Newly refreshed Cherokee Trailhawk: Getting over the rough stuff

By Jim Prueter

(June 6, 2018) Earlier this year we drove and reviewed the updated 2019 Jeep Cherokee when members of the automotive media were invited to California for its “first drive” introduction. Jeep provided both the Latitude and Overland trim levels and a very limited amount of time in the Trailhawk model for test-driving. Jeep engineers promised I’d get more time behind the wheel of the Trailhawk Elite in the coming months and that time came a week ago when I fully tested the “Trail Rated” Elite.

Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk models with the standard off-road package are Trail Rated. The “Trail Rated” badge on the Trailhawk indicates that the vehicle is designed to perform in a variety of challenging off-road conditions identified by five key performance categories: traction, ground clearance, maneuverability, articulation and water fording.

All Jeep Cherokee Trailhawks are easily set apart and identified from other trim levels by its red colored tow hooks — two in front, one in the rear, and the wing spread Trailhawk logo on the lower right corner of the rear liftgate.

Though a complete redesign of the popular Cherokee isn’t in the offering until 2021 there are a significant number of changes for the refreshed 2019 model and more extensive than typical including the noticeably new front fascia that replaces the bent seven-slot grille and slit-like running lights. With handsome new looks, the new Cherokee favors the styling of the Jeep Grand Cherokee with a more formal appearance.

At the rear is a new liftgate made of a lightweight composite material that can open hands-free with a swipe of your foot under the rear bumper. The new look also has the license plate moving from below the bumper to the liftgate.

The design also includes an aggressive 29.9-degree approach angle and a 32.2 departure angle and breakover angle of 22.9 degrees with its unique front a rear fascia and one-inch factory lift. Running ground clearance is 8.7 inches

Inside, the cabin is mostly a carryover from the previous Cherokee. But, new premium materials and accent pieces to the door trim, and a new larger center console with space for a smartphone add to the improvements. Seats on our Elite are constructed with soft, perforated and heated nappa leather.

The Cherokee features the new, fourth-generation Uconnect infotainment system, offered with a 7- or 8.4-inch touchscreen with multi-touch gestures, including pinch, tap and swipe capability. The larger screen is available with navigation.

Standard Apple CarPlay enables iPhone users to access Apple Maps, messages, phone and Apple Music through Siri voice control or via touchscreen. Android Auto enables easy access to Google Voice search, Google Maps and Google Play Music via the Uconnect system.

The Trailhawk Elite trim level adds an additional $2,995 premium over the Trailhawk and is differentiated by adding a number of features including the hands-free foot-activated power rear liftgate, leather seats with power four-way lumbar support adjustment, heated front seats, power front driver and passenger seats, remote starting, heated steering wheel, security alarm, outside memory mirrors, universal garage-door opener, windshield wiper de-icer and more.

Our test Trailhawk Elite also came with the optional $995 Technology package that includes adaptive cruise control with stop and go, advanced brake assist, automatic high beam control, full-speed collision warning with crash mitigation, lane departure warning, parallel and perpendicular park with stop system, rain-sensing windshield wipers and side distance warning. We highly recommend buyers choosing this option.

Also know that while our Trailhawk Elite was not equipped with the optional power operated panoramic sunroof. If you select that option taller people sitting in the backseat will find headroom is annoyingly restricted.

The standard engine for the Trailhawk Elite is the 3.2-liter 271-horsepower Pentastar V6, but our tester here was up fitted with the new 270-hp 2.0-liter twin scroll turbocharged four-cylinder connected to a nine-speed automatic transmission. It costs an additional $500 over the standard V6 engine.

We found the 2.0-liter engine does deliver a more lively acceleration experience but we still prefer the smoothness of the standard V6 over the somewhat jerkiness of the automatic engine start-stop set up and the mild but noticeable performance lag of the twin-scroll turbochargers.

The Trailhawk easily handles the most challenging off- road driving with its wide-ranging 4x4 Selec Terrain technology that’s actually very easy to use. With a number of pre-configured setups for whatever surface it is you’re traveling on that starts with the everyday “auto” setting. It also comes loaded with standard Jeep off-road hardware including both Jeep Active Drive II and Active Drive Lock.

The Selec Terrain Technology traction control, adjusts the amount of wheel slip based on one of five system settings. Choose between Auto, Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud and Rock driving modes.

Active Drive II is a two-speed Power Transfer Unit with torque management and low range. The 4-Low mode locks the front and rear driveshafts for low-speed power or towing. Low range provides a 2.92:1 gear reduction that allows for enhanced climbing ability; as well outstanding crawl ratios for severe off-road conditions. Ride height is increased by one inch for added ground clearance.

Active Drive Lock adds a locking rear differential for superior low-speed traction during severe off-road traveling conditions.

I spent a full day of extremely rugged driving in Arizona’s Butcher Jones State Recreational Area on steeply inclined, boulder strewn, and deeply rutted trails that at times lifted two wheels completely off the ground at the same time. I continually engaged the hill-descent control that helps you crawl down severely steep trails by automatically controlling individual disc brakes, and Selec-speed control to choose the speed at which you want to creep down. No other vehicle in its class could have even come close to the off-road capabilities of the Cherokee, which handled the course with imperturbable poise and assurance.

Jeep says the new Cherokee has shed 150 pounds thanks to the aluminum hood, composite tailgate and other weight-saving chassis engineering. Driving the Trailhawk on normal paved surfaces the ride, was smooth and quiet, handling sharp and it drove more like a sedan and better than most crossover utility vehicles available today.

Overall, with a list price of almost $40,000 the Trailhawk Elite seems expensive and the price puts it in a category of a well-equipped Wrangler or a nicely equipped Grand Cherokee. Still, you do get a well-equipped Cherokee along with its go anywhere off-road capabilities but you do have to pay a premium price for it.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $33,320
Price as Tested: $39,950
Powertrain: 2.0-Liter 270-hp turbocharged I-4 with nine-speed automatic transmission
Fuel Economy: 20-MPG City – 26-MPG Highway
Seating: 5

Crash Test Results: The Cherokee has not been crash tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety as of this writing.

Competes With
Chevrolet Equinox
Ford Escape
Honda CR-V
Hyundai Tucson
Kia Sportage
Mazda CX-5
Nissan Rogue
Subaru Forester
Toyota RAV4
Volkswagen Tiguan

Fab Features
Remarkable off-road capability
Excellent Uconnect infotainment system
Roomy, comfortable interior