2019 Jeep Cherokee

This turned out to be a pretty cool surprise – a 2019 Jeep Cherokee. Another solid-feeling, right-sized utility vehicle option for a segment that is attracting ever more buyers.

You can see the reasoning behind the adoption of midsize utes, especially ‘round these parts, what with our magnificent potholes (a lot of people don’t know this, but Alberta’s provincial flower is actually a pothole) and also my city’s latest safety innovation – giant speed bumps that’ll rip a low slung car to shreds at speeds over 10km/h

There is also the height advantage over traditional sedan-style vehicles; which makes for better sightlines looking out from the driver’s seat, but also allows for easier entry and exit from the vehicle. If you’re like me, you know a lot of older people, and the one thing they point out in any car I show them is that squat/crouching into a low door becomes increasingly uncomfortable with age.

Even I increasingly notice this as well, despite being a fresh-faced cherub whose limbo skills are still topnotch, and I dislike having to grab the pillars and hoist myself out of a car like I was mounting a pommel horse.

Anyway, that’s not the big picture here, let me run it down:

For 2019 the Cherokee gets a new engine choice in its lineup – a 2.0L turbo four-cylinder that delivers pretty spectacular performance with a max 270 horsepower and 295 lb.-ft. of torque – combined with a 9-speed automatic transmission. There are two other engines available for the Cherokee lineup (2.4L and a 3.2L six-cylinder).

I’ll vouch for the 2.0L in my test vehicle, it gets the Cherokee off the line quickly and remains ready for sudden bursts of acceleration even at highway speeds; but also brings unexpected fuel economy.

The company states a NRCan rating of 9.8L/100 km for the engine – which is really good for any 4×4 vehicle, and I got slightly better than that from the one I drove (mind you, for the most part it was just me in the Cherokee, without any sort of load and not towing anything, so expect it to go up if you regularly transport the up-to-five people the vehicle’s seating is configured for).

Speaking of seating, the Cherokee used here was a North 4×4 trim, which got fabric upholstered seats throughout. Black-on-black styling made for a pretty dark interior, but all the surfaces feel good and the seats in both rows are comfortable and acceptably roomy.

From the driver’s position, you get fairly good all round visibility, helped out by the backup camera, but this one lacked a few features I would have liked to see, especially at the pricepoint of this one; most notably a rear cross-traffic sensor.

I didn’t mind the Cherokee experience, overall, the overall footprint of it is comparable enough to an average sedan, so daily driving and maneuvering isn’t as clumsy as a truck or full-size utility vehicle.

The ride is very good, and stays smooth on all road surfaces (and, it handles those speed bumps I mentioned earlier with ease). There is an engine start/stop function that helps bolster fuel economy, especially in city driving.

The exterior appearance has improved for 2019 (especially the headlamps – this looks way better than those slitty little lights on the previous generation).

A list of things I didn’t care for in my North 4×4 test vehicle would include:

It didn’t have heads-up display. There was a big digital speed readout that could be displayed on the cluster, though, so maybe that isn’t a big deal for most people, but I like my HUDs.

The information touchscreen on the center console is by today’s standards, small. The rear seats don’t fold fully flat when put forward, so the cargo floor is uneven. The power rear door doesn’t have a button to close it on the door itself, so you have to use either the keyfob or the button on the dash.

Finally, this may be a difficult car for a buyer to spec out – I’ve included the sheet that came with this one here, so you can check out the list of options (and if you want further puzzles, check out the company website for a list of the options/powertrains/trim levels).

This one here though, a 2019 “North” trim 4×4 with the turbo 2.0L and three of the option groups, came to $44,115

2019 JCW MINI Countryman ALL4

Well, it isn’t the MINI that I would buy, but the Countryman is the model that makes the most sense.

(In case you are wondering why I wouldn’t buy one, it is because my favorite is the ‘real’ one: the three-door Cooper. That thing is my jam, man. Oh, and also the price, but I’ll save that ‘til the end, to build suspense).

I tell you, though, the 2019 Countryman, in this case all dressed up in the John Cooper Works package, is the one that works the best for where I live – a magical kingdom where the potholes rule the road, and periodically a wicked ‘polar vortex’ weather pattern moves through; as happened during my time with the test car.

Right off the bat, I’ll give it full marks for its cold-start cooperativity, and for having heated seats and steering wheel, as I experienced the Countryman during a record-setting time in February, (where we set a new benchmark for most days with temps below -20C, apparently).

My Countryman was equipped with a pricey John Cooper Works package, not unlike the last time I got up close with the largest of the MINI fam, and the overall experience in my time in this one was much the same.

The season, though, was different, and so my impressions were more focussed on the all-wheel drive and selectable traction control modes than in the Countryman’s power or dynamic handling (which are both pretty decent in the compact utility vehicle class – my tester boasted a potential 228 hp and 258 lb.-ft. of torque – and will bring you ample acceleration in more ideal road conditions).

