Isaac Bober’s first drive 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety and verdict.
In a nutshell The Cherokee Trailhawk is the off-road ready Cherokee with bespoke front and rear bumpers and one-inch lift.
Practical Motoring says The most expensive Cherokee in the range, the Trailhawk is the most capable off-road thanks to its raised ride and improved approach and departure angles. Despite that, the Cherokee Trailhawk isn’t actually that impressive away from the bitumen, and buyers might be better off looking at, cheaper but still 4WD,models like the Longitude or Limited.
MEET THE TOUGH guy of the Jeep Cherokee range, the Cherokee Trailhawk. At first glance it looks, more or less, like any other Cherokee. But look a bit closer and you’ll notice, first, the Trail Rated badge tacked on above front wheels and it’s more than just a marketing ploy, or perhaps not…
Jeep suggests that ‘Trail Rating’ its vehicle means it meets five key consumer-oriented criteria including, traction, ground clearance, manoeuvrability, articulation and water fording. And the Cherokee Trailhawk meets those criteria thanks to its improved approach, departure, and breakover angles (because of bespoke front and rear bumpers) which are 29.9, 32.2, and 22.9 degrees, respectively. It also gets a one-inch lift over its siblings, taking its total ground clearance to 221mm.
Beyond that the Cherokee Trailhawk gets a raft of model-specific off-road gadgetry to help it cope with the rough and tumble of life away from the bitumen. The Trailhawk gets Jeep’s Active Drive Lock which adds a locking read differential for low speed crawling, and like other 4WD models also comes with Jeep’s Selec-Terrain, which is a little bit like Land Rover’s Terrain Response in that it allows you to dial through various terrain settings: Auto; Snow; Sport; Sand/Mud and Rock.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Cherokee also features rear axle disconnect that sees it run as a front-drive vehicle when all-wheel drive isn’t needed. The system is able to shift seamlessly between all drive layouts in a few milliseconds.
We’ll come back to how well all this works in the real world in a moment. Under the bonnet the Cherokee Trailhawk gets a 3.2-litre V6 petrol engine that makes 200kW (at 6500rpm) and 316Nm of torque (at 4400rpm), this is mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission, is happy to drink 91RON fuel and consumes a combined 10.0L/100km.
When we tested the Cherokee Sport 4×2 we mentioned the nine-speed automatic came off feeling jerky around town as it seemingly struggled with less power and less torque. Thankfully, as we expected, the nine-speed works well with the 3.2L V6 engine offering smooth shifts at both around town and highway speeds. But it still feels like it would have been just as well served by having six-speeds instead of nine…
Away from the bitumen the Cherokee Trailhawk struggled on our off-road test route and even failed one climb completely due to a lack of grip despite its all-season tyres (more aggressive tyres might have seen it succeed). Across a badly pot-holed stretch of track the Trailhawk tended to buck and bounce, whereas our long-term Subaru XV shows better body control across the same stretch of track, rolling more smoothly.
The Cherokee Trailhawk also struggled for grip in places where our XV doesn’t. For the record both vehicles have the same amount of ground clearance (221mm), although the XV makes do with permanent all-wheel drive, whereas the Cherokee doesn’t. The Cherokee Trailhawk, because of the nature of the beast, should get more aggressive tyres as standard.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad vehicle off-road, it’s actually quite capable, but it’s no more capable than any of the other front-runners in this segment, like Nissan X-Trail or Land Rover Freelander2. Is it a gimmick? No, not quite, but it’s no city-friendly Jeep Wrangler either.
On the road, the Cherokee Trailhawk isn’t quite as smooth on the road as perhaps the Cherokee Limited, but the difference is marginal, although there’s a touch more bodyroll through corners. The steering is direct in its action but a little artificially heavy feeling. The brakes offer plenty of bite but the pedal feel is a little wooden and lacks progression, meaning you need to give them a decent shove.
Inside, the new Jeep Cherokee is a massive step ahead of previous generations with plenty of soft-touch plastics splashed around your eye-line. But, let your hands wander around the cabing and you’ll find plenty of cheap, scratchy plastic. And while the 8.4-inch touch screen makes wandering through various audio and navigation settings fairly easy it’s a little sluggish to respond at times and several times while playing music through my iPhone the screen simply stopped showing the track that was playing.
The seats are soft enough but they lack any real lateral or under-thigh support which becomes particularly noticable on longer drives or when off-road. There’s plenty of room in both the front and back and the fact the rear seats can be slid forwards and backwards makes for a practical interior. At 412 litres, the boot isn’t huge but the shape is good and the load lip is level with the boot floor making it easy to lift things into the back.
The Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk is the most expensive Cherokee in the range and lists from $47,500 (+ORC), and for that you get clever a front passenger seat that not only folds flat but also offers in-seat storage, auto-dimming rear vision mirror, deep tint sunscreen glass, remote start, powered tailgate, leather interior with heated front seats, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone climate control, tow hooks, and Bluetooth with audio streaming and sat-nav.
In terms of safety, the Cherokee Trailhawk receives a five-star ANCAP crash safety rating as well as seven airbags and traction and stability controls. But if you want the full array of Chrysler’s safety tech, including blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning, and front and rear park assist systems with stop and release, you’ll have to pay more.