The Good, the Bad, and the Trailhawk
William WalkerwriterMotor Trend Staffphotographer
Sometimes friends and family can be annoying and your opinion of them momentarily changes. But if you like a person enough, those little annoyances fade and don't permanently affect your feelings. Likewise, my relationship with our long-term Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk has at times been tainted by small annoyances, but in the end it always swings back to the fact that I really like it.
I wasn't the original chaperone of our long-term Cherokee, but when Rory Jurnecka left our shores for AUTOMOBILE, I jumped at the chance to take over the responsibility of this little off-roader. I enjoy camping, hiking, and kayaking, and the Cherokee is the perfect size to fit everything my wife and I need for an active weekend while leaving ample room for our spoiled dog to take up the entire rear seat.
At a total price of $37,265, our Deep Cherry Red Crystal Pearl — that's a mouthful — Cherokee Trailhawk came pretty loaded, including the optional 3.2-liter V-6, which came in handy, especially while towing, but we will get to that later. We also opted for the upgraded stereo with nine amplified speakers and a subwoofer, the Technology group, which includes a host of safety features, and the Comfort/Convenience group of optional equipment.
With the Technology group, the Cherokee was outfitted with all sorts of cool and helpful vehicle aids. Some of the more notable features included parking assist, which steers the car into a parallel or perpendicular spot as you control the brake, adaptive cruise control, and LaneSense, Jeep's lane departure warning, which provides haptic feedback through the steering wheel and auditory warnings if you began to drift in your lane. Our tester also came with a forward collision warning system that engages the brakes if a collision is imminent. This particular feature came in handy on my drive home one evening when the traffic came to a standstill right as I was checking my blind spot to change lanes. Unfortunately, the system would also kick in every morning as I backed into our office's parking spot and the car thought it necessary to save me from the concrete pillar that I always park next to. You would think that after most of a year, I would remember to turn the feature off before starting to park. You would be wrong.
In one of his first updates, Rory wrote about off-road-capable SUVs being an underused segment, and although I didn't spend every weekend on the trail, I did manage to take the Jeep off-road on a number occasions. Like Rory, I was impressed by how easily the little four-wheeler handled rough terrain and steep inclines. It seemed like everyone else on the trail was confused about why or how we were able to be off-roading in the Cherokee. "Are you OK? We don't normally see cars like that out here," exclaimed one friendly passerby on a dirt bike. Thank you for the concern, but the Trailhawk is doing just fine. The off-road capability was also the reason the Cherokee felt a little special. The knobby tires, the exposed red tow hooks, and slightly higher ride height made me feel like I was driving something a little more capable than the guy next to me in the Honda CR-V, and I was.
One of the first things I did when I took over long-term duties on the Trailhawk was to take it on a long road trip through Arizona, Colorado, and Utah. It was on this trip that I realized how comfortable our Cherokee really is. A combination of good ride quality, supportive seats, a good stereo, and adaptive cruise control made the Trailhawk an excellent long-haul road tripper. The one demerit I would give the Jeep is for the 15.9-gallon fuel tank, which doesn't get you very far before you start looking for another Chevron. Even without a trailer in tow (a really cool off-road teardrop from Off The Grid Rentals), a 300-mile tank was rare.
When put through our Real MPG testing, the Jeep managed to get 19.2 miles per gallon combined, which puts it squarely in the neighborhood of a Toyota 4Runner (15.1/20.9 RMPG) or a Nissan Frontier Pro-4X (13.9/19.3 RMPG). I realize these two might not be obvious competitors, but name another V-6-powered small SUV that is as off-road-focused as the Trailhawk. Until Toyota makes a V-6 RAV4 TRD Pro, the Jeep is sort of on its own.
