On the Road Review: Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk

It is raining huge water drops as the latest Jeep Cherokee heads north from Seabrook, N.H., into the third winter storm of fall. Traffic on the Maine Turnpike is narrowing down to the middle lane as wet, heavy snow replaces the coastal rain as the Jeep pushes through slowing traffic. Most front-drive car pilots — you know the ones — are hunched over their steering wheels, with a white-knuckled grip on the wheel, staring wide-eyed at the bumper in front of them.

In conditions like this, it becomes clear how the transformation to AWD crossovers has accelerated. After decades of marketing professing the space, fuel efficiency and superior traction of front-drive cars versus rear-drive vehicles, consumers have learned that AWD crossovers and SUVs are vastly superior to front-drive cars when the weather turns ugly. Visibility is improved, driving confidence is superior and the packaging variables with today’s five-door wagons enables active lifestyles.

Shod with Firestone Destination M&S tires, the Jeep Cherokee glided past these middle-of-the-road obstacles. With selectable all-wheel drive, plus lockage four-wheel drive and several drive modes, the Cherokee Trailhawk offered superior grip, stability and ultimately driver comfort, which was aided by heated leather seating and a heated steering wheel. Let it snow; the Cherokee can handle it without you or the vehicle breaking a sweat.

Adding to driver unease is the proclivity of too many drivers relying on all-season tires for their winter driving, often worn beyond acceptable tread levels for the demands of snow travel. While Teva makes boots now, you don’t wear their sandals or beach shoes in the winter; why would you expect that your car would work best with compromise tires that are supposed “to work” in all four seasons? This misnomer leads to numerous drivers expressing that their cars are useless in the snow. It’s not the car — it’s the tires. Even AWD vehicles with bad tires are still weak in snow conditions.

The Cherokee proved not to be weak at any driving demands. Spending most of our days together with wipers activated and snow-mode engaged on the console control, the redesigned Cherokee Trailhawk didn’t deliver the predicted EPA fuel economy, but it did prove to be a capable road warrior when conditions dictated superior traction.

Wearing new fascias front and rear, and a cleaner overall stance, the latest Cherokee retains the virtues that have helped this model propel Jeep to record sales levels. Jeep has quickly become America’s number six-selling brand, led by the lifestyle Wrangler, then this Cherokee and then the venerable Grand Cherokee. Add the hot-selling Compass compact crossover, plus the release of the new Gladiator pickup, and you’ll understand why being a Jeep dealer is a license to print money in a market still gaga over individual expression vehicles that feature some off-road bonafides.

With traffic stalled by road closures or slide-off accidents, the Jeep shrugged off these inconveniences. Powered by a new 2.0-liter turbo-four engine option, practically the same output as the larger, heavier 3.2-liter V-6 (270 hp), the Trailhawk was smooth and powerful as Jeep has finally finessed the shifting program in the innovative nine-speed automatic transmission. The cold temperatures and constant snowfall, however, impeded our fuel economy, as the EPA mileage estimates of 20/26/22 mpg proved elusive. Our realized fuel economy was only 21-mpg.

Front-drive Cherokee models start at $23,995 with a roomy cabin front and rear. Trailhawk trim, $33,320 to start, brings traction system upgrades like hill descent control, select terrain controls, crawl control for off-road, plus a beefed-up suspension. Premium leather seating, keyless access and ignition plus blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic detection are included along with the definitive red tow hooks front and rear.

Package upgrades add lane departure assist, dynamic cruise, rain-sensing wipers (which don’t like snow and ice), forward collision mitigation braking, power rear liftgate, plus parking assist sensors front and rear. These are all features that many buyers will readily embrace. As shown, our Billet Silver Trailhawk listed for $40,475.

Drivers also will admire the efficiency of the Cherokee’s controls; no one offers better steering wheel functionality with so much ease of operation, FCA’s 8-inch U-Connect screen still impresses. Few automakers still provide full-size spare tires like the Jeep (clean and dry under the rear floor), and certainly no other automaker puts so much emphasis on the ability to actually safely operate off-road. Excellent ground clearance, proper tires and the traction systems to back it all up set the Trailhawk apart from all other crossover rivals.

The average age of today’s driving fleet is over 11 years old. If you have been out of the new vehicle market for that long, you’ll find a lot to admire in the latest Cherokee — and you won’t lament the changes in design from 1990s versions.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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