True or False: The Cherokee Trailhawk is just as serious an upgrade as any M car from BMW -- but tailored to making the Jeep unstoppable offroad versus chopping its track laptimes.
Preposterous comparison? M car versus Trailhawk package?
We might have thought so too until spending a week in the Trailhawk and testing out its off-road drive systems (on video below!) on some deep mud/clay here in South Carolina.
The transformation of the Cherokee in off-road beastmode is as dramatic as any Sport Plus on a high-performance car. Perhaps even more-so for how intense the drivetrain becomes in its 4Low with the rear differential locked.
Cherokee Trailhawk proved so capable offroad that we came out of the course even more impressed than ever before at how modern, silent and smooth it is in regular street driving. Here is a machine with SKILLS! And one that is so thoroughly trail-ready that we're not even slightly embarrassed to use Jeep's own lingo.
How can this car be so perfectly modded to an offroad mission while being a sweetheart around town?!
Let's find out with two HD videos, nearly 70 pics of the truck and standard headings of Exterior, Interior, Performance and Pricing.
HD Drive Video
Does this chrome-free Cherokee Trailhawk's design look more snakelike or sharklike to you? We're certain it is biologically-influenced by top predators. Or just mean beast in general, as the Rhino Grey clearcoat paint on the Trailhawk can attest.
The way the seven grille slats, badges and bumpers change in appearance in matte black is striking versus the chrome of nearly all other Cherokee trimlines. Especially the brightwork-intensive Cherokee Overland we tested the other month.
Without brightwork, the bluff hoodline and pointy nose really come into their own from up front. The top-mounted LED daytime running lights are a perfect match for the bi-xenon main projectors at the middle level of the Cherokee's face. Lower halogen fogs are just a bulb swap away from making the Cherokee Trailhawk one of the best-lit factory offroad specials out there. And all cleanly integrated without need for a blocky, wind-whistling LED lightbars.
Functional yet also pretty fun. Check out the lipstick red for the prominent tow hooks all around. This matches some custom Trailhawk branding and even the lkeather seat and dashboard stitching inside the cabin nicely.
In profile, the Trailhawk's design benefits massively from its taller ride height and taller actual tires than any other Cherokee. And perhaps any other factory Jeep! That extra inch or so of clearance lets you see the logic in the chopped lower front overhang and near-zero rear flab. This is a car for scaling tall walls and muddy bogs!
Around back, the CHerokee Trailhawk feels like the range-topper that it is. It feels like a factory custom with these bulging fenders, fender flare extensions and giant rear reflectors in the upper bumpers. Slimline LED taillamps are classy and still unique in their nighttime look even after a few years on the road.
The only other tweak specific to our Trailhawk versus all of them? Dual exhaust tips to confirm this is the V6 and not the standard engine. Check out the walkaround video below to see all this in 360 degrees at 1080P/60FPS!
HD Exterior Walkaround Video
The cabin of Trailhawk is where it really starts to feel like good value. There is simply more equipment, more comfort and more thoughtfulness in Cherokee than any owner will expect. Things like the fold-flat passenger seat, in-seat and in-dash hidden storage cubbies and the dicreet but proud Jeep branding touches, emblems and 1941's embossed all around.
Cherokee is comfortable for nearly everyone with its power seats and big steering wheel adjustment range. You sit up high in the truck, which feels more natural with the lifted suspension and tall tires of Trailhawk than it does on some of the lower-slung models. It feels like an offroad custom -- but with none of those drawbacks.
No mud-tire howl on the highway. No tire scrub at full lock in the fenders. No worries about your speedo being plus-or-minus 10MPH. Just a super offroad special that has been made perfect by Jeep's Moab-loving engineers.
Standard stop-start in the Cherokee V6 is actually pretty smooth and normal after a day or so of driving. You can disable this via mid-dash button, though, or by turning the wheel or adjusting brake pedal pressure at a stoplight. Truly though, this is one of the better ones.
The engine is very quiet around town and only really vocal at full throttle in Sport drive mode, where it hangs on to gears up to the redline and maximizes passing power. Of which there is plenty! Not a ton of torque from this motor, but the ZF-designed automatic makes the most of its power and is ready to triple-downshift in a heartbeat.
The Cherokee has Jeep-traditional high sills that improve its fording depth in water, but make entry slightly harder than the raised-car rivals like RAV4. You step over the sill, basically. Not a big deal in front but makes backseat exits slightly tricky - don't get a foot stuck or you might faceplant.