Now onto those small annoyances I alluded to. Along with the standard service items such as oil changes and tire rotations, the Jeep had its fair share of visits to the dealer. The original issue was a recall of the adaptive cruise control module, followed up by three transmission reflashes, including one because the ECU had lost communication with the gearbox while photographer Julia LaPalme was driving back from a photo shoot. We also had a hidden inline fuse in the dealer-installed tow electronics burn out during our Colorado road trip, but I blame that more on the mechanic who installed it and the one who misdiagnosed it. Take my word for it: Get the tow package from the factory. When it's installed at the factory, you get an upgraded alternator, integrated electronics, an auxiliary transmission cooler, and a Class III receiver hitch with seven- and four-pin hookups. Oh, and the door handle fell off during a ski trip, and I had to argue with the dealer to get them to fix it under warranty. In all, we spent $159 for two oil changes, inspections, tire rotations, and one cabin-air filter. The per-visit cost ended up being about the same as our 2013 Honda CR-V ($220.66 for three stops) and less expensive than our Mazda CX-5 ($456.21 for four) and Nissan Rogue ($648.61 for four).
The ZF-developed nine-speed transmission has been the Cherokee's main topic of concern. Early in the loan, Rory wrote about the transmission hunting for the correct gear especially when cruise control was set. With each update the shifts did seem to become smarter and smoother, although it was never perfect. The occasional clunk from a confused gear shift or incorrect ratio while maintaining speed up a hill was just part of the driving experience. The Cherokee is not the only ZF nine-speed-equipped car that's had issues. The Land Rover Range Rover Evoque also struggles with the unit. Associate online editor Kelly Plescot wrote of the Evoque, "The nine-speed feels laggy at low speeds, and our tests discovered it was particularly slow between 5 to 10 mph compared to the old model. And once you're on the move, you can definitely feel the transmission jolt a bit too eagerly between gears." Jeep continues to update its software, each time getting a little better. Honestly though, I got used to the nine-speed after awhile.
So here's where that leaves us: The Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk is a comfortable small SUV with more off-road prowess than its direct competitors. The $37,265 price tag is hefty, and that gets you a decently optioned Toyota 4Runner if your main concern is going off-road. What you won't get from the Toyota is the ride quality, the comfort, or the technology goodies the Trailhawk provides. Was the Jeep without faults? No, but those faults were mostly little annoyances that faded over time, certainly not enough to permanently poison my opinion of this little off-roader.
|SERVICE LIFE||12 mo / 25,525 mi|
|OPTIONS||Technology Group ($2,195: park assist, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning), Comfort/Convenience Group ($1,895: rearview camera, power liftgate, remote start, dual-zone climate control), 3.2-liter V-6 ($1,495), Uconnect 8.4-inch touchscreen ($795), 9-speaker sound system ($395)|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$37,265|
|AVG ECON/CO2||18.3 mpg / 1.06 lb/mi|
|PROBLEM AREAS||Automatic transmission, exterior door handle|
|MAINTENANCE COST||$0 (oil change, inspection, tire rotation)|
|3-YEAR RESIDUAL VALUE*||$18,633|
|RECALLS||Adaptive cruise control, rear shock absorbers, airbag occupant detection software|
|*Automotive Lease Guide data|
|2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, 4WD|
|ENGINE TYPE||60-deg V-6, alum block/heads|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||197.7 cu in/3,239cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||271 hp @ 6,500 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||239 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||16.1 lb/hp|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F;R||13.0-in vented disc; 12.6-in disc, ABS|
|WHEELS||7.5 x 17-in, cast aluminum|
|TIRES||245/65R17 105T M+S Firestone Destination A/T|
|TRACK, F/R||63.5/63.5 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||182.0 x 74.9 x 67.8 in|
|GROUND CLEARANCE||8.7 in|
|APPRCH/DEPART ANGLE||29.9/32.2 deg|
|TURNING CIRCLE||38.1 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||4,367 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST., F/R||57/43%|
|TOWING CAPACITY||2,000 lb|
|HEADROOM, F/R||39.4/38.5 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||41.1/40.3 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||57.6/55.1 in|
|CARGO VOLUME BEH F/R||54.9/24.6 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||4.0|
|QUARTER MILE||15.9 sec @ 87.8 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||128 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.72 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||28.6 sec @ 0.57 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1,500 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$37,265|
|AIRBAGS||Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, front knee|
|BASIC WARRANTY||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||5 yrs/100,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||5 yrs/100,000 miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||15.9 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||18/25/20 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||187/135 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.94 lb/mile|
|REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB||17.1/22.8/19.2 mpg|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded regular|
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