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Third Report: Long-Term 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk

Posted in Features on March 20, 2018
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With the word “Trailhawk” in the name of your vehicle, expectations for off-road performance are high. And given the nature of what we do on a daily basis, you’d think we were bumping down desert washes and mountain trails in various states of disrepair every single day. Unfortunately, the past 5,000 miles of testing our 2017 SUV of the Year winner have been slightly less exciting than that with our daily trail often encompassing 50-80 miles of pavement with only the occasional weekend off-road foray. So, in this installment the reality is we’ve been using our Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk in pretty much the same manner as 99 percent of the people who might purchase this vehicle: mundane daily commuting, running errands, and a smattering of unpaved trails. So let’s dive in.

For starters, the Cherokee Trailhawk pulls in an audience more often than you’d think. Whether inquiries at the gas pump or simply a thumbs-up at a stoplight, people notice the fact that, at least on the surface, the Trailhawk is a bit more than your average Grand Cherokee. Compliments like “that’s a seriously cool vehicle” and “nice Jeep” come at least once a week. And then there’s the occasional forum lurker who hasn’t seen a new Trailhawk in person yet and wants to peek inside to inspect every button, crawl underneath for a skidplate evaluation, and grill us about its performance in varying types of terrain. In short, some people get genuinely excited about seeing one of these Jeeps. And for some, getting noticed is what matters. Not us, though. We’re more about performance than notoriety.

The Trailhawk-only hood treatment not only looks killer, the flat-black decal actually cuts down glare on the street or trail, improving driver visibility in high-light situations.

So, on to performance. For starters, the mileage delivered from the 5.7L Hemi and eight-speed transmission has been anything but unacceptable. We’ve begun leaving the “Eco” mode off more frequently or going full-bore and selecting “Sport” mode. And even then, our average mileage as compared with last installment, in which we operated almost solely in Eco mode, dropped less than a 1/2 mpg, with a combined mpg this period of 15.34. Our highway-only jaunts routinely see numbers north of 18 mpg, and that’s at crazy California freeway speeds of 80 mph. In Sport mode at any speed, there’s plenty of horsepower on tap to pass, jump out in traffic, or just get your acceleration fix for the day. The downside is that the suspension is still somewhat mushy in Sport mode. Ideally the chassis dynamics would “sportify” up with the same degree as the engine and transmission when you depress that little button, but if all Sport mode delivers is tons of power, razor-sharp throttle response, and perfect transmission shifts, then we’ll take what we can get. Mechanically the Trailhawk has been flawless this review period, with no glitches, quirks, or maintenance required. Just add fuel and go.

The 5.7L Hemi gets you twin exhaust pipes tucked up high into the rear fascia to avoid trail damage. Our tester is equipped with the optional Class III hitch for the 6,200-pound rating of our V-8 tester. We’ve towed right up to that limit and have found the air suspension easily handles the trailer tongue weight, lifting the rear for a level ride. Our only gripe about the air suspension is the slowness with which it raises or lowers through the modes.
With 265/60R18 Goodyear Wranglers with Kevlar belting and a fairly chunky tread design, dirt road traction hasn’t been wanting. The tires strike a good balance between acceptable on-road manners and off-road capability. The flat-black accents on the open five-spoke wheels help the polished aluminum and red flatfender accents pop on the Trailhawk-only 18x8 wheels.

Our off-roading this portion consisted of mostly scenic fire roads comprised of hard-packed dirt with some undulations, ruts, and moderate obstacles. At higher speeds on dirt roads we enjoy the Trailhawk’s suspension. It’s soft without being floaty. All but the hardest hits are absorbed nicely, and the vehicle tracks true and stable without getting squirrely. The 265/60R18 Goodyear Wranglers don’t feature the world’s most aggressive tread pattern, but on the Trailhawk they do strike a nice balance between low-noise on-road civility and biting off-road capability. While subjective, we really like the Trailhawk-only open five-spoke wheel design with red flatfender silhouette that pays homage to Jeep’s past. But also the fact that they’re an 18-inch and not 20- or 22-inch diameter leaves a lot of sidewall meat on the proverbial bone to help cushion off-road shock and allow for decent ground clearance if you ever air down for off-road use. We’ve been leaving the tires at their 33 psi street pressure, and even with that much in ’em the Trailhawk has clawed and maneuvered to the top of every scenic outlook we’ve pointed it at off-road. Next time we’ll up the ante with some more serious off-road work that could put the Trailhawk-specific open towhooks to use.

