7th Place: 2015 Jeep Cherokee, JW

Among this collective of cute utes, Jeep’s Cherokee simply isn’t. Dimensionally, of course, it’s on par, but the Cherokee’s polarizing styling – particularly its aggressive front end treatment – is the least cute of the bunch to my eyes, but in our group its daring styling was rewarded as the third best looking. Better bold than bland, I guess.

But it’s also the most macho in its mannerisms too. Where several of the competitors made cringe-worthy sounds as they cracked and hammered over a particularly nasty chunk of ripped-up roadway, the Cherokee took it in stride as if to say, “Please, I’m a Jeep – let’s go play with some real rocks.” When Senior Editor Yarkony wanted to pose one of the vehicles for a photo half-mounting a sizable snow bank, he knew enough to try it only with the rugged little Jeep, which scampered up like a mountain goat. A shame that the exhaust was loose and buzzed under acceleration, and a mystery rattle turned out to be glass shards inside the roll-out cargo cover housing (it sounded like an rainstick every time we took a corner sharply) – these are maintenance issues rather than vehicle qualities, but the Cherokee’s NVH scores suffered for them nonetheless.

Despite its butch appearance and behaviour, Jeep has loaded up the Cherokee with some pretty premium-feeling kit inside. Most notably, the UConnect infotainment drew mostly praises for its massive touchscreen and straightforward navigation – menu navigation that is, this model did not feature navigation. Still, needing to drill down a few levels to make some climate control adjustments is cumbersome and drew the ire of contributor, Laurance Yap. Senior Editor Yarkony pointed out that heated seat and steering wheel controls pop up on the main screen on startup when temperatures are low.

The rest of the interior was nearly as polarizing as the exterior, with some finding the strange colour combos “interesting” in positive way, while others felt it was discordant and overwrought.

One area of unanimous disdain was the questionable build quality of our particular Cherokee. A loose windshield mounting and a couple of prominent (and highly irritating) rattles and buzzes we mentioned earlier had us all marking down the quality scores for the Jeep.

What’s more, the only vehicle in the test fitted with a nine-speed automatic made it clear why nobody else offered anywhere near as many cogs in their gearboxes: nine is simply too many. The Cherokee always seems to be hunting for the right gear at any given moment, but on a positive note, a few of us appreciated the Jeep’s smooth and responsive shifts when called upon to do so manually. Perhaps the nine-speed just had to work too hard keeping the 184 hp and 171 lb-ft of torque of the 2.4L Tigershark in its powerband while maintaining efficiency, especially tough with 1,788 kg of curb weight to drag around – shocking curb weight and heaviest vehicle in this test.

Ultimately the Jeep’s several redeeming qualities could not outweigh our collective concerns for its build quality or worst-in-test fuel consumption and cargo capability (though cargo/seating flexibility redeemed it slightly). Even in this hotly contested comparison, there needs to be a winner and a loser, and while every one of these vehicles represents a decent value that will appeal to a lot of buyers, it’s the Cherokee that needs another year of polishing to be truly great.

Pricing: 2015 Jeep Cherokee North 4X4
Base Price: $24,195
Tested Trim: $29,395
Options: $195 Granite Crystal Metallic paint, $895 SafetyTec Group (rear parking assist, power mirrors, mirror signals, mirror lamps, blind spot & cross-path detection), $795 Cold Weather Group (floor mats, heated mirrors, heated front seats, wiper de-icer, heated steering wheel), $1,295 Comfort/Convenience Group (cargo net, tonneau cover, auto-dimming rearview mirror w/ microphone, keyless entry, proximity keyless start, dual-zone A/C, power driver seat w/ lumbar adjust, power liftgate, security alarm, remote start, garage door opener, humidity sensor), $1,595 sunroof, $750 Uconnect 8.4A touchscreen infotainment w/ SiriusXM & Bluetooth, $400 nine speakers & subwoofer, $225 CD player, $425 back-up camera
Freight: $1,695
A/C Tax: $100
Price as Tested: $37,765

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