Launched in 2014 and with a heritage that dates back to 1974 the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk is the Cherokee for true 4WD enthusiasts. Now the style of the Cherokee is more in the AWD SUV style and being based on the Alfa Romeo Giulietta there are some question marks about its suitability for hard terrain. However Rubicon rated the Trailhawk easily fills the 4WD role at the top of the model line-up.
Externally the Jeep Cherokee style is polarising, especially the interpretation of the traditional 7 slot Jeep Grill. Personally I like it and the overall style is like so many other midsized SUV’s, yet distinct as well. The designers have a design that is fluid, should remain fresh through its life cycle and retains essential elements of Jeep DNA.
Cutting edge design elements, such as slimline daytime running lights as ‘eyebrows’ with lower headlights, combine with traditional DNA elements such as the peaked seven-slot grille, trapezoidal wheel arches and the functional ‘kink’ in the beltline mated to a tough, durable lower body provide the all-new Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk with a commanding road presence.
Internally the design has a luxurious European feel with a blend of fluid shapes, high-quality soft touch materials, innovative colour and material choices, precision craftsmanship, state-of-the-art technology and clever features. Truly unlike what we would expect from an American design, but then expected after the Grand Cherokee.
The leather seats are comfortable, power adjustable, heated/ventilated with memory function and despite first impressions they are supportive over long hours. In front of the driver is a thick rimmed, newly designed three-spoke Jeep steering wheel with audio, voice and speed controls.
The dash harks back to a simpler day when clarity was paramount. The round dials are clear with white on black design with a seven-inch full-colour reconfigurable instrument cluster that allows the driver to enjoy a customised user experience. The instrument cluster displays basic information at the drivers fingertips but also allows them to add information they desire; similar to an Apple iPhone.
The driver can select from a multitude of information features that can be displayed in the centre of the gauge cluster including turn-by-turn navigation, speed, real-time fuel economy, safety warnings, available Adaptive Cruise Control-Plus, audio information and Jeep-specific features including Selec-Terrain.
The centre stack bezel is inspired by the outline of the front grille of the 1940s Willys Jeep (which incidentally was the first car I ever drove). The 8.4-inch touchscreen multimedia command centre houses the navigation system and the Uconnect system that allows the driver to control the audio, climate controls, heated/ventilated seats and much more from the touchscreen, with additional controls located on the centre stack below the touchscreen or with voice commands. A premium Alpine 506-watt sound system is available with nine speakers and a subwoofer. The clever thing is that there is also a wireless charging system for the phone when in the cradle.
Storage is a key feature with a covered top bin located above the centre stack on top of the instrument panel and a huge glove box that accommodates an iPad. A small storage slot is located between the cup holders and the centre console armrest. The centre console hosts the integrated phone docking station, USB and SD ports and auxiliary- power source. The front-passenger seat in the Jeep Cherokee folds flat and offers hidden, in-seat storage by flipping up the passenger seat cushion. Front doors are able to accommodate maps and bottles.
Second-row seats recline and move fore/ aft 15 centimetres to increase legroom or storage room as needed. Boot space is adequate and a universal module rack is mounted on the side in the rear cargo area and provides for hooks and a removable grocery bag.
Safety features, that lead to a five star ANCAP safety rating, include both active and passive safety security features, including ParkSense Parallel/Perpendicular Park Assist – a first for a Chrysler Group vehicle; ACC, FCW, LaneSense Departure Warning, ATCS, ABS,BTCS,EBD, ESC and BLDS. There is also Electronic roll mitigation, Blind-spot Monitoring, Rear Cross Path detection, ParkView rear backup camera with dynamic grid lines and dual frontal, side chest and side head airbags (curtains) and a driver knee airbag are standard.
Trailhawk model features include: unique off-road front and rear fascias, off-road wheel flares, tow hooks, skid plates, off-road suspension with one-inch increased ride height, heavy-duty engine cooling and auxiliary transmission oil cooler, Jeep Active Drive Lock 4×4 system with low range and locking rear axle and Selec-Speed Control featuring Hill-ascent Control and Hill-descent Control. Features also include accent colour mirrors, grille surrounds, lower fascia appliqués and roof rails, Red “Trail Rated” and “Trailhawk” badges, new 17-inch polished aluminium wheels with black painted pockets, Matte black hood decal, all-season tyres, leather, heated, power front seats, red accent stitching on instrument panel brow, seats, door armrests, centre console lid, shifter boot and console netting, red “Trailhawk” tag on console netting.
Driving the all new Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk is the 3.2-litre Pentastar V6 engine, which produces 200kW of power and 316Nm of torque while consuming just 10.0 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres in the combined cycle. This engine delivers its power through an innovative 9 speed transmission.
This class leading transmission is super smooth and strong enough for the harsh conditions it may find itself in 4WD situations. This is one refined slick transmission.
The Trailhawk is a true 4WD Jeep. It bears the internal Jeep designation of Trail Rated which means that it has conquered the Rubicon Trail and the worst of the Moab Hell’s Kitchen etc. The standard 4WD system in the Trailhawk is Jeep Active Drive Lock. This is essentially the normal Jeep Active Drive ll with a locking rear diff. The Selec-Terrain manages the 4WD system with a simple twist of the dial, to choose the on- and off-road setting for optimal performance. Up to five customised settings are offered: Auto, Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud and Rock. It’s easy to use and very effective coordinating the electronics depending on the selection.
The Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk boasts an approach angle of 29.9 degrees, a departure angle of 32.2 degrees and breakover angle of 22.9 degrees. Running ground clearance is 221mm. The Jeep Cherokee has a towing capability of 2200kg with a tow ball rating of 220kg.
The Trailhawk is specifically designed for the 4wd experience with rerated ESC, higher ground clearance, shorter overhangs and shorter breakover, recovery hooks front and rear as well as rear diff lock. The V6 petrol engine provides more than adequate power and the torque delivery allows application of consistent power when needed such as climbing slippery fractured shale hills etc.
We have driven the Trailhawk over a variety of surfaces, tar roads, loose gravel fire trails, sandy dunes, a mixture of creek crossings, rocky sections, steep climbs and declines, valleys etc. Given this diversity of road surfaces we had the opportunity to try the various applications of Selec-Terrain as well as the locking rear diff and hill descent. All were competent when used but we also just left the Selec-Terrain in auto and just drove. The Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk, despite its Alfa underpinnings and SUV styling is great in this type of trail driving. To be honest almost all owners will never try something as hard as we put it through and if they do the Trailhawk will accommodate them.
The interesting thing about the electronics off road is that they are much quieter than many other systems. The downhill descent control worked without all the pings and grinding of other systems and allowed the driver to control the speed of descent with the transmission lever. It’s one of the better systems on the market.
Once we were on the tar the driving experience was just as satisfying. The V6 engine allowed plenty of power and the super smooth 9 speed transmission the economy with a number of overdrive gears. The steering was a little light and there was a little tyre noise at speed but the Jeep Cherokee is probably the quietest car on road in its class. The quietness is extraordinary for the price range. There are better handling on road AWD SUV’s in the class but not by much.
Overall the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk is actually outstanding. There are no SUV’s that are better off road and few that are better on road, none that are quieter and none that represent the astounding value proposition. If only there was a diesel version.