If we were going to sum up the Trailhawk trim of the Jeep Grand Cherokee in a slogan, it would probably sound something like this: “The Grand Cherokee Trailhawk. Off-road extremism never felt so refined.” It doesn’t have the swankiness or prestigious appeal of the turbo-diesel Range Rover Td6, but most American SUV shoppers will likely find the Jeep to be more than opulent enough, with ample amounts of 4×4 prowess as buyer reassurance.
There’s a lot to be said for Jeep’s ability to consistently generate outstanding off-road SUVs, and with everything from the rugged little Renegade to the chiseled Cherokee receiving Trailhawk badges, it’s easy to see what Americans want as well. Long gone are the old notions that Wranglers were the only ones who could hold their own in extreme 4×4 situations, as technology and chassis advancements play a more prominent role than ever before when mudding and crawling.
Being the top-tier rung in the Jeep ladder, the Grand Cherokee shoulders a certain level of responsibility as the older, more refined sibling to everyone else in the family. By relying on its ability to produce interiors that border on being luxury-grade, and then attaching them to a chassis and drivetrain that’s engineered to ascend Everest, Jeep has been able to carve a unique niche for itself by offering the best of both worlds to buyers.
So with a week of windshield time and heavy rain in the forecast, we took possession of our hardcore 4×4 and began putting it through its paces. What we found was that while it may not be the ideal answer to everyone’s off-road wishlist, it certainly stamps a healthy number of boxes and isn’t afraid to scribble in a handful of muddy footnotes as well.
Sure-footed and stylish is how we found ourselves referring to this SUV. With its blend of hooked, rounded, and rectangular lines, there is no cut-and-dry approach to summing it up in one word. On one hand, it has a less polarizing nose than the new Cherokee, and its blockier proportions and almost Audi-like LED eyelid lines give a strong sense of purpose to its place in the market. But on the other, Trailhawk additions like exposed recovery hooks, hardcore Kevlar all-terrain tires on unique 18-inch alloys, raised ride height, and a wide array of underbody skid plates scream off-road-ready.
Exterior pros and cons
+ Raised approach, breakover, and departure angles are all designed for rough terrain. Air ride suspension also offers low settings for easy entry and exit, regular ride heights for highway driving, as well as upper and extreme settings for maximum clearance.
+ Skid plates, exposed tow hooks, Goodyear Wrangler Kevlar tires, tucked dual exhaust, specialized lights and bezels, and power-folding mirrors all spell 4×4 engineering.
+ Nicely styled body lines, sleek 18-by-8-inch alloy wheels, LED accents, two-tone colors, and neutral gray roof rails make for a very attractive SUV.
– Small stuff, like the hood latch being rubbed raw after just 2,000 miles, makes you wonder what longevity issues and recalls may emerge.
Our Grand Cherokee came with the exact same powertrain as the Trailhawk Cherokee we reviewed last year, which we found to be a strong and sensible base 3.6-liter V6 option. With its 295 horsepower happily handling highway passes, and 260 pound-feet of torque tackling slow going on muddy trails, the power side of this SUV feels more than adequate enough for the average Jeep buyer. Gearbox-wise, the paddle-shifting automatic eight-speed continues to curry our favor, as does Jeep’s outstanding Quadra-Drive II and Quadra-Trac II 4WD systems, which work flawlessly with the Selec-Terrain setup.
Powertrain pros and cons
+ Base 3.6-liter V6 is strong and reassuring whether under throttle or cruising, and can tow up to 6,200 pounds.
+ The standard eight-speed automatic comes with paddle shifters and offers snappy shifts and a very smooth driving experience on the highway.
+ Traction settings for almost any kind of terrain or weather imaginable, plus Sport mode for sharper acceleration and shifts.
– The V6 can be a little rough around the edges acceleration-wise, and 18/25 MPG ratings aren’t stellar either.
Four-wheel prowess aside, this interior is another one of the primary reasons high-end car buyers are swayed to opt for a Grand Cherokee. From its supportive and sporty stitched leather seats, to its roomy rear bench and equally heated steering wheel, almost everything within this cabin is designed to appeal to luxury SUV buyers. While we found a few areas of the cabin to be lacking in practicality and quality, overall the Trailhawk scored strong points for its ability to offer refinement, even when in its most hardcore form.
Interior pros and cons
+ Comfortable heated/vented front seats, heated steering wheel, power everything, stylish contrasting trim and stitching, and tasteful mood lighting earn luxury marks.
