2017 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Review

Jun. 13, 2017 By Josh Burns, Photos by Stephen Elmer and Josh Burns
The Cherokee Trailhawk is Trail Rated and ready for adventure.

The 2017 Jeep Cherokee may not seem like the first Jeep youíd opt for to tackle the trails. This mid-size SUV appears more apt for picking up the kids from school and taking a day trip to the beach or lake with the family. Trail capability is an important aspect of the Jeep brand, however, and thatís why the Cherokee is also offered in a Trailhawk package, which essentially means it is the most capable version for off-roading.

Exactly how far does that Trailhawk package and its Trail Rated badge take you on the trails? Thatís what we aim to find out.

The Cherokee is a mid-size SUV on the outside but feels spacious on the inside.

Hitting the Road
We secured a 2017 Cherokee Trailhawk for a road trip from Southern California out to Moab, Utah. The long drive provided plenty of time to soak in all of the amenities of Jeepís mid-size SUV. Having recently driven both a Grand Cherokee and the new Compass, we were pleasantly surprised at just how much interior cabin space the Cherokee provides. Although we didnít have any passengers for the long road trip, once in Moab we filled up the rig with camera and video equipment and a crew of three adults, and we felt there was plenty of space to fit everything with no hassle. We especially appreciate the power lift gate for loading and unloading gear.

Firestone Destination A/T tires are fitted on the Cherokee Trailhawk, offering a decent amount of off-road traction and yet are relatively quiet on the highway.

The Cherokee Trailhawk may be marketed with a nod toward its off-road capability, but the Trailhawk model also comes with a host of premium upgrades that focus on comfort. Nappa leather seats are found throughout, with red Trailhawk stitching accenting the heated and ventilated front seats, which is nice for somewhere like Moab where it can be downright cold when the sun is down and pretty hot when itís out.

The Cherokee Trailhawk features a 7-inch touchscreen at the center of the dash, and the driver is treated to a heater leather steering wheel.

More creature comforts are found in the cabin, such as a heated steering wheel, eight-way adjustable driverís seat, a remote start system and the Jeep Keyless Enter ín Go push-button start. The UConnect infotainment 7-inch touchscreen is found front and center of the dash, offering USB and auxiliary connection, satellite radio and BlueTooth phone connection. New for 2017 are HID headlamps, and we had our fair share of needing plenty of visibility driving the empty roads out to Moab after sundown.

The 3.2L Pentastar V6 engine offers plenty of get-up-and-go for the city and highway, and we observed a combined 22.1 mpg fuel economy over the course of our testing.

Powering our Cherokee Trailhawk is a 3.2L Pentastar V6 engine rated to produce 271 hp and 239 lb.-ft. of torque. The V6 is mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission. Overall, we liked the performance of the engine for our long highway drive. Around town the engine has enough zip to get up to speed fairly quickly from stops and when hopping on the highway, and although the nine-speed trans is designed to aid in fuel economy it didnít feel like it significantly limited the playfulness of the small V6. When on the open road, the Pentastar engine offers plenty of power to overtake a car and confidently pass trailers and trucks. While the handling of the Cherokee is not exactly sporty, the mid-size SUV is fun to drive around town and still comfortable enough for road trips.

Leather seats are outfitted on the Trailhawk, and aside from the red-stiched logo, the seats also offered heated and cooling features.

Thereís plenty of cargo space out back, and we really liked the power lift gate for loading and unloading gear.

We averaged roughly 22.1 mpg over the course of the entire trip, a shade above the 21 mpg combined rating for the V6, which is not surprising since a lot of our journey was highway miles. The 3.2L V6 comes standard with engine stop-start technology, which is designed to improve fuel economy by shutting off the engine at stop lights, but we found ourselves turning it off more often than not because it can get bothersome - and weíre happy to have the option to do so! Although we did not tow with our test unit, when fitted with the Trailer Tow Package the Cherokee can pull up to 4,500 pounds.

Getting off of the pavement is not problem for the Trailhawk, thanks to its improved approach, departure and breakover angles.

Rated for the Trails
There are a few key features that set the Trailhawk apart from other Cherokees, with one of the most trail worthy aspects being the Jeep Active Drive Lock system. Although Active Drive II features a 4WD Low mode and 56:1 crawl ratio, the next-level Active Drive Lock features all of those things but also includes a mechanical rear axle lock, offering additional traction for the rear end of the Jeep when tackling more challenging terrain. The Active Drive Lock 4x4 system also includes the Selec-Terrain Traction Management system, allowing the driver to pick the setting for the appropriate terrain whether it be Snow, Sand/Mud or Rock mode (thereís also a setting for Auto and Sport).

