Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk at Home On and Off-Road: Trail Tested
Since its inception, Jeep has offered rough and tumble 4x4’s best suited for bounding through brush and taming the untraveled trail. As of late however, the heritage off-road brand has added some decidedly tamer models to its lineup, though you'd be shocked to learn that this isn’t one of them. Rather, it’s a 50/50 mix of off-road prowess and on-road function – the 2015 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk. RELATED: See Photos of the Capable Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk
Released for the 2014 model year, the Cherokee boasts four different trim levels – Sport, Latitude, Trailhawk, and Limited. Chrysler’s 2.4-liter four-cylinder and nine-speed automatic transmission slot underneath each trim as standard. A 271-horsepower V6 remains an option on all models (except the Sport), as does 2WD or 4WD except on the 4x4-only Trailhawk.
Facing a challenging rutted, boulder-ridden, and boggy path that lay before me – I was glad to be sitting in the latter. The Trailhawk trim sports Jeep’s top tier Active Drive II 4x4 system, which means you get low-range gearing, a rear differential lock, as well as skid plates, tow hooks, off-road tuned suspension, terrain-specific traction control (Selec-Terrain), hill-start and hill-descent control. Quite the package.
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Unsurprisingly, the plucky SUV handles the tough stuff like a champ. Push the gear stick to the side, then move it forward or back to toggle speed, and the Trailhawk will crawl at a controlled rate through and over whatever obstacles befall you.
During our test, the suspension cleverly drooped and rebounded to create a remarkably harmonious off-road ride, and even when traction was broken, all it took was a turn of the wheel and some ABS computer-wizardry to pull the Jeep up over the lip. It should be noted that our Cherokee got through the same off-road course while following behind the likes of a Range Rover Sport.
How about some figures. The Trailhawk sports 8.7 inches of ground clearance, a 29.9-degree approach angle, and will vector 100 percent of torque to the rear wheels if needed.
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On road, the Cherokee trades its rock-crawling ability for everyday agility. Equipped with the 3.2-liter V6, the Trailhawk pulls eagerly through its nine gears (boasting a 4,500 pound tow rating) and provides excellent road holding and a supple ride quality. Perhaps not as nimble as the more road-oriented Mazda CX-5, but still very fun to drive. Jeep adds a new engine stop-start system on V6 models for 2015, which during testing felt quick to react and unobtrusive.
From inside the cabin, both engine and road noises are relatively mum, something that the buzzier four-cylinders in the segment can’t exactly match. Interior quality also feels top notch thanks to premium materials and a stylish dash arrangement. As in previous testing, Chrysler’s Uconnect infotainment system remains intuitive and easy to use.
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The Jeep falls slightly short in interior cargo space though. With the rear seats up, the Cherokee stows 29.7 cubic feet of gear while its contemporaries like the Toyota Rav4 and Ford Escape can swallow more: 38.4 and 34.3 cu. ft., respectively. Though the Cherokee will likely haul your gear much further off the beaten path than either of those two.
The Cherokee's new front fascia might polarize some potential buyers, but thanks to the vehicle’s combination of on- and off-road performance, premium materials, and functional packaging, it makes the Trailhawk a tough option to pass up.
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