If there’s one overwhelming gripe we have with our Trailhawk from the driver seat it’s this irritating Uconnect phone button, which our thumbs always seem to find right in the middle of a killer song on the SiriusXM satellite sound system. FCA must have been getting an earful of similar complaints because we’ve been told 2018 models will have the green activation button on the inside where you’re less likely to engage the system. So we’re guessing you’ll just be hanging up on people accidently in the middle of a conversation instead.

Report: 3 of 4

Previous reports: Nov. ’17, Feb. ’18
Base price: $43,095
Price as tested: $53,515
Four-wheel-drive system: Full-time electronically controlled, two-speed

Long-Term Numbers
Miles to date: 15,019
Miles since last report: 5,030
Average mpg (this report): 15.34
Test best tank (mpg): 18.23 (all highway, light traffic)
Test worst tank (mpg): 9.42 (towing 6,000 pounds)

So far our favorite comment at the fuel pump about the Trail Rated badges is, “My brother’s RAV4 is a Trail Rated SUV too. We went to Big Bear in it and it’s a 4x4 too.” Mmmmkay, buddy. Have a nice day.

This period: None
Problem areas: Mystery “ding” warning from dash that doesn’t display

What’s Hot, What’s Not
Hot: Heated seats and steering wheel (literally)
Not: Phone controls on steering wheel STILL massively frustrating

The open front towhooks are purposeful and well designed. Not too many realize it, but even the towhooks must undergo crash and crumple testing just like the rest of a vehicle’s chassis components, so for an OE manufacturer to include them says a lot about its commitment to off-road use. We’re still loving the security the steel Mopar rocker guards give us not only in the dirt, but the parking lot as well. We wish Mopar would offer them with an optional kicked-out tube for increased door-ding protection and to serve as a step if you’re accessing roof-mounted accessories.

Logbook Quotes
“Sport mode should be called Race mode.”
“Everything automatic in this thing takes its sweet time to happen.”

Snot-slick muddy roads are definitely part of our Trailhawk’s off-road diet. The vehicle’s full-time 4WD system just eats up inclement weather, sand, mud, and standing water to keep the Grand Cherokee pointed at its intended path. Not that we’ve gone very easy on it, but we’ve yet to push the chassis hard enough to faze the drive system…mostly because we don’t want to cut a $53,000 check to FCA in the interest of finding the four-wheel-drive system’s limits.

Options as Tested
Customer Preferred Package 28J: Trailhawk Luxury Group ($2,695); Automatic High Beam Headlight Control, Automatic Headlight Leveling System, Bi-Zenon HID Headlamps, Cargo Compartment Cover, Dual-Pane Panoramic Sunroof, LED Daytime Running Headlamps, LED Fog Lamps, Power Tilt/Telescope Steering Column, Rain Sensitive Windshield Wipers. Jeep Active Safety Group ($1,495); Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop; Advanced Brake Assist, Full Speed Collision Warning Plus, LaneSense Lane Departure Warning Plus, Parallel and Perpendicular Park Assist. 5.7L Hemi V-8 Engine ($3,295); 3.09 Axle Ratio, 700-Amp Maintenance Free Battery, Anti-Lock 4-Wheel Disc Heavy Duty Brakes. Rock Rails ($895). Uconnect 8.4 NAV ($450); GPS Navigation, HD Radio, SiriusXM Traffic/5-Year Traffic Service, SiriusXM Travel Link/5-Year Travel Link Subscription. Blind Spot and Cross Path Detection ($595).

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