Christopher Little

Adventure: Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk

The Cherokee is, arguably, the grandfather of all crossovers. In 1984, the venerable XJ was an early adopter of unibody construction. The sturdy platform provided excellent ground clearance and enough room to fit an optional inline-six cylinder engine. The XJ lives on as a go-to choice for off-roaders, even though production stopped in 2001. Last year, however, the Cherokee nameplate returned. The new Cherokee didn’t cause the same fervor as the Grand Cherokee did in 1992 when it famously crashed through a glass window of the Cobo Center. Even now, some lament the use of the Cherokee name. In truth, a storied nameplate and classic seven-slat grille do not make a successful 4×4. That’s why Jeep have offered the Cherokee Trailhawk. We wanted to find out if this modern interpretation has lived up to its name.

Jeep Cherokee 1

The outward appearance of the new Jeep Cherokee is definitely up for debate. Most everyone who hasn’t spent a lot of time around a new Cherokee have some harsh criticism. But the SUV definitely grows on you. The red tow hooks, protruding skid plate, and wider fenders to accommodate all-terrain tires help the Trailhawk stand out. Small touches like the optional black hood decal, Trail Rated emblems, and gunmetal grill trim and Cherokee badging add to the rugged appearance. The high approach angle, extra ground clearance, and unique alloy wheels give the Trailhawk a futuristic military vibe.

Jeep Cherokee 8

The inside of the Trailhawk ditches much of the tough, rugged look for comfort and technology. Interior quality on the Cherokee is very good, nearly as impressive as the larger Grand Cherokee. The Leather Interior Group adds full leather, heated seats. The driver gets 8-way power adjustment and a heated steering wheel. Optional remote start,  backup camera, keyless entry, and power liftgate provide further comfort. The optional UConnect system adds the same 8.4″ touchscreen navigation unit that we experienced in the Dodge Durango and Jeep Grand Cherokee. The familiar 7″ full-color instrument cluster is standard. While the Cherokee has a host of other optional driver’s aids, our tester arrived with enough tech to keep us happy without us complaining of overpricing.

Jeep Cherokee 11

Riding in the Cherokee Trailhawk blends the comfort of the interior with the apparent ruggedness of the exterior. The seats are firm and comfortable, even if the ride is a bit hard. The shorter wheelbase and stiffer suspension provide more ground clearance offroad at the cost of transmitting more road imperfections. All-terrain tires provide extra grip through mud and gravel but don’t lend themselves to cornering at speed. They also make more noise than road tires. The superb upgraded audio system was able to mask much of that noise for our highway trips. The only disappointment, both on and off road, was the lack of steering feedback. For all the weight behind the wheel, it was impossible to tell what the front tires were actually doing.

Jeep Cherokee 7

Powered by a new 271 hp and 239lb-ft torque, 3.2L Pentastar V6, the Cherokee can get moving fairly quickly. Power runs through a nine-speed automatic transmission to help with fuel economy. The transmission feels almost CVT-like around town with seamless shifts and low engine RPMs. Traveling further into the accelerator yields more jarring shifts. Interestingly, we could only get our tester to use 8 of its 9 gears. Whatever operating conditions exist for 9th gear, we couldn’t find them. It was a problem that plagued the Cherokee’s launch, but Chrysler is said to have the issue worked out. At the end of the week, we had averaged 22.7mpg. Jeep’s Selec-Terrain traction control system provide a few different options for navigating tarmac, snow, sand/mud, and rock. The Trailhawk benefits from Jeep’s Active Drive II system. It includes a two-speed transfer case with low range 4×4 and a locking rear differential. All this drivetrain tech gives the Trailhawk some serious off-road crawling ability.

Jeep Cherokee 3

The Cherokee Trailhawk is much more than the sum of its parts. The red Trailhawk badges, contrast stitching, and tow hooks are much more than marketing gimmicks. The Jeep has an old-school truck feel. The stiffer suspension, knobby tires, and 4×4 system make this SUV feel bigger and tougher than its lowly crossover competition. It opens up a whole different perspective on driving. Gravel roads, dirt trails, or no roads are suddenly all options. The Cherokee Trailhawk can traverse all these terrains while you sit high above the ground in comfortable seats. Rear passengers are comfortable too thanks to the height of the rear bench. The only glaring omission in the Cherokee’s versatility is the lack of standard trailer hitch. Optioning the $495 Trailer Tow Group adds the ability to bring a trailer, a bike rack, or anything else you can mount on a hitch. It’s a very usable option that we missed on our tester.

Jeep Cherokee 4

The Cherokee Trailhawk, for all its naysayers, instilled in us a sense of adventure. This isn’t just a crossover, though it will perform all the same functions. We’re also not going to pretend that the Cherokee is an extreme off-roader. That job is better suited for a Wrangler. But that isn’t to say the Cherokee doesn’t have more off-road capability than the Ford Escape or Toyota Rav4. After 360 miles, we can’t find any reason to complain about Jeep reviving the Cherokee name with this SUV. In many aspects, it brings back many of the same things that made the XJ so popular. Unibody construction serves as the platform for a solid 4×4 system. The Trailhawk offers extra ground clearance and other offroading features. There’s even an optional six cylinder engine. If this Jeep isn’t a Cherokee, then we don’t know what is. We’re usually proponents of the paved road, but it was a nice change to throw caution to the wind and find out exactly where that dirt road we’ve often overlooked can take us.

-Christopher Little

2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk 4×4
$29,495
3.2L V6 $1,495
Comfort/Convenience Group $1,895
Leather Interior Group $1,295
Uconnect w/ Sat Radio & Navigation $795
9 Amplified Speakers w/ Subwoofer $395
Black Hood Decal $150
Destination Charges $995
As Tested MSRP $36,515

Related:
Stepping Out: Jeep Grand Cherokee Diesel

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