– Head-turning looks
– Cabin trim and features
– Comfortable on and offroad
– Head-turning looks
– Bit pricey in its segment
– Conservative onroad drive
The Jeep Cherokee has always been a capable off-roader, while still being one of the more street-friendly options around, thanks to its unibody platform and manageable size. Nowadays it’s facing stiff competition from a barrage of crossovers, so for 2014, Jeep went back to the drawing board and created an all-new Cherokee that could possibly appeal to crossover buyers while keeping offroad-enthusiasts happy. The Cherokee is a regular soft-roader in its most basic trim, but transforms into a fully-equipped off-road beast in its top trim, thus earning the coveted ‘Trailrated’ badge from Jeep, and is aptly titled the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk.
The styling of the all-new Cherokee is a love-or-hate thing, but in its unique ‘Trailhawk’ attire, we personally think it looks cool. The Trailhawk stands an inch higher than the regular Cherokee, has beefier tyres wrapping more attractive rims, and comes with red heavy-duty tow hooks protruding from the bumpers. Despite what you may think, the lights on the bonnet are just LED running lamps, while what looks like fog lamps are actually the headlights, and there’s proper fog lamps lower on the bumper.
While the exterior garners mixed reactions, there’s no debate over the interior. With lots of soft-touch materials in all the right areas, leather-padded armrests and door inserts, and well-bolstered leather seats, the Cherokee Trailhawk exudes so much of a premium vibe that we had to constantly remind ourselves that this is not supposed to be a BMW X3 rival. But it could be.
It is tech-laden too, with Chrysler’s class-leading UConnect infotainment system featuring a DVD player and AUX/USB/SD-card inputs, an 8-inch TFT touchscreen, navigation, an excellent sound system from Alpine with surround speakers and subwoofer, rear camera and parking sensors, automated parking assist for parallel and perpendicular parking, auto bi-xenon headlamps, front and rear fog lamps, rain-sensing wipers, an above-average dual-zone climate control a/c with rear vents, blind-spot monitoring system, lane-sense system with automated steering correction, pre-crash collision alert system with automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, panoramic sunroof, power liftgate and a full set of airbags.
Space is great up front, with good legroom and headroom in the back too. The second-row seats can even slide back for more legroom. The boot-space is decent too, and there are ample storage compartments around, the most interesting being the one under the front passenger seat. The rear seats may be folded down to extend the good-sized boot space.
The Cherokee is the first Chrysler product to feature their all-new 3.2-litre Pentastar V6 engine, cranking out a very respectable 271 hp at 6500 rpm and 316 Nm of torque at 4400 rpm, and one of the first cars ever to feature a 9-speed automatic transmission. While the short-ratio initial gears do make the most use of the available low-end power, aiding in quicker acceleration and very good response off-road, it does seem to hunt for the right gear in slow-moving traffic. Nevertheless, the setup gave us great fuel economy at 10.5 litres/100 km, going down as low as 8 litres/100 km at highway speeds. There is no noticeable throttle delay or gear-shift delays in manual mode. In hot June weather, the Trailhawk did the 0-100 km dash in 9.4 seconds, although it’ll probably quicker as the fresh motor gets some mileage.
The Cherokee Trailhawk exhibits very good road manners, with neutral handling and decent grip limits. It predictably understeers at the limit, and errs on the safe side rather than being playful. Body roll reaches moderate levels on the sharpest turns, and the ride is largely compliant with a slight hint of firmness. We assume the regular Cherokee models, which sit lower with street-biased suspension, ride even smoother. The steering is mildly-weighted and precise, but feedback is minimal. And the ABS-assisted brakes are decent.
It’s fairly quiet too, with wind noise and road noise creeping in only at speeds above 120 kph. It’s easy enough to drive, with all its electronic aids, going to the extent of perpendicular-parking for you, although don’t be surprised if it doesn’t detect certain spaces in the dark sometimes. And the auto-braking collision avoidance system might trigger if you cut too close to the car in front of you.
Off the tarmac is where the Trailhawk truly shines. Boasting excellent approach and departure angles which are far better than even the Grand Cherokee, a V6 engine mated to a gearbox superbly tuned for off-road use, and heavy-duty skid plates covering the engine and transmission components, the Trailhawk is very well-equipped in stock form. It effortlessly traversed the moderate sand dunes we threw at it in some random desert in the Northern Emirates, and impressed us all the way. It has clearly outmatched its predecessor in that aspect.
The all-wheel-drive system is quick to react, varying power between the front and rear axles as required. It features a terrain-select system with five drive modes, auto-locking center diffs, low-range gearing and even a rear diff-lock. Upon selecting the Sand/Mud mode, the stability control is fully disabled. The suspension travel is slightly limited compared to more serious offroaders, so you have to compensate for that with your route choices.
But we still regard the Cherokee Trailhawk as among the most capable off-roaders we have come across in recent times. It makes for an excellent compromise between a road-going crossover and a truckish offroader. Although it comes at a price, the premium feel and features are a class above its most obvious rivals. If you aren’t hung up on skin-deep looks, you’ll realise that it’s a head-turner and there is nothing else in its class that can quite compete.
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