WORTHY SUCCESSOR: For 2019, Jeep restyles Cherokee’s face, refines drivetrain, upgrades interior’s materials

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — With the 2019 Cherokee, Jeep is hoping to capture some of the residual good will surrounding the iconic 1984-2001 XJ Cherokee, considered by many to be the progenitor of the current compact sport utility craze.

The boxy XJ was created during Jeep’s residency with the now-defunct American Motors and first released as a 1984 model to great acclaim. It was the first Jeep to eschew traditional body-on-frame construction, instead using a unibody design.

After a decade and a half in retirement, Jeep (now part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) unleashed a new generation of Cherokee in 2014 to a chorus of … “Whaaaa?”

Going for an eye-catching look, the then-new Cherokee’s face elicited comments from unfortunate to disastrous.

Jeep recognized the faux pas, and for 2019 redesigned the front into a cohesive, newly handsome look more in line with others in the Jeep lineup.

As an entry into one of autodom’s most competitive segments, the Cherokee stands out in one category in particular: off-road ability. Powered by an optional V-6, our Limited 4×4 tester lived up to the Jeep heritage of taking on the rough stuff beyond the end of the road.

The engine provides plenty of grunt for on- and off-road hijinks. The nine-speed automatic transmission has been refined compared to earlier iterations. Shifts up and particularly down are now quicker and smoother.

The Cherokee’s Limited model packs on the goodies, including an 8.4-inch touch screen, a power-adjustable passenger seat, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, Nappa leather seats, dual-zone climate control and a hands-free power liftgate.

Standard blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert can be enhanced with the Technology package ($995) that adds a slew of electronic sentries and convenience features.

Thoroughly modern, tightly assembled and sporting improved materials and details in the cabin, the revised 2019 Cherokee climbs up a few rungs of the compact SUV ladder.

Comfortable and highly competent, it’s a worthy descendant of a storied icon.

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