A measure of certification, like any seal of approval, is only valuable if the endorsement is measurable and relevant. To be worthwhile it needs to be more than just a wave from a dentist called Rob.
The 2016 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk carries with it a qualification of being Trail Rated, a mark, which in this context, signifies something very relevant and ultimately, very measurable.
To achieve this rating of being a ‘real Jeep’, the Trailhawk must exhibit excellence with traction, articulation, manoeuvrability, ground clearance and water fording ability.
Jeep put this to the test on the Rubicon Trail in the mountains of California, so kicking about in Melbourne should be a breeze – right?
Priced from $52,000 (before options and on road costs) the Trailhawk has subtly crept up $3,000 from its 2015 price of $49,000 due to fluctuations in the value of the US-dollar. Thanks Obama.
You don’t hit the road empty handed though, as the top of the range model Cherokee comes well equipped both inside and out.
Featuring unique front and rear bumpers for better entry and departure angles, flared wheel arches, blackout panel on the bonnet (designed to reduce glare…) and bright red recovery hooks (that do look suitably hardcore), the Trailhawk easily sets itself apart from looking like any other Cherokee.
Considering too that the Cherokee already sets itself apart from looking like any other car on the road, the Trailhawk makes a pretty profound statement. If a regular Jeep tells the neighbours you are quite outdoorsy, the Trailhawk makes them think Bear Grylls has moved in.
It sits 36mm higher than other Cherokee models (221mm ground clearance), rides on chunky-ish 245mm all-season tyres on 17-inch wheels and in our car’s bright white paint (one of eight available colours and the only one that doesn’t attract a $500 pearl or metallic premium) looks ready to tackle anything.
The journey will be comfortable too, as the Trailhawk includes electrically adjustable, heated leather seats with cool red stitching. They are very comfortable and provide good support on the bolsters.
Back seat room isn’t enormous but it is fine for children or adults on shorter trips. The boot too isn’t a standout. Jeep note it at 700-litres, but that is for loads measured to the roof rather than the height of the parcel cover. The capacity expands to 1667-litres by folding the rear seats down, but if you are thinking of carting people and gear, then best to take some props to your local Jeep dealer to get a feel for the size yourself.
Our car features the optional ($3,000) technology pack which adds adaptive cruise control, braking assist, blind spot detection, lane departure warning and an automatic parking function. These add a lot of ‘premium’ value to the Cherokee and are worthwhile additions for the passive safety function alone. They arguably should be included at the Trailhawk’s price point though; the $47,410 Mazda CX-5 Akera, while not as off-road focussed as the Jeep, includes all of this technology as standard.
The 8.4-inch U-Connect navigation touch screen offers the usual suite of infotainment functions but is missing DAB radio, which is available on the Grand Cherokee systems. It’s easy enough to pair a phone and to use, but it crashed on us a couple of times – returning to full function when using the old ‘turn the car off then on again’ trick.
The seven-inch colour LCD display on the instrument binnacle had a few glitches too, again it was easily reset but still frustrating. The amount of data available here is excellent, and we loved the old Willys Jeep shown in the automatic parking function screen, but the navigation of functions from the steering wheel buttons is quite complex and needs a lot of practice to become second nature.
One feature of the Cherokee, and in fact most Jeep and Chrysler vehicles (even the occasional Maserati), are the hidden rocker-switches on the back of the steering wheel that control the nine-speaker stereo volume and music track selection. They don’t take long to get used to and are strangely intuitive to use.
Around town, the 200kW / 316Nm 3.2-litre, Pentastar V6 is punchy and well-matched to the nine-speed automatic transmission. Power delivery is smooth and gear changes well-tuned.
It is thirsty though, recording 14.5L/100km – well above the claimed 10L/100km combined cycle. This may be due in part to the sensitive throttle, which encourages you to drive with a bit more ‘enthusiasm’ than you otherwise would.
The steering is quite a lot of work in urban areas, requiring more turning effort and angle than other similarly sized SUVs. For off-road work, this is a benefit as minor steering inputs result in minor steering output – a must for negotiating tricky terrain with accuracy. It’s a trade off for buyers though, more work to live with during the week for better payoff on the weekend.
Trade-offs extend to the ride, as it too is more geared for back-country adventuring and is much firmer than more urban-centric Cherokee models. It’s not crashy or unsettling and in a way makes the Jeep a bit more fun to punt around town, a constant reminder of your more extreme Jeepness.
You bought the off-road one for a reason so as they say, if you are going to be a bear, be a grizzly.
To really stretch the Cherokee’s legs, we took the Trailhawk for a jaunt down some of our favourite trails in the Toolangi State Forest east of Melbourne.
For its off-road adventuring, the Cherokee Trailhawk is fitted with a number of underbody protection panels and Jeep’s Selec-Terrain surface management system. As is the case with most products like this, simply set the dial to the type of terrain you are driving on and the car will sort out the rest.
A rear differential lock is part of the Trailhawk package, and as with everything American it has a cool (trademarked) name; Jeep Active Drive Lock. Set the Cherokee to rock mode and you’ll be able to enjoy that 30-degree approach and 32-degree departure angle as the car crawls over more extreme ground.
Also part of the package is a low-range drive setting, additional oil and transmission coolers and up to 508mm water fording depth. Those little red badges don’t seem so pointless now.
In a word, the Trailhawk is capable.
That slow steering and twitchy throttle you were cursing early now makes much more sense and the Jeep is a pretty confident machine off the beaten track. It is better on dry surfaces though, as Toolangi’s famed muddy clay very quickly clogged the Yokohama tyres (even with reduced pressure), so we’d love to try it with some more aggressive mud tyres one day.
Sadly the KL Cherokee’s chassis (which it shares with the Alfa Romeo Guilietta – I know right?) doesn’t allow after-market suspension lifts, so the Trailhawk as you see it is basically as extreme as it gets.
That said, it has good articulation and can easily manage an intermediate off-road trail without too much stress and in plenty of comfort.
Running the Cherokee will cost about $2960 over three years, with service intervals every six-months or 12,000km.
The 2016 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk might look a bit like a moon-buggy, but there is no denying it looks and behaves like a proper Jeep. Is it worthy of its ‘Trail Rating’ certification? Absolutely.
You do have to want to drive a real Jeep or at least want to look like you are driving a real Jeep to pick Trailhawk over the more comfortable (and $3000 cheaper) Limited model.
The value equation might have slipped in the past six-months but there is little in the $50-odd grand price bracket that can compete with the Trailhawk for outright adventure capability and around town comfort.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.