2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Review - Video

Sep. 18, 2013 By Josh Burns, Photos by Josh Burns and Courtesy Jeep, Video by Sean Matic

2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Review

The Trailhawk still receives the benefits of fuel economy derived from the 9-speed transmission while offering improved off-road capability via improved approach and departure angles as well as an additional two inches of lift.

Drive Impressions
Although each version of the Jeep Cherokee was available, and we did drive a number of them over the course of the press launch with Jeep, we focused most of our time on the Trailhawk – the vehicle that off-roaders will realistically purchase (and honestly the only version we’d want). When we first slid behind the wheel of a 3.2-liter V6-powered Trailhawk for the on-road riding impression, we were pleased with the overall layout of the Cherokee’s interior, which seems to have all features placed in concise yet aesthetically pleasing layout. At 6 feet tall, I was comfortable in the front seat (and my even taller 6’3” co-driver did not complain of the fit either, other than the stiff seat cushions). Ergonomically, the layout and design was thoughtfully crafted – controls are easy to use and operate, with our GPS directions easy to see and read and the instruments providing easy-to-read vehicle information, such as which gear we were in when we shifted manually in Sport mode.

The Cherokee feels solid on the road. It has a certain heft to it where it doesn’t feel too flimsy and yet it handles the corners with precision and confidence, making it fun to drive. The 2.4-liter motor certainly whines a bit more when tackling the hills, which is to be expected, while the 3.2-liter V6 felt a little more comfortable in uphill climbs on the windy two-lane roads above Malibu, California, where we conducted our road testing. The nine-speed transmission certainly provides an increase in fuel economy (31 mpg highway with the 2.4-liter, 28 mpg for the 3.2-liter), but more importantly in our eyes it operates smoothly on the street or off-road. The Cherokee exhibits good acceleration from stoplights, plenty of zip at highway speed, and it never feels as though it’s hunting for one of the nine gears. Speaking of the highway, we were never able to find 9th gear. It wasn’t a major issue either way, but we figured at highway speed we would have found that gear at cruising speed on the freeway yet we never did.

When it came time to hit the dirt, Jeep set up an off-road course for us. The Cherokee is a vehicle that will appeal to a great number of owners, and it will be in direct competition with other mid-sized SUVs such as the Toyota Rav4, Ford Escape and Honda CRV. And face it, none of those vehicles are off-roaders. But this is a Jeep, and the Cherokee, although modernized, is still designed to tackle the trails in the Trailhawk version.

With an additional two inches of lift (one tire, one suspension), a rear locker, skip plates and improved approach and departure angles, the Trailhawk is legitimately built to perform as any vehicle branded a Jeep should. Only the Trailhawk model is Trail Rated, mind you, so while 4x4 is available on other models, it’s the Trailhawk you’ll want if hitting the trails is in the cards.

Skid plates give the Trailhawk protection for rocks and obstacles.

So how does it perform? Quite well, actually. We tackled the off-road course that Jeep laid out for us with both a 2.4-liter-equipeed Trailhawk and one outfitted with the V6, and both show no major signs of struggle other than the occasional wheel spin. We climbed soft, muddy slopes, creeped down off-camber hills, inched over rocky slopes, and in all the Cherokee performed confidentially. It has enough lift to get over most moderate obstacles, and the skid plates on the Trailhawk provide an added sense of confidence when climbing rocks and steep slopes. Sure, the off-road course was designed by Jeep with the aid of Jeep Jamboree workers, who know full well the vehicle’s capabilities, but as Mark Allen explained to use at the event, he and other Jeep employees did recently take Cherokee through the Rubicon in Northern California. You’re probably thinking what I was, “Yeah, but they had to winch it through everywhere, I bet.” Nope. Allen was happy to say it performed very well – he did note that it went on the winch in one of the sluice sections but only to straighten out the vehicle. 

The Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk is not for the hard-core off-roader – that buyer already owns or should be looking at the Wrangler anyway – but it is a great option for the Jeep buyer who occasionally goes off road but wants a mid-size SUV with good fuel economy. The Cherokee will probably sell well in the mid-size segment and most of the Sport, Latitude and Limited models will hardly sniff the dirt. The Trailhawk is the vehicle for the outdoorsman, occasional off-roader and camper who wants Jeep capability in a compact SUV package.

So while we think that Jeep will have no trouble selling a great number of Cherokee based upon its road manners and fuel economy, when it comes to the off-road side of the equation, the Cherokee Trailhawk just makes the grade for us. In our world, we would love to see an even more aggressive Trailhawk, but then again, that’s where the aftermarket comes into play. Not all of the trim levels of the Cherokee fit the bill, but when it comes to the Trailhawk, it still feels like a Jeep to us.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Starting Prices
Cherokee Trailhawk 4x4 - $29,495
Cherokee Limited 4x4 - $29,995
Cherokee Limited 4x2 - $27,995
Cherokee Latitude 4x4 - $26,495
Cherokee Latitude 4x2 - $24,495
Cherokee Sport 4x4 - $24,995
Cherokee Sport 4x4 - $22,995

For more information, visit http://www.jeep.com/.

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