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It dealt with the snow very well (but if we’re being honest, I won’t it overshadowed any of the other AWD utility vehicles I have driven in slippery/drifty conditions, it just did the job and stayed under control at all times and of course never got stuck).

A 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine puts out the power; and delivered fuel economy that, while not hybrid calibre, stayed pretty acceptable by my estimation – I ended up averaging 9.8L/100km, and that’s in winter conditions and deep cold. Also I didn’t put the vehicle in Sport mode very often. JCW brings the action to halt when necessary with big Brembo brakes that could frankly be described as “grabby”. I know the vehicle is intended for performance situations, but I’ll warn you in advance if you’re planning a test drive in a JCW Countryman, braking comes on hard and enthusiastically when you hit the pedal.

Inside the JCW Countryman, the familiar circular motif of the MINI brand continues, with all the gauges, controls and displays framed in round, or at least rounded shapes. All the instruments are easy to read and understand, the switchgear looks quite arty, and most functions run through a centralized knob-and-buttons controller on the console.

The front seats were very good in the test car – fully adjustable, heated sports seats with thigh extension and upholstered in (optional) “Carbon Punch” leather.

An advantage of the Countryman line is that the rear seats are also pretty accommodating for passengers – they had more head and leg room than I expected, and more configurable because they could both slide forward and back, and also recline.

So overall, the Countryman sells itself as a thoroughly practical choice for everyday driving, and is a capable, multipurpose crossover that can handle a wider variety of conditions than my beloved three-door Cooper. Being in the ‘premium’ class of the segment, it brings a higher level of quality and design (and materials) over what you would find in some of the more down-to-earth competitors (like Mazda’s CX-3 for example), but here’s the thing: that all comes with a premium sticker price.

While the ALL4 lineup starts at a not-bad entry point of $31,090 (according to the company’s product guide) this one here, being the extra-tony Midnight Black Edition pushed that up to $39,790, and then with the John Cooper Works Package added (JCW option is another $7,200) and the freight and PDI charges tacked on, we are suddenly looking at a total cost of $49,635


Afternoon of the Lepus

We get a lot of rabbits around here, kind of in cycles that occur every couple of years or so.

I’ve always thought they were pretty neat, and ridiculously cute as babies (which, I just learned the other day, are called kittens. Weird, right?) and this leads me into another long tale of ‘how I met my neighbours’. Check this out:

So I am sitting around my palatial mansion last Friday; because my life is such a laugh-a-minute thrill ride, and I decide to go outside for a cigarette.

(The palatial mansion is a non-smoking building, you see).

Anyway, I go out back into the alley and right away notice that a couple of neighbours are out on their balcony, yelling at something. They spot me and start yelling down, and I’m all “Sup?”

They tell me that a couple of magpies have gotten ahold of a baby rabbit (or ‘kitten’, as we have learned) in the yard of the building next door, and are fixing to croak it.

I go round a small hedge that is the only barrier to the yard, sure enough, two magpies are dragging the little animal around by his legs, getting really pecky with the terrorized critter.

Frightening the birds off with the time-tested technique of waving my arms and yelling obscenities at them, I find myself alone with the rabbit as the magpies settle on the roof of a garage and sit there watching us.

So I can’t really leave,  and the rabbit has compressed himself face-first into a curb around the house and is huddling there quaking.

It kinda reminded of that last scene in The Blair Witch Project, you know? With the guy standing in the corner?  I loved that film.

Incidentally, this is not the first time I couldn’t leave a scene because I watching out for something, and not the most unusual object.

At this point my neighbours from the balcony have come down, and now three of us stand around looking at the rabbit. One of them calls 311 and gets an opinion on what to do (and those options were: leave the animal there, as its parent may be around, or box it up and take it inside, but then you gotta whole ‘nother problem).

Of course, we then find the rest of the rabbitlings. Almost invisible, five more of them are huddled in a pile at the base of the weedy little hedge. They had probably escaped the notice of the magpies by not moving around; while the original rabbit was perhaps an ‘early hopper’.

Trouble is, the others are beginning to try to hop as well, but being as they were probably born, literally, yesterday, they weren’t very good at it and also didn’t exercise good judgement. The three of us keep gathering them up and returning them to the rabbit-pile.

Long story short: as the sun starts going down, the magpies leave and the kits become less active and remain in their huddle. And, fortunately, some adult rabbits (or maybe they’re hares, I don’t know to be honest) begin to show up on the perimeter. We all figure this is a good thing, and go back inside.

And thither, my friends, is how I met a couple of my neighbours, Josh and Sarah.

PS: I checked out the hedge the next morning and the whole group was gone, so it looks like they got on with wherever rabbits go when they aren’t hanging out with us.