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Final Report: 2015 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk 4x4 Long-Term Evaluation

Posted in Features on October 20, 2016
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Yes, we finally experienced a problem with our long-term Cherokee Trailhawk. No, the problem had nothing to do with Jeep’s design or manufacturing. It was caused solely by an ill-fated visit to the dealer for routine service. We’ll get to that in a moment, but first, let’s talk about how the Cherokee held up during one year and almost 20,000 miles of hard use.

We added 4,283 miles to our Jeep this quarter, which included a trip to the 50th annual Easter Jeep Safari in Moab. That trip included some four-wheeling on famous slickrock trails of the area, as well as blizzard conditions on I-70 in Utah during the return trip home to Southern California. The fact that the Cherokee’s all-wheel-drive chassis on all-terrain tires is so confidence inspiring in bad weather made the 740-mile trip effortless. Once again, we were reminded why it’s so nice to have a vehicle that safely travels at 85 mph on the interstate but can still do light wheeling duty once you arrive at your destination.

During our year with this Jeep, we only visited the dealership for routine service of oil and filter changes and tire rotations. However, the control software was updated during our first visit to prevent hackers from remote-controlling the vehicle, which thankfully didn’t occur before our reflash. Then, on our last visit to the dealer for service, the software received a total of five different reflashes and a replacement of the power liftgate module through a safety recall. We never had an issue where the liftgate acted unsafe, but there were occasions where the apparatus would become confused and refuse to operate. At that point, a manual closing would seem to reset the system and restore operation, and we never had that problem after the replacement module was installed.

We’ve heard concerns regarding shift performance with the ZF-sourced nine-speed transaxle, but we never encountered any problems with ours. The transmission went about its business so calmly and effortlessly that one would be hard pressed to know how many ratios were being stirred through. As we reported previously, the control logic is set to upshift early and often in an effort to improve economy, but the sport mode changes that for spirited driving, albeit at the expense of a few mpgs.

Since the Cherokee Trailhawk test vehicle we had at Four Wheeler of the Year (FWOTY) 2015 suffered a drivetrain issue (on the final day of FWOTY the vehicle’s rear locker would not disengage, preventing the differentials from shifting into high range), we were curious to see if the problem would surface during our time with this long-term test vehicle, which is not the same vehicle we tested at FWOTY 2015. During our full year of testing this Jeep, we made sure to shift into low range and lock the rear locker as often as possible in order to try to recreate the problem. We also climbed as many loose hillclimbs as we could find, which is where the issue occurred. We can report that we had no problems with the low range and locker system during almost 20,000 miles of testing our long-term Cherokee Trailhawk.

We are impressed with the design, quality of materials, and fit and finish of the interior on the Cherokee. Ours withstood a year of daily use with kids and dogs extremely well and even still had its new car smell on the day we gave it back to Jeep. The cabin is extremely comfortable and commodious for long journeys. The Cherokee doesn’t feel like a compact CUV from inside; it feels far more spacious.

The engine stop-start feature may be a good idea on paper, but in the real world use, it’s just not practical. After several months, it just became something we would try to remember to disengage every time we started the car due to its quirks of momentary lag and occasional driveline shudder. And since the software is programmed to defeat the system when the low fuel light is illuminated, isn’t that just admitting that it doesn’t save any fuel?

So how did we finally get stranded by the Cherokee? At the last service, the dealer managed to crack the oil filter housing when replacing the element. Since the filter is located on top of the engine, the pressurized spray took no time to coat the engine compartment, the exhaust system, and the entire underside of the vehicle. The result was a spectacular smokescreen behind the Jeep on the freeway, followed by the illumination of every warning light on the dash as well as a temporary failure of the electric power steering. The dealer dispatched a flatbed to retrieve the stricken Cherokee and provided a loaner car while they secured a replacement filter housing. Upon return, there was lingering oil smoke for the first few drives, in spite of the dealership’s pressure washing of the engine compartment and underside. Also, the alternator failed to charge during a drive shortly after the experience but returned to service after a restart. Will there be any long-term effects from the oil bath? We’ll never know because we had to return the vehicle to Jeep shortly after the experience.

Even with the end of test smokescreen, which clearly was no fault of the Jeep’s design or manufacturing, our impression of the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk 4x4 was positive. The vehicle is capable, powerful, and comfortable. Our yearlong test reinforced why it earned the title of 2015 Four Wheeler of the Year.

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 8-Way Driver Seat, Power 4-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), 3.2L 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: 4 of 4

Previous reports: Nov. ’15, May ’16, Oct. ’16
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: 18,896
Miles since last report: 4,283
Average mpg (this report): 19.1
Test best tank (mpg): 23.3 (highway between 70-75 mph)
Test worst tank (mpg): 17.6 (all city)

Maintenance:

This period: Oil and filter change, tire rotation, software updates (5), power liftgate module replaced under warranty per recall
Problem areas: Cracked oil filter housing during service

What’s Hot, What’s Not:

Hot: Holding up very well after a year of hard use
Not: Hot oil bath covering complete engine compartment, undersides, and carport floor

Logbook quotes:

“Smokescreen obscuring all traffic behind can’t be a good thing.”

“Still wishing for more fuel capacity.”

“So done with the start-stop feature, wish it could be permanently disabled.”

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