Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk review

The fifth generation Jeep Cherokee includes in its line-up a rarely seen model engineered for epic off-road abilities - the 3.2-litre V6 petrol-powered Trailhawk version. The experts at Car & Driving find out what makes this model so special. By Car & Driving

Ten Second Review

The Trailhawk is a 'Trail Rated' version of the MK5 model Cherokee, meaning it's designed to be even more competent off-road. Jeep has endowed the Trailhawk with a range of features to ensure that its abilities in five key areas (traction, ground clearance, manoeuvrability, articulation and water fording) surpass that of other Cherokee models.

Background

There's no doubt that the fifth generation Jeep Cherokee is a lot more tarmac-focused than its predecessors. You can even get a 2WD version for goodness sake. It was important though, for the brand to keep its mud-plugging credentials intact, hence the inclusion n the range of the model we're going o look at here, the Trailhawk version. This variant gets a range of differential locks, skid plates and body modifications to allow it to perform in the most extreme environments. The Trailhawk is aimed at those who actually take their SUVs into the territory they were originally designed for. Jeep themselves describe it as 'The ultimate Cherokee in terms of its off-road ability'. Despite this ruggedness, care was still taken to ensure that the comfort and practicality of the standard model wasn't compromised. The efficiency though has been, the usual car's diesel powerplants replaced here by a 3.2-litre petrol V6 driven via a ZF 9-speed automatic gearbox.

Driving Experience

As can be expected of any vehicle optimized for off-roading, the on-road dynamics have been affected. Due to its lifted off-road suspension and standard Active Drive Lock 4x4 system, the Trailhawk is a little less refined than an ordinary Cherokee would be in everyday driving, despite its quieter powerplant. However, the balance that Jeep has managed to strike between comfort and off-road ability is impressive. The cabin is largely unchanged, so driving is still a comfortable and rather luxurious affair whether traversing a muddy field or picking the kids up from school. The 3.2 'Pentastar' petrol V6 found under the bonnet of the Trailhawk delivers a healthy 268bhp and 315Nm of torque. It also adds some aural quality to the Cherokee - something lacking with the four-cylinder engines in the standard models. It sounds more expensive and luxurious and provides the Jeep with a turn of pace that the other variants cannot hope to match. The 9-speed ZF gearbox and V6 engine make a fantastic pairing, with the gearbox's wide range of ratios making the most of the power & torque. However, the first few gears are too widely spaced for a gearbox with 9 cogs. This transmission, inevitably, isn't as quick-shifting as a more sophisticated double-clutch auto gearbox would be but it's far from slow and is very smooth.

Design and Build

Visually, the Trailhawk is more imposing than the standard car. Buyers of this top variant get redesigned bumpers, an elevated ride height and signature red tow hooks. Inside, the Trailhawk offers Nappa leather seats, red interior stitching accents and an infotainment system with an 8.4-inch touch screen display. These standard-fit items make the cabin a more pleasant and contemporary place to sit and though material quality isn't quite at the level of more premium offerings, this generation Cherokee has drastically improved in this regard, especially on this Trailhawk model. Extensive changes have been made to this version to allow it to deal with harsh terrain. A low-range transmission fitted with Jeep's Selec-Terrain traction management system is standard, as are Active Drive Lock and Selec Speed, which enhance traction and assist with steep descents. Skid plates for the suspension, transmission, fuel tank and body help prevent components from being damaged over particularly arduous ground. A full size spare tyre is also standard, so should you suffer a puncture, you won't be relying on the tyre service kit of other models, which would be of little help out in the sticks.

Market and Model

The Trailhawk sits at the top of the Cherokee range and aims to justify its extra cost by being quicker, more powerful and better equipped than the standard diesel variants, as well as being more talented off road. The price for the Trailhawk starts at around £35,000, nearly £10,000 more than the base model. Toyota's RAV4 and Honda's CRV are close rivals to the standard Cherokee models but not to this gnarlier Trailhawk version. In fact, there isn't much you could put against it. SUVs that can match it off road are very different - say a cruder Land Rover Defender or a bigger Toyota LandCruiser. This Jeep is certainly plusher than most serious compact off road SUVs. A Nappa leather interior, an 8.4-inch infotainment system and a 9-speed ZF automatic gearbox come as standard. As it's the range topper, the Trailhawk gets all the lesser models' equipment too, while deep tinted sunscreen glass, dark grey metallic mirrors and various accent colours distinguish it from other models in the range, if the off-road armour didn't do that already.

Cost of Ownership

Jeep has worked hard to improve the efficiency of its diesel Cherokees but this petrol 3.2-litre V6 version has had to sacrifice efficiency at the altar of performance and torque. As a result, the combined cycle fuel figure is 29.4mpg and the CO2 return is up at 223g/km. Insurance is group 28E. What else might you need to know? There's an unremarkable three year / 60,000 mile warranty, though you do get three years of servicing and breakdown cover included in the deal. And residual values? Well inevitably, as you might expect, these won't be quite as strong as those of say Honda, Toyota or Volkswagen but they should be a match for brands like Ford and Vauxhall.

Summary

Should you be in the market for an SUV with the capability of tackling any terrain, the Trailhawk looks to be a competitive offering, providing you can cope with the running costs of V6 petrol power. It may have humble origins, but the flagship Cherokee proves that you don't always have to compromise between off and on road ability. Performance is good, the cabin provides an acceptable level of on-road comfort and though it's fitted with heavy-duty lifted suspension, the ride and handling are both reasonable. Also, the modifications made to the body give it a rugged, no-nonsense look, which is refreshing in this increasingly 'bling' segment. The premium over the base models is significant but a heavy duty Active Drive Lock 4x4 system, a 9-speed ZF auto 'box, sumptuous Nappa leather and a sizeable infotainment system go some way to justifying it. The 3.2-litre V6 engine also adds a feeling of luxury to the car too. In summary then, a rare choice - but one that Jeep lovers will cherish.