Jeep Cherokee: problems and fixes, the 4WD system magic, engine options

October 22, 2018
2015 Jeep Cherokee
2015 Jeep Cherokee (KL)

After the 2009 bankruptcy, the "New Chrysler" now called Fiat Chrysler Automobiles or FCA decided to place more bets on its iconic Jeep brand. SUVs were becoming more popular, so the FCA came up with the new Jeep Cherokee, which is now a car-based crossover.

The 2014-plus Cherokee comes as a front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. It's the optional 4WD system with low range and locking rear differential that sets the Cherokee apart from the competition. The Cherokee is also one of the few in its class still available with a V6, although it comes standard with a 2.4L 4-cylinder engine. When equipped with Trailer Tow Group, the V6 Cherokee can tow up to 4,500 lb.

Timing belt or chain: Here is the good news: both the 2.4L and the 3.2L V6 have a timing chain, there is no timing belt to worry about. A timing chain doesn't need to be replaced unless there is a problem with it.

Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk
Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk

Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk: Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk is a different beast. You can recognize it by signature red tow hooks, raised suspension and all-terrain tires. The majority of Trailhawks we found on the used car market have a V6, although 4-cyl models are also available. It has standard Active Drive Lock 4x4 system with a locking rear diff and electronic 4X4 low range. There is also a driveline neutral mode for flat towing. Despite being a crossover, the Trailhawk is capable off-roader, see this video.

How does the Cherokee 4WD system work? The Cherokee 4WD system consists of two main components: the Power Transfer Unit attached to the transmission and the Rear Driveline Module (rear differential assembly). The two components are connected via a propeller shaft, see the illustration. There are three different variants of the 4WD system:

Jeep Cherokee 4WD driveline
Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk driveline. The RDM is in the bottom left corner, the PTU is attached to the transmission in the front. The illustration courtesy of FCA US LLC.

Active Drive I (optional on Sport, Latitude, Latitude Plus and Limited) is a simple AWD system similar to what is in most car-based SUVs: Front wheels are powered at all time and the rear axle engages when needed. To engage the rear axle the system uses an electronically-controlled clutch pack inside the rear diff (RDM). The PTU is a simple mechanical power takeoff attached to the transmission.

Active Drive II (optional on Latitude, Latitude Plus and Limited) is a lot more complex and is based on quite an amazing technology: it consists of a two-speed power takeoff unit (PTU) and a two-speed rear drive module (RDM). The two-speed mode is accomplished by using a sun gear setup. When low range is selected, both, the PTU and RDM shift into the low range mode.

Active Drive Lock is standard on the Trailhawk. It's based on the Active Drive II components, only both the PTU and the RDM also have the added neutral/locking mode.
Technically, the two-speed PTU and RDM are a very clever solution to provide a low range without adding a separate central transfer case like in the Jeep Wrangler and many other trucks. Both, the PTU and RDM are controlled electronically and both are quite expensive. A new OEM PTU for the Trailhawk is sold online for around $1,600, while the Trailhawk RDM costs around $2,000.

Jeep Cherokee Problems: We found many transmission-related complaints for the 2014 and 2015 Cherokee at the NHTSA website. Many owner reviews also mention transmission issues. Chrysler issued several software updates, as well as the recall S55 / NHTSA 16V-529 for the 2014-2015 Cherokee, that addressed some of the concerns. Read this article. We spoke to an owner of the 2015 Cherokee, who said the transmission was "hunting for the right gear and hesitating at times", but now shifts better after the last reprogram. There are still complaints about minor shifting issues with the 2016 Cherokee, but the situation is better. We also found the bulletin 21-032-18 REV. A, that mentions reprogramming of the TCM (transmission control module) in the 2016 Jeep Cherokee to address several transmission issues.

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The FCA bulletin 18-034-14 covers the problem with an oil pressure sensor that can trigger the Check Engine light with the trouble code P0520. To repair the problem, the oil pressure sensor needs to be replaced. If out of warranty, the part is sold for around $30-$60 online, plus the labor.

Several owners mentioned sunroof rattle. Check this discussion on The FCA bulletin 23-028-16 describes the repair of the rattle that comes from the rear seat.

A number of people mentioned that the 4-cylinder engine consumes oil between oil changes, which means it's a good idea to check the oil level regularly. Read more: how to check the oil level.

The bulletin 03-003-15 describes a lateral vibration (wobble) during the low-speed acceleration in the 2014-2015 Cherokee. The bulletin recommends inspecting both half-shafts (front drive shafts) and if needed, replacing them with updated parts.