The Trailhawk is fitted with the Active Drive Lock System, which not only includes a low range setting but also a rear differential lock. The system also includes the Selec-Terrain function as well.

The Trailhawk comes with the signature red tow hooks up front.

The ground clearance on the Trailhawk isnít great at 8.7 inches, and we certainly found the limitations of this on some rocky terrain just outside of Moab, but thatís where the skid plates unique to the Trailhawk definitely come in handy. What does improve considerably on the Trailhawk model is the approach, breakover and departure angles. The approach angle on the Trailhawk improves to 29.9 degrees (up from 21.0 on Selec-Terrain II models), the breakover angle improves slightly at 22.9 degrees (from 21.7 on 4x4 II), and the departure angle improves to 32.2 degrees (from 27.3 on 4x4 II). What this all equates to is being able to take the Cherokee Trailhawk on some moderate trails without bashing the fascias and bumpers into oblivion.

We really had the chance to test out the traction and ground clearance of the Cherokee Trailhawk on this rocky trail.

Finding Limits
We had our fair share of trail variety during our test. Aside from dozens of on-road hours, we ventured off the pavement on everything from dusty, hard-packed fire roads to sandy, soft trails - we even tested our mettle on some moderately rocky trails. The conclusion is the Trailhawk is definitely the Cherokee youíd want off of the pavement, but there are limits to what youíll want to realistically tackle.

In Moab and in the areas just outside of the city, most of the trails and campsites are accessed by either hard-packed dirt roads with the occasional sandy corners. The Cherokee Trailhawk is great for exploring off of the pavement, because while the ground clearance of the Jeep isnít stellar the improved approach angle certainly makes you less concerned about driving over bumps and ruts at 20 mph when off the highway. We drove on a section of sandy trails that run up and over rolling hills, and the Trailhawk confidently powered up and down the trails and never bottomed out when transitioning between hills. Even when we had to slow down to turn around in sand and silt, we simply shifted into low range and maneuvered through the sand without worry of getting stuck. We did adjust the Selec-Terrain settings at times, but the only occasions we really noted a difference was in the sand and rock settings.

The Trailhawk is tough, and the skid plates underneath it certainly instill confidence on rocky trails, but thereís only so much suspension articulation available that will limit going on anything more than a moderate trail.

Speaking of rocks, after spending plenty of time on pretty basic trails that offered no real challenge other than getting stuck in sand, we felt brave enough to tackle a pretty rocky trail section, and this is where we found our limitations. Shifting into low range and putting the Selec-Terrain in Rock mode, we crawled up and down the rock-strewn trail, careful to pick the right line because any miscue could cause body damage. We eventually came to a rock ledge that was just a little too tall for the Jeep, because in spite of its skid plates, rear locker and improved angles, thereís a limit to the suspension articulation, and we already managed to get one of the wheels off the ground on a ledge. The Trailhawk is the most capable Cherokee, but that doesnít mean youíll want to pretend itís a Wrangler. 

The Cherokee Trailhawk is civilized for city life but ready for adventure when you are.

Final Thoughts
The Cherokee Trailhawk is the most trail-capable Cherokee, and it is certainly ready for off-pavement exploration. The Trailhawk has legit trail capability. With its selectable low range and rear locker, it is far more capable than any other mid-size SUV we can think of, but the lack of serious suspension articulation, decent-but-not-great ground clearance and the moderate all-terrain tires require managed expectations.

Trail capability aside, the Cherokee Trailhawk is very civilized inside, and this package is loaded with premium features typically found only on top-end models. We like the spaciousness and features inside the Cherokee, its overall handling and performance. The Cherokee Trailhawk is ready to tackle lifeís daily demands, and itís ready for adventure when you need it to be.

The base starting price for the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk 4x4 is $31,195, but ours is optioned up to $43,180, which includes things such as the nine-speaker sound system ($595), 17-inch aluminum wheels ($655), SafetyTec Group that includes Blind Spot and Cross Path Detection ($1,155) and a few other things. For more information on available options and packages, visit Jeep.com/cherokee.

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