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

Posted in Vehicle Reviews on June 18, 2016
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We just returned from a 1,000-mile two-day round trip to Prescott, Arizona, in our long-term Cherokee, and now it’s clearer than ever. The key to this rig is in its ability to silently cruise all day at 85 mph on I-10, carve up Highway 89 through Prescott National Forest like a sports sedan, but then be able to hit the trails around Sedona with all-terrain tires, low range, and a rear locker. That same trip in an XJ would have been exhausting. That same trip in a JK would be OK but not nearly as comfortable or economical as with our little Trailhawk. No, the new Cherokee doesn’t have the beloved 4.0L and straight axles like the XJ, and it doesn’t flex like a JK, but that’s OK. It’s not supposed to. And that’s part of why it’s so good. And different.

We’ve added 4,132 miles this quarter, and now even more than last time, we’re angry that no matter what we throw at the Cherokee, it just keeps happily chugging away. In fact, this has to be one of the best behaving long-term test vehicle Four Wheeler has ever had in its fleet. We’ve had absolutely zero issues to date, which is unheard of. No trim has fallen off, no strange lights on the dash, no warped rotors, no funny smells, no running back to the dealer to get the computer software updated over and over again. Nothing.

However, we’re feeling less and less enchanted with all the technology. The engine start/stop feature is just very annoying. There are occasional times when we’re stopped at a traffic light for long enough to make shutting down the engine logical, but most of the time our stopping is so brief that waiting for the restart is just an irritation. It’s like having a drunk buddy in the passenger seat who keeps turning the key off and giggling. Also, if you stab the gas pedal too soon after restart, you’re rewarded with a fairly large drivetrain shudder. Yes, there’s a defeat button for the system, but it defaults back to “on” after the vehicle is shut down. We’d rather see it default to off, like most of the other functions in the technology package, like the lane departure warning system.

We’ve finally switched off the lane departure system because it’s just too annoying to have the steering wheel constantly fighting our inputs. We’re pretty good at staying in our lane, but we’ve realized that there are times when it makes sense to be completely on one side of a lane. There are also times when it makes sense to change lanes without using a turn signal, like when there are no other cars around to see it. The system hates both of those scenarios and digs in and fights back with all its might. We’re much happier with it off. It is clear that we are going to have self-driving cars in the near future, but for now, we’re just in the infancy of this equipment for civilians, and it will improve rapidly over time. The cross path detection system that’s part of the reverse-sensing sonar is very good at recognizing traffic you can’t see when backing out of a parking space.

As for the crash mitigation braking, it’s a very good thing, and at this writing we’ve just learned that it will become standard on all cars by 2022, and it should be. But don’t assume that it’s always going to save your bacon. There have been times when the system has failed to recognize a vehicle in its path, typically when on a curve or over a crest of a hill.

Fuel economy has dropped a little, from an average of 19 mpg to 18.4, but we can explain that with a change in commute from longer to much shorter trips. This quarter also saw a new low number for a tank of fuel at 15 mpg, which was entirely short trips around town.

Most of the anger we see displayed online aimed at our 2015 Four Wheeler of the Year award-winning Cherokee is based on the notion that anything with a Fiat platform can’t be a real Jeep. That’s ignoring how the automotive manufacturing landscape currently operates. Platform sharing is a part of life and has been for a long time in the industry. In fact, the Grand Cherokee is on a Mercedes platform, but nobody seems to care about that or see it as a huge negative. It’s as if the only “real” Jeep manufactured currently is the JK Wrangler, and most trolls even seem to think those are for sissies because they have power windows and six-cylinder engines in a “V” configuration. It’s interesting also that one of the most popular comments is that it was sacrilegious for Jeep to christen anything so different looking with the holy name of Cherokee. So they should retire model names because the next version looks different? They also say the new Cherokee can’t be a real Jeep because it can’t be lifted 12 inches and fit with a straight axle conversion. We have one thing to say to all these naysayers: Jeep didn’t stop building XJs because they wanted to spend millions of dollars on developing new models. They’d be more than happy to keep building vehicles that have long had their research and development and tooling paid off. They develop new models because the market, safety regulations, fuel economy requirements, and basic technology and manufacturing knowledge change and move forward over time. In short, they develop new models because they have to. If they only built flatfender CJs, they would have gone out of business long ago.

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 V-6 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: 3 of 4
Previous reports: May ‘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: 14,613
Miles since last report: 4,132
Average mpg (this report): 18.5
Test best tank (mpg): 21.7 (highway between 70-75 mph)
Test worst tank (mpg): 15.0 (all city)

This period: None required
Problem areas: None

What’s hot, what’s not:
Hot: So fun on really twisty mountain roads. More like a sports sedan than a SUV.
Not: Why can’t this thing have any problems to write about?

Logbook quotes:
“Getting lots of questions from potential buyers who love the Cherokee.”
“Why does the distance to empty have to change to just saying ‘low’ below 30 miles left?”
“Beginning to defeat all the electronic nannies one by one.”

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