2015 Jeep Cherokee interior
Jeep Cherokee interior. Click for larger photo
Jeep Cherokee cargo area
2015 Jeep Cherokee

Lineup: The Cherokee lineup consists of a barebone Sport, mid-level Latitude, upscale Limited and offroad-ready Trailhawk trims. The luxury Overland was added for 2017. For 2018, the Latitude became the base trim, while the Latitude-Plus was added as a mid-level trim.

Engine: The 4-cylinder 184-hp 2.4L SOHC Tigershark is based on the previous-generation 2.4L motor, but with added advanced Fiat MultiAir2 variable valve timing and lift system.

The 271-hp 3.2L Pentastar is a lightweight 24-valve DOHC V6. From the 2015 model year, it comes with Engine Stop-Start (ESS). The system includes a heavy-duty starter motor and stronger battery. It works by turning the engine off when braking to a stop and re-starting when the brake pedal is released. The ESS can be disabled with the button on the dash.

Transmission: The only available transmission is the 948TE 9-speed automatic (also known as 9HP48), developed by the German company ZF. This transmission is used in many Fiat Chrysler vehicles, as well as in some Honda, Acura and Land Rover models. Looking at the technical diagrams, it's a complex device. There is a general understanding within the automotive world, that complexity leads to more potential problems.

Jeep Cherokee 2.4L 4-cylinder Tigershark engine
Jeep Cherokee 2.4L 4-cylinder Tigershark engine

Fuel Economy: The 2014-2018 2.4L 4WD Cherokee gets 21 MPG city, 28 MPG highway. The front-wheel drive 2014-2018 Cherokee with the 2.4L engine is rated at 21/30 MPG city/hwy. The front-wheel drive 3.2L V6 2015-2017 Cherokee gets almost the same mileage: 21/29 MPG. The 2015-2018 4WD 3.2L V6 Cherokee is a bit thirstier: 20/27 MPG.

Mechanical: Jeep Cherokee is built on the car-based platform with a sub-frame, control arms and some other components made of aluminum. This should eliminate some rust concerns that are common in cars with steel sub-frames. The front suspension rides on MacPherson struts. The independent rear suspension has a four-link plus trailing arm layout. Rear disc brakes have an electronic parking brake mechanism. The steering is electrically assisted.

Similar cars:

Pros: Looks, advanced 4WD system, Trailhawk off-road capability and equipment, available V6, towing capacity, 8.4-inch screen, comfortable driving experience

Cons: Overly complex transmission, software glitches, questionable reliability.

Overall: There is an interesting trend, if you read Cherokee owners reviews: many people rate it with 1 star or 5 stars. This "love it or hate it" relationship describes Jeep Cherokee well: on one hand it's not very reliable; on the other hand it has the looks, comfort and features that make it very attractive. As of October, 2018 Consumer Reports rated the 2017 Jeep Cherokee 'above average' for the reliability; the 2014-2016 Cherokee is rated below average. Among similar SUVs, Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5 are more reliable.

Guides for used car buyers:

You might also be interested:

Recalls: Safety Recalls - NHTSA or Transport Canada - Motor Vehicle Safety Recalls.
DriveUconnect - Uconnect system updates, phone pairing help, map updates
Owner's Manuals for Jeep owners - User guide and videos, Warranty, Uconnect manual - Cherokee owners forum
Tech Authority - Mopar paid subscription-based service manuals, technical training and other info.

2016 Jeep Cherokee specifications

2.4L Tigershark:
SOHC, Inline four-cylinder, 16-valve
MultiAir with multiport fuel injection
184 hp @ 6,400 rpm
171 lb.-ft. @ 4,600 rpm
3.2L V6 Pentastar:
Chain-driven, V6 DOHC, 24 valves,
with sequential multiport fuel injection
271 hp @ 6,500 rpm
239 lb.-ft. @ 4,400 rpm
Towing capacity:
All models without Trailer-tow Group and
equipped with aftermarket Class II type hitch:
2,000 lb (907 kg)
2.4-liter engine automatic transmission
with Trailer Tow Package (Class III):
2,000 lb (907 kg)
3.2-liter engine automatic transmission
with Trailer Tow Package (Class III):
4,500 lb (2,014 kg)
Cargo space: 24.6 cu. ft. (rear seats up) / 54.9 cu. ft. (rear seats folded)
Recommended fuel:
Unleaded regular, 87 octane
Fuel Tank Capacity:

15.9 US gal. (60.0 liter)

Engine oil capacity (with filter):  
2.4L Tigershark: 5.5 quarts (5.2 liters)
3.2L V6 Pentastar: 6.0 quarts (5.7 liters)