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SUVs are enjoying great popularity in today’s market. And many consumers prefer sportier crossovers. There are even some excellent ones you can buy for less than $30,000. The 2021 Jeep Cherokee is one such SUV, but it barely missed the list.

How is the Jeep Cherokee one of the sportiest SUVs for under $30,000? We’ve got answers. 

The sportiest SUVs under $30,000

Recently, the team at U.S. News compiled a list of the 14 sportiest SUVs under $30,000 in 2021. And the 2021 Jeep Cherokee brings up the rear at number 14.

The SUVs that made it onto the list provide better-than-average performance for vehicles in this price range. However, the folks at U.S. News were looking at more than horsepower and torque when making their selections. They also factored in each SUV’s handling, braking performance, and ride quality. 

With a standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that puts out 180 hp, the 2021 Jeep Cherokee doesn’t offer much in the way of performance. Its steering is lackluster and lethargic. U.S. News also points out it exhibits some lean when cornering. It might be a surprise to some that this model even appears on this list.

But the Cherokee offers off-roading prowess. Four-wheel drive, an option for an extra $1,500, gives you five driving modes to choose from to navigate various terrains. The 4WD system optimizes the SUV’s traction no matter where you’re driving and makes you feel comfortable off the pavement.

U.S. News gave the 2021 Jeep Cherokee a performance score of 7.0 out of 10 and an overall score of 7.2 out of 10. It starts at $26,290.

SUVs that are sportier than the Jeep Cherokee

At the top of the list is the 2021 Mazda CX-5, which U.S. News claims is the sportiest SUV under $30,000. Mazda offers two engine options for this compact crossover. One is a turbocharged four-cylinder — the most potent in the compact SUV segment — producing 250 hp with premium gas. However, you can’t get that engine for under $30,000.

But the 2.5-liter four-cylinder under the base-model CX-5’s hood is still athletic. Like other vehicles in the Mazda lineup, the CX-5 handles well, with decent feedback thanks to electrically assisted steering. You won’t feel much body roll in corners, and the suspension is well-balanced. 

Right behind the CX-5 is the 2021 Honda CR-V, which is U.S. News’ top-ranked compact SUV overall. With a turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a continuously variable transmission standard, this crossover is quick off the line. It produces 190 hp but feels quicker than that, and the transmission is one of the best you can get in a mainstream compact SUV.

The 2021 Mazda CX-3 rounds out the top three sportiest SUVs under $30,000. It doesn’t have the greatest predicted reliability rating, but its performance makes an impression. It boasts accurate steering, a well-tuned suspension, and great braking performance. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder isn’t the best, making only 148 hp, but the CX-3 handles better than any other subcompact SUV.

An overview of the 2021 Jeep Cherokee

The 2021 Jeep Cherokee is unique in the compact crossover segment with its off-roading and towing capabilities. And its Jeep lineage will please weekend warriors and drivers who enjoy time in the great outdoors. It handles many different terrains with ease and provides a comfortable ride.

It’s not the most visually appealing Jeep model, but you can get it with an all-wheel-drive configuration. It also offers an impressive selection of engines, including a turbocharged four-cylinder and a potent V6. The Cherokee can even tow up to 4,500 pounds and take you off-payment.

Overall, though, it doesn’t offer the best value to owners who’re not into off-roading and have no need for towing. It doesn’t get great gas mileage for a compact crossover, either, and it doesn’t have much cargo space.