA-rated at 21 mpg city, 29 highway (24 combined)