Mountain Wheels: Options grow for the not-so-small Jeep Cherokee (column) | SummitDaily.com

Mountain Wheels: Options grow for the not-so-small Jeep Cherokee (column)

Looking back more than three quarters of a century, it's unlikely anyone would have anticipated the success and the radical reinterpretations that Jeep has enjoyed — even with many rocky years in the middle, including those precarious days with AMC and Renault ownership.

Colorado's long relationship with the Jeep brand (remember the one featured in "Mork and Mindy"?) is just part of a national fixation with the company. And as things have improved, Jeep has wisely opted to center its ever-expanding line on vehicles that are actually Jeep-like and off-road rugged — we greatly look forward to seeing the new and totally legit-sounding Compass, in particular.

For the moment, let's address a couple of variations of a very decent machine right in the middle of the Jeep pack, the Cherokee. My travels this year got me exposure to a 2016 75th Anniversary Edition Cherokee Latitude and, more recently, a 2017 model of the Cherokee Limited.

Despite being a considerable step down in size from the larger Grand Cherokee (also looking forward to the totally bonkers, Hellcat engine-powered Grand Cherokee Trackhawk edition, hopefully on dry roads, in the New Year), regular Cherokee offers up a pretty wide range of models and options (five models, three special editions), plus two engines and three different 4×4 systems.

Should you want real Jeep capability in a Cherokee-sized platform, they also offer a Trailhawk edition, toughened up and packed with 4×4 gearing that will allow it to rock crawl (sorta mostly kinda) like a blown-out Wrangler. And several varieties of the tony Overland Edition take things even higher up the pile in terms of luxury touches — Alpine stereo, wood highlights, you name it.

Lesser it is not in any way to the Grand Cherokee, including pricing, if you get your hands on a well-optioned Limited like mine, which came to $42,945. The model I tested, admittedly, had about everything you can throw at the car: the larger 3.2-liter V6 engine, the dual-pane panoramic sunroof, the full safety and technology packages, leather seating and a driveline including the nine-speed automatic transmission and Active Drive II and off-road suspension, one of the aforementioned varieties of 4×4 tech.

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The bigger engine, which new EPA testing rules have dropped to 21 combined MPG (18 in the city, 26 on the highway), does help mitigate some of the low-energy issues I remember from the 184-HP four cylinder model, despite its better mileage. You'll enjoy 271 horsepower and the ability to cruise happily up to the tunnel or at blazing speeds out on a flatland freeway; great strides have been made in getting the once-unpredictable nine-speed automatic to respond in a quicker and more rational fashion, allowing easier starts and less poking around.

The 4×4 system I experienced was the middle ground of your choices: A more intense Active Drive Lock option allows a real low range and a locking rear axle, for more spirited off-road adventuring. Mine, like the rest of the Cherokee line, featured the distinctive Selec-Terrain knob pioneered on high-end makes like Range Rover — you can dial in more subtle starts and stickier handling with the snow mode, or optimize the Jeep for summertime off-road conditions.

And size doesn't restrict towing capability, either, as the Cherokee can haul up to 4,500 pounds when equipped to do so.

Looks and design are much the same as they have been since the smaller Cherokee debuted in November 2013, with a swept and sleek style that is now a family trademark (the new Compass will actually be somewhat difficult to discern from the Cherokee, beyond its size). The seven-bar grille, wide but thin headlamps, rounded haunches and prominently large wheels imbue it with a futuristic but still Jeepish appearance and feel.

The 75th Anniversary Edition was a fun experience on its own, with a variety of special features serving as a tribute to those many years of militarized 4×4 fun. Unique badging, a cool olive drab-colored paint job and plenty of colorful stitching in the cabin gave the car a little extra class; a mount for a .50 caliber machine gun and maybe one of those 20-foot-long whip antennas might have also bumped things up a notch in the authenticity department.

As one cohesive unit, Cherokee itself is well sorted, charmingly inoffensive and fitted with a good, contemporary cabin design. While it's mostly plastic, there's a comfortably fluid feel to the mostly rounded theme going on throughout. Nice swoops and curves and textures on the rubbery door tops, plus some fabric inserts and highlight-stitched leather on the armrests.

Controls are also simple, with just single audio and fan control knobs, the start/stop button, light controls and hatchback latch to garnish the console and dash.

2017 Jeep Cherokee Limited 4×4

MSRP: $31,495; as tested, $42,945

Powertrain: 271-HP V6 engine; nine-speed automatic transmission

EPA figures: 21 combined (18 city, 26 highway)