The trail-rated Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk
What a difference from the last time I piloted a Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk, its nose pointed up a smooth, rocky slope, nothing but blue sky above showing through the windscreen,
THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Best: A good mix of contemporary design, real off-road ability and luxurious midsize civility in a modern package that somehow still manages to capture Jeep cues.
- What’s Worst: Some of the nanny-tech can get annoying like lane keeping and active braking are easily shut off but more worrisome are subpar customer satisfaction numbers. Hopefully improved for 2016.
- What’s Interesting: Although most Cherokee trim levels were designed more for a mall-cruising crossover crowd, this Trailhawk boasts a Trail Rating with real off-road capabilities.
Tick, tick, tick . . .
My left turn signal was beating in time with the impatient jiggle of my left leg as I sat at the traffic light.
The blue-haired old gal, sitting white-knuckled at the wheel of an ancient land yacht in front of me, seemed to be waiting for a gap big enough for the USS Enterprise to sail through.
No sense being in a hurry.
After this would come the inevitable repetition of a dozen other stoplights delaying my driving purgatory past the mall and muffler shop strip, along one of those anonymous stretches of road that could be anywhere in suburbia.
Tick, tick, tick.
What a difference from the last time I piloted a Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk, its nose pointed up a smooth, rocky slope, nothing but blue sky above showing through the windscreen, nothing but boulders below waiting for the unwary, sheer drop-offs on either side, just part of the heart-pumping, precarious trek across the Lion’s Back and Slickrock Fins of Hell’s Revenge Trail through the badlands of Moab, Utah.
This Cherokee was designed for new customers, not old ones, and its contemporary statement has made it Jeep’s best-seller
My ride then, and my ride now, was the latest gen Jeep Cherokee that first debuted at the 2013 New York Auto Show, dismaying traditionalists hoping for a boxy return to nostalgia but delighting a whole new audience of potential customers with its modern take on heritage Jeep styling cues.
This Cherokee was designed for new customers, not old ones, and its contemporary statement has made it Jeep’s best-seller, a foil for a competitive crossover segment, going up against rivals like the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
For 2016, the lineup has expanded to six trim levels with new Overland and 75th anniversary models added to Sport, North, Limited and Trailhawk versions.
The Cherokee lineup starts with 4X2 (FWD) or 4X4 ($2,200) choices and prices range from $26,695 to $39,895. Two new colours – Rhino Clear Coat and Light Brownstone – have also been added this year, along with minor enhancements to front seats, steering column tilt and the instrument cluster.
And FCA’s 8.4-inch Uconnect system adds new iPhone-like features – a Drag and Drop menu bar, Siri Eyes Free and a Do Not Disturb setting.
Tested here, we have an off-road oriented 2016 Trailhawk model ($33,695) that qualifies for its “Trail Rated” side badging by meeting five specific category challenges – traction, water-fording, maneuverability, articulation and ground clearance.
So this leaner, meaner version of Cherokee features sharper-breaking front and rear fascias for better approach and departure angles, a toughened chassis with added suspension travel and a one-inch lift in ride height for a 224 mm (8.7 in) ground clearance.
The Trailhawk get wider wheel flares, a full-sized spare instead of a compact tire, skid-plated underbody protection, transmission and oil coolers, two red tow hooks up front and one in the back.
All exterior body chrome has been replaced with Trailhawk-exclusive dark accents – fascias, cladding, roof rails, mirrors, and grill surrounds, along with a unique matte black hood decal to reduce glare on the trail.
Polished 17-inch alloy wheels provide a little exterior bling and are mounted with slightly higher profile P245/65R17 Firestone Destination OWL All-Terrain tires.
Like all the other Cherokee trim levels, this Trailhawk comes with a choice of two engines.
A standard 2.4-litre Tigershark MultiAir inline four-cylinder makes 184 hp and 171 lb/ft of peak torque with fuel economy rated at 12.1/9.4L/100km (city/hwy).
For a little extra oomph, and also tested here, a 3.2-litre Pentastar V6 boasts a brawnier 271 hp and 239 lb/ft of peak torque. With extra towing grunt and quicker throttle response, this optional V6 is probably worth the $1,595 premium, especially when you consider that the V6 actually gets about the same gas mileage as the four-cylinder, with a rating of 12.2/9.0L/100km (city/hwy).
The V6 normally purrs along below 2,000 rpm, thanks to a segment-exclusive ZF-based nine-speed automatic transmission and earns a fuel economy assist from an Engine Stop-Start (ESS) system introduced last year. My real world mix of highway and city mileage averaged out at 12.3L/100km (comb).
I didn’t put the Trailhawk through any serious off-road challenges this time, although it can confidently meet all weather, any condition driving situations with Jeep’s Active Drive II with available low-range gearing, bolstered by Jeep Active Drive Lock featuring a locking rear differential.
RELATED: 2015 Honda CRV Review
A Selec-Terrain traction control system features five driving modes – Auto, Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud and Rock settings – that can be dialed in via a console-mounted controller. The Selec-Terrain system coordinates up to 12 different dynamic systems and is backed up by Hill Descent Control, Hill Start Assist, Selec-Speed Control, All Speed Traction Control, Electronic Roll Mitigation and Trailer Sway Damping.
With all that potential, Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk owners might feel a little over-equipped for everyday, mundane driving chores. But, when it comes to go-anywhere features and capabilities, it’s always nice to know they’re there when you need them.
Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk 4X4 2016 at a glance
BODY STYLE: Mid-size crossover SUV
DRIVE METHOD: 4X4 with Active Drive II and Jeep Active Drive Lock
ENGINE: 3.2-litre Pentastar VVT V6 (271 hp, 239 lb/ft of torque) with a nine-speed 4WD automatic transmission.
CARGO: 700 litres, 1555 litres with rear seat folded flat.
TOWING CAPACITY: 2041 kg (4,500 lb)
FUEL ECONOMY: (Regular) 12.2/9.0L/100km (city/hwy); As tested 12.3L/100km (comb)
PRICE: $33,695. As tested $41,042 incl 3.2-litre V6 with ESS ($1,595), Comfort & Convenience Group ($1,295), Technology Group ($995), Safety Tec Group ($895), Cold Weather Group ($895), Uconnect GPS Nav ($700), Trailer Tow Group ($495), nine amplified speaker audio ($400) and more not including $1,745) shipping fee
WEB SITE: www.jeep.ca