Once seated back there, the Cherokee puts all previous small/midsize Jeeps in their place. It is actually liveable back there, with good seat cushion depth, tons of knee, leg and toe room, and even a pretty supportive reclin-able seatback. The floor is not purely flat thanks to all the differentials down below, and hip/shoulder room is indeed smaller than some rivals. But for two big guys versus three, the Trailhawk is a world above Wrangler Unlimited, Tacoma or Colorado for actual comfort on long trips.
The Cherokee V6, and especially a Trailhawk V6, is so capable that its real rivals go from Ford Escape/CR-V and up to the loaded Chevy Colorado or Toyota Tacoma. It is that meaty and manly of an upgrade to the drive experience. The Cherokee's 271HP and nine-cog automatic make for around a 6.8-second sprint to 60-mph that is quicker than any Colorado or Tacoma. Cherokee also rides calmer and quieter on the road than either of those trucks, while also packing a livable back seat with real comfort.
Real, true SUV machoness in the feel of the Cherokee Trailhawk -- especially when you engage the locking front/rear 4x4 in its 4-low setting. In addition to pushing power to all four paws, the Cherokee Trailhawk's Active Drive II system can lock the rear diff side-to-side. So no matter the muck or treestumps you're scaling, Cherokee never spins a wheel in vain.
Other places where Trailhawk is more like a super-modern midsize pickup truck than a crossover? Its Trailhawk-specific off-road suspension. Slightly comfier initial suspension moves are paired with huge wheel travel from the independent wheels all around. It combines to make the Cherokee Trailhawk amazing in mud yet smooth on the road, and even with a more-playful cornering mood than the small-tired Limited Cherokee. There is more body roll around corners, but with more grip and a softer ride, in other words.
As we note in the video above, the Cherokee Trailhawk's offroad mission with us was simple: demonstrate the incredible 4x4 system and offroad capability .... without getting stuck or damaging the vehicle. Sounds easy, right?
It should be with any real offroader. We did a similar trail loop in the Land Rover LR4 and Infiniti QX80 with confidence and no trouble at all. But other unmentioned SUVs and fullsize pickups have not done so well on this soft Carolina terrain.
Back on the road, we found it very fun to engage 4Low even for road driving. Perhaps missing snow, we imagined how amazing the locking 4x4 would be on the drive from Denver up to SUmmit County, Colorado ski resorts. When the powder is falling, mountain ascents and descents would feel EASY in this Trailhawk. This thanks to 4Low staying available until 50-mph -- well above the blizzard crawl pace most SUVs can do. A car like Escape or especially RAV4 would be, in honesty, pretty scary in that drive mode due to their inherent frontdrive nature and disengaging AWD systems above 30-mph or so.
The Trailhawk just feels so insanely grippy and planted with its Jeep-tastic 4x4 in its extreme modes. Definitely engage them on the test drive to see what we mean.
The huge range of ability is why we love Cherokee Trailhawk. Sure, most drivers will just hop in and leave it in Auto for years at a time. But for those who know, that is like owning a GT-R and never trying a Race-mode launch start. You're only tapping the surface of its ability until you let it show off its party tricks.
Cherokee pricing starts in the mid 20's but the Trailhawk L Plus 4x4 we tested wears a $31k base price. The big options on our tester are the $4k Custom Preferred 27L package that includes power seats, tailgate, remote start, heated/vented seats, keyless go, trailhawk offroad accessory kit and much more. Silly name for the package, but this is definitely equipment you'll want over the life of the car. Standard spec includes the terrific Uconnect 8.4 touchscreen, mid-cluster screen at seven inches and much more. See sticker pic below for proof!
Atop this we also add the peppy 3.2-liter V6 for $1,745, huge and super classy moonroof for $1,755 and the Uconnect Nav upgrade for $1100. The only thing we'd skip? The $1,100 SafetyTec group with rear parking sonar and blindspot. The standard backup camera seems sufficient.. .although Blindspot is nice to have in this truck with somewhat limited rear/side visibility.
All in, the sticker is $42,040. The Trailhawk does feel notably less luxurious inside versus the Cherokee Overland Limited test truck. But this is our only gripe: $42k feels about right for such a modern, rigid and high-tech vehicle.
Modern, high-tech and obscene capability are actually the three tentpoles of the Cherokee Trailhawk's appeal and unique selling proposition. Here is a vehicle that drives like a sweetheart around town yet grips like an American Ninja Warrior offroad.
But even those Ninja Warriors have dayjobs and families. For those people who need pure truck strength off-road, but relaxed and hightech comfort for five around town... Cherokee Trailhawk is in a class by itself.
Go take one for a spin and you'll see how fun it is to get muddy from time to time!