So, it's reasonable to ask: How does a vehicle that shares its basic platform with a pair of compact sedans — the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart — get from the front-drive Sport to the bushwhacking 4WD Trailhawk?
Answer: technology — and about seven grand.
The base Sport starts at $24,390. Trailhawk starts at $31,590. And, if capability is really what you're about, you can add another $1,745 for Trailhawk's optional V-6. Thus, for about 33 grand — perilously close to Grand Cherokee territory — you've got a trail-tough Cherokee that's also quite civilized.
In addition to Trailhawk, Cherokee is available in Sport, Latitude and Limited trim. All, save Trailhawk, are front-drivers with 4WD an available option in either Active Drive I (essentially all-wheel drive) or Active Drive II (added low-range gearing for more tractive talent). Trailhawk, however, is the only one with Active Drive Lock, a standard Trailhawk feature that adds a locking rear differential for the really rough stuff. Then Trailhawk adds higher ground clearance, more aggressive approach and departure angles (thanks to unique front and rear fascias), chunky off-road rubber, front tow hooks, skid plates and a Rock setting on its five-mode drive selector, which on lesser 4x4 Cherokees includes just Auto, Snow, Sport and Sand/Mud.
There's also a cool Selec-Speed feature, which maintains a constant, driver-selectable, off-road speed between 1 and 5 mph. Think of it as off-road cruise control.
Yep, Trailhawk's got the techy trail goods — particularly if you order the optional 271-hp V-6. A 184-hp four is standard on all Cherokees, as is a nine-speed automatic transmission.
Trailhawk also is a fine companion in town, with its civilized ride, quiet cabin and, like other Jeep products, best infotainment interface in the business if you order the 8.4-inch Uconnect screen.
Styling? It's more polarizing than politics, but we're starting to warm to it.
In any event, there's no denying the Jeep-proprietary 4x4 technology on Trailhawk is a peek at the future of 4WD.
Most of the criticism we’ve seen about the Cherokee so far has stemmed from its ZF-sourced nine-speed transmission, but it appears the one we’ve received for long-term evaluation has the latest software and so far has acted very well. Ninth gear is so tall (0.48:1) that it’s rarely selected, even in steady speed cruising on freeways, and seems to be reserved for downhill or downwind stretches only.
So far one of our only serious complaints is about lack of range caused by the low fuel capacity (15.9 gallons), with the typical distance between fill ups being just shy of 300 miles. That’s acceptable, but we like rigs that can outlast one’s bladder on long distance road trips. All other misgivings are regarding some of the electronic systems, and we’ve just learned that Cherokees in particular are susceptible to hacking via its Uconnect system, with a viral video showing hackers able to change climate control, radio settings, and even shutting down the car. A free software refresh is available to prevent that from happening.
Other technologies that so far appear to be well intentioned, but not quite ready, are the adaptive cruise control and lane-departure assist. The cruise control works well at relatively steady speeds, where traffic is ranging between 50 and 75 mph, but stop-and-go traffic throws it into fits, constantly triggering the crash mitigation system while chiming and flashing a message on the info screen to brake immediately or leaving much too large a gap in front of the car when speeds recover. The problem is that it can’t anticipate slowing and accelerating traffic several cars ahead, so it tends to overcorrect in both directions. The lane departure assist system occasionally mistakes grooves and other lines in the road for lane markers and tries to follow them. We’re still not accustomed to the car trying to steer itself, but we’ll leave this feature on until it either becomes a welcome addition or relegated to being just another annoying nanny. The crash mitigation system is fantastic, and it’s hard to imagine what it would take to actually crash into something while it’s activated. Not only does it give you a visual and audible warning, but it applies the brakes as well, completely stopping if necessary. The price to be paid is the system occasionally mistaking a car turning into a parking lot that’s actually clear of your path as a hazard, automatically slamming on the brakes and pleading that you to apply the brakes as well.
The baby 3.2L Pentastar V-6 is very smooth and makes strong midrange power, but it runs out of breath on the top end. Overall the experience is of adequate, but not fast, acceleration (8-second 0-60) and better-than-expected efficiency. We’re curious just how much efficiency is gained by removing only 400 cc of displacement from the larger and ubiquitous version.
So far we’ve explored our local Wildomar OHV Park, the backcountry around Big Bear Lake, and a road trip to California’s Central Coast. Next on the agenda is to head back to the hill near Convict Lake, California, that sent our previous tester back to the shop. As usual, we’ll be keeping track of the overall experience for a year and will report everything, good and bad.
Options as tested:
SafetyTec Group – Blind Spot and Cross Path Detection, Power Multi-Function Mirrors with Manual Fold-Away ($1,045), Technology Group – Full Speed Collision Warning with Crash Mitigation, Parallel and Perpendicular Park Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop and Go, Advanced Brake Assist, Rain Sensitive Windshield Wipers, Exterior Mirrors with Turn Signals, Automatic High Beam Headlamp Control, LaneSense Lane Departure Warning ($1,495), Comfort / Convenience Group – Power Liftgate, Remote Start System, Keyless Enter-N-Go / Passive Entry, A/C Auto Temperature Control with Dual Zone Control, Auto-Dimming Rearview Mirror w/Microphone, Power Eight-Way Driver Seat, Power Four-Way Driver Lumbar Adjust, Security Alarm, Universal Garage Door Opener ($1,645), Leather Interior Group – Leather Trimmed Bucket Seats, Heated Front Seats, Heated Steering Wheel ($1,495), 3.2-Liter V6 24-Valve VVT Engine with Stop/Start – Stop / Start System, Dual Bright Exhaust Outlets ($1,745), Black Hood Decal ($199), Uconnect 8.4AN AM/FM/SXM/HD/BT/NAV – GPS Navigation, HD Radio, SiriusXM Travel Link / 5-Year Subscription, SiriusXM Traffic / 5-Year Service ($845)
Report: 1 of 4
Previous reports: None
Base price: $30,395
Price as tested: $39,895
Four-Wheel-Drive system: Full-time, electronically controlled, two-speed
Long Term Numbers:
Miles to date: 3,791
Miles since last report: n/a
Average mpg (this report): 19.5
Test best tank (mpg): 23.5 (Highway between 70-75 mph)
Test worst tank (mpg): 17.1 (Mostly city)
This period: None
Problem areas: Hackers (if you believe the internet)
What’s hot, what’s not:
Hot: Fun, stylish, sporty
Not: Range, tires, finicky electronics.
“The chassis writes a check that the tires can’t cash”
“Speed bumps confuse traction-control software”
“Way more fun on paved twisty mountain roads than you’d expect”