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2016 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Review

Urban tough-roader By ,

I may have said this in the past, so bear with me for a few lines. Every week, as I find myself behind the wheel of a new car, I suddenly become hyper-aware of all of the “same” vehicles on the road. The only exception is the Toyota Corolla ― they’re freakin’ EVERYWHERE! 

As I roamed the streets of Montreal, the feeling that I wasn’t alone was a familiar one. I could swear I saw a Cherokee on every other street corner, from the $26,495 base model to my $34,695 Trailhawk tester. Considering the nearly countless options in this segment, I wondered: Why the Cherokee? 

I’d already spent time with the Jeep a year ago and eventually felt bad about my calling it “fugly,” but after a second week, it all made sense. The Cherokee, particularly in Trailhawk guise, can do anything: It is effectively the small King of suburbia. No snowstorm can stop it, a flood had better be Katrina-meets-New-Orleans-like, and hauling the family to the cottage represents no more work for it than getting groceries. 

Trailhawk-ing
Typically, a vehicle’s top trim is the most attractive. Occasionally, a slightly lower version proves more interesting, but in the Jeep’s case, the Trailhawk clearly has it. 

In every conceivable way, the top-line model wins. It sports unique 17” wheels with off-road rubber, accent-coloured grille surrounds, roof rails, exterior mirrors, and even red tow hooks that came in handy when I lodged the Cherokee in some deep snow ― that’s a story for another time… 

Then comes the long list of accessories making the Trail-Rated Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk what it truly is. It’s got Jeep Active Drive Lock that includes a locking rear differential. It also boasts a serious crawl ratio, skid plates all over the underbody, and Jeep’s Selec-Terrain traction management system that offers five settings including Auto, Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud, and Rock. Furthermore, the Trailhawk benefits from 220 mm (8.7”) of ground clearance along with sharp approach and departure angles (29.9 and 32.2 degrees) ― more than enough to drive over parking-lot concrete dividers, if you’re into that sort of thing. Should you want to tow something, it’ll drag up to 4,500 lbs (2,041 kg) for you. 

As such, unless you’re a boob like I, you won’t get stuck with the Cherokee Trailhawk. 

Civil ruffian
For all of its off-road capabilities, the Cherokee remains incredibly civilized. And this is what likely gets consumers to sign on the dotted line when it comes down to selecting their favourite trim. The Trailhawk model poses no compromises whatsoever. The MacPherson strut front and four-link rear suspension is surprisingly compliant for a truck. Of course, even FCA knows that few of its Cherokee Trailhawks will ever really be put to the test. 

Ride comfort is very good, better in fact than some of its Japanese competitors that compromise some wheel travel for an extra dose of handling (via less body roll, for example). The Trailhawk has ample wheel travel and soaks up road irregularities with ease. The electric steering is responsive, while the brakes are perfectly suited to the CUV. 

There’s a price to pay
As configured, my well-appointed Trailhawk rang in at just over $43,000, which is a hefty sum. However, given the number of creature comforts (heated steering wheel and seats, navigation, large sunroof, intelligent cruise control, power liftgate, and loads more), this is not a bad deal. 

Also included in the price is FCA’s optional 3.2L Pentastar V6. Its 271 horsepower and 239 lb-ft of torque are plenty enough for lively acceleration. In the past, I’d have chewed up the dismal 9-speed automatic transmission, but this time, it wasn’t as lazy or stunted. 

Pentastar V6 + 9AT = A passing grade
From a start, the V6 builds momentum nicely, but because max torque arrives at a relatively high 4,400 rpm, the Cherokee’s not as quick as it seems. The autobox still takes its sweet time to drop a few cogs in order to make passing manoeuvres possible, but it felt primed this time ― the 2015 version was downright reluctant to downshift, and then needed far too much time to engage a lower gear. I averaged 12L/100km, which is reasonable for the vehicle. 

The no-compromise approach continues with the interior. Other than a few bits that identify this Jeep Cherokee as a Trailhawk, it sacrifices nothing comfort- and space-wise. The front seats are generously proportioned, while the rear bench will accommodate three adults with certain ease. The trunk’s 700 litres (1,555 litres with the rear seats down) create many loading possibilities. 

Roomy and comfy
In recent years, FCA has been at the forefront of building classy interiors. Despite the Cherokee’s rough and tumble exterior, the cabin is well appointed with smart ergonomics. As always, the Uconnect 8.4” touchscreen brings everything together nicely.  I do like the extra pod of HVAC controls, however I’d love for it to include both heated seats and steering wheel controls in order to save time when starting up the vehicle. 

It’s odd how quickly I adapted to the Cherokee. It wasn’t mine, but I forgot what I was driving on a few occasions. 

Compact competition, but I prefer attitude
Alongside the Jeep Cherokee, consumers could line up the Mazda CX-5, Ford Escape, and Hyundai Tucson, to name a few. Of the lot, the CX-5 is a big winner in my books, but I’m taken with the Cherokee’s rough exterior mixed with highly courteous family manners. 

Photos:S.D'Amour
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