+ Banging 506-watt amplifier with nine speakers and sub, metal shifter and paddles, and well-placed, easy to use controls.
+ Backseat passengers get lots of room, vents, charging ports, and a bench that is heated.
– Cheap single control stalk turns on the opposite signal when flipped, the backseat lower trim cover for rear seat anchors feels flimsy, and since rear headrests are nonadjustable, fitting a child seat anchor through them is a chore.
– The cellphone pocket in lower center stack won’t hold larger iPhones or bigger Androids with protective cases.
– There are some inexpensive-feeling buttons and switches, no LED dome lights, small center console storage, and just one USB port up front.
Tech and safety
Fiat-Chrysler’s continued use of the 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen system has proven to be wise. We love how colorful and easy it is to read, as well as its notable collection of pre-loaded apps and available 5-year SiriusXM Traffic and Travel service. But the real star of the show tech-wise is the 7-inch LCD driver display, which broadcasts things like suspension and wheel geometry, fuel economy goals, navigational turns, and much, much more.
Tech pros and cons
+ The 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen is responsive and filled with useful infotainment, navigation support, and vibrant graphics.
+ The 7-inch digital driver display is crisp, colorful, and very detail-oriented in regard to info.
+ On-board Wi-Fi and five years of complimentary SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link usage are nice, but so is a five star safety rating from the government.
– Getting to certain climate controls takes jumping through a few hoops, there’s no blind spot monitoring, and there are no 360-degree camera or wheel angle views for off-roading.
We found the Grand Cherokee to behave beautifully on the road in Trailhawk trim, with the standard 3.6-liter V6 and base eight-speed automatic gearbox returning plenty of pep and driver engagement, although at the expense of 21 mile per gallon averages. Get over the gas guzzling, and swiveling through drive modes becomes a priority, as everything within it has purpose, including Sport mode, which delivers sharp increases in both engine and transmission responses and rev calibrations.
Off-road, Trailhawk models give you an amazing 4WD system, two levels of ride height adjustability, enough traction customization to get you out of almost any situation, downhill descent control, and Normal Duty suspension for increased travel. It’s a system that has been painstakingly scrutinized in order to tackle terrain typically reserved for more spartan and purpose-built vehicles, and we had little cause for concern as we confidently explored mud-filled fields and ascended rocky outcroppings.
But back on the road is where the majority of these SUVs will spend their lives, Trailhawk models included. While forcing a trained conquistador like this to live its life attached to the tarmac may sound like a travesty to many of us, most people who buy this vehicle will likely only use it to its full potential a handful of times, if at all.
Jeep has wisely conceded to this and has made even the most extreme model a tightly-tethered driving machine, with ample amounts of refinement on-board to make long hauls quite enjoyable. It steers, handles, brakes, and cruises in a manner that is both confident and refined, and outside of not having blind spot monitoring, we found ourselves enjoying this Jeep every time we got behind the wheel.
Wrap up and review
Despite all of its recalls and corporate woes, FCA continues to crank out some stellar firecrackers in the performance arena, both off-road and on. While we personally suggest spending the additional $4,500 and dropping the sensational EcoDiesel V6 in the Grand Cherokee for added efficiency and torque/towing perks, having the ability to slap a 5.7-liter HEMI in this thing for just $3,295 is also a convincing sales pitch.
Base prices on the Trailhawk Grand Cherokee are digestible for what you get too, because at $42,995 you basically have a loaded luxury SUV with most of the low-speed off-road prowess of a Ford Raptor, which leads us to an interesting conundrum: Once you tack on a power sunroof, navigation, an engine upgrade, and a few options, you are nearing the $50,000 mark, which is where a base 2017 Raptor starts out.
While we don’t foresee too many Grand Cherokee fans jumping ship in favor of a Raptor or vice versa, the Trailhawk and its clientele do reside in a murky gray area where budget constraints aren’t as much of a concern as buyer preference and performance needs. This leaves the Jeep to go toe-to-toe with vehicles like Toyota’s TRD Pro 4Runner, which is also a very capable off-road machine, but is nowhere near as luxurious or adaptable as the Grand Cherokee for the same price.
If you know that you need all those off-road settings and interior refinements, and really enjoy spending time outdoors, we strongly suggest opting for a Grand Cherokee Trailhawk. But if you just need a nicely loaded Jeep or want 4×4 mode in case of wintry weather, turning toward a different trim grade — the Dodge Durango might also be a wise decision.