Close your eyes and try to think of a more versatile midsize SUV than the Jeep Grand Cherokee. I'll wait. Give up? Don't feel too bad, because the list of sport utility vehicles capable of tackling the wide range of price points, practicality demands, and performance profiles offered by the Grand Cherokee's expansive lineup is a short one—especially considering that 2017 sees the debut of the Trailhawk model.
In between the base $44,000 Laredo and the 475-horsepower, track-tuned SRT at $72,000, there was plenty of room for Jeep to give the Grand Cherokee its own crack at the off-road-oriented Trailhawk tag that has already been appended to the smaller Cherokee and Renegade.
Trailhawk, take 2
This isn't the first time we've seen the Trailhawk badge on a Grand Cherokee, mind you, as the previous-generation vehicle also offered the same appellation for a single model year, immediately before its redesign. That first Trailhawk ran afoul of the fact that the Jeep was already so talented at parsing off-road obstacles and rough terrain that the extra off-road gear (Kevlar-strong tires and tow hooks, in addition to a suspension system that was also available on non-Trailhawk editions) were easy to overlook, with some brand fanatics choosing to criticize the decals, interior appointments, and other non-mission critical components that made up the majority of the package.
Four years later, the story is in some ways the same. Aside from the asphalt-oriented SRT, there's really no version of the Jeep Grand Cherokee that can't handle relatively rugged driving conditions far from the beaten path, with even the base 4WD system (Quadra-Trac I) delivering traction and ground clearance at a higher level than what most buyers will ever need.
Where the Trailhawk redux excels, however, is at doing a more effective job of marrying the plusher aspects of the Jeep Grand Cherokee's available equipment list with a legitimate “Trail Rated” badge (which isn't possible from the luxury-laden Summit trim, due to its dangling front body work). This is the Jeep that seems to answer the question—surely asked by someone, somewhere—as to why one can't enjoy the benefits of ventilated seats while crawling from one rock to the next.
Delivering the goods
What exactly does selecting the 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk bundle together for you from the SUV's appealing cluster of options? Specifically, on the muddy side of the chassis, the 'ute comes with the top-tier Quadra-Drive II 4WD system (which includes a limited-slip rear differential, low-range gearing, and the Selec-Terrain system's dial-it-in off-road programming), a unique Quadra-Lift air suspension that offers more wheel travel than you'll find on other Grand Cherokee models, Kevlar-lined tires (again) with a knobby tread that bumps up ground clearance just a smidge (to a full 10.8”), and of course hill descent control, low-speed crawl control, skid plates, and tow hooks (rock rails are offered as a Mopar accessory). You can order the vehicle with either a 295-horsepower 3.6L V6 or a 360-horsepower 5.7L V8, each of which is mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission.
Open the door to the Trailhawk's cabin and its Wrangler-challenging mechanical specs give way to a more genteel passenger experience. Standard features include the Uconnect 8.4 infotainment system (with its large, easy-to-use touchscreen), heated and cooled Nappa leather seats with Trailhawk stitching (and suede inserts), a heated steering wheel, a cargo cover, power-folding side mirrors, and access to a long list of options (including some serious active safety equipment, a panoramic sunroof, LED fog lights and running lights, navigation, and rain-sensing wipers).
Conquer in comfort
My tester offered nearly the full gamut of equipment, with $8,640 worth of options piled on top of its MRSP, in effect transforming the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk into a smooth on-road cruiser that eats up miles just as effectively as it breaks trail.
I've always been a fan of the Grand Cherokee's ability to straddle both the urban and off-grid operating environments, and unlike the Wrangler Unlimited there's no list of “yes, but” qualifications to make regarding day-to-day liveability. If you can stomach the fuel bill for the thirsty V8's horses, the Trailhawk comes highly recommended for anyone who might have been pining for the go-anywhere freedom of the Wrangler, but remained anchored to the reality of their daily commute. Obviously, the V6 is ready to step in for those seeking a more frugal ride.
With an asking price just $5,000 higher than that of the Grand Cherokee Limited, the Trailhawk makes a lot of sense as a dual-purpose country/city/Armageddon bug-out vehicle. In fact, having driven both extensively, I think it's fair to say that the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk offers 90% of the Wrangler Unlimited's off-road acumen, letting you have your fun in the mud without having to deal with the bump and grind of a solid front axle. Chances are, if you really needed that last 10% to crest the next rise in the rock face, you weren't even considering a Grand Cherokee in the first place.