Review: Jeep’s Trailhawk is for the road less traveled

The Trailhawk delivers off-road chops with elegance.

APTLY NAMED: The Trailhawk is in its element off the paved roads but equally comfortable on the highway, at the country club, or at that remote cottage.
APTLY NAMED: The Trailhawk is in its element off the paved roads but equally comfortable on the highway, at the country club, or at that remote cottage. –Bill Griffith

It’s rare—if ever—that I’ve dreamed of living high on a mountainside, in a spot accessible only by a rough, unpaved road. For this city kid, such a scenario might be more nightmare than ambition.

That, however, was the exact vision I had recently while at the wheel of today’s test car—the 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk 4×4. This is a vehicle that revels in its desire to go off-road while maintaining a refined on-road driving experience.

The Trailhawk is a new model in the traditional body-on-frame Grand Cherokee lineup and the most capable off-roader of the bunch as it comes from the factory.

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It certainly looks the part with red tow hooks, Trailhawk and Trail Rated badges with red accents, and Kevlar-reinforced 18-inch Goodyear Adventure off-road tires.

But the Trailhawk is no poseur. For starters, it’s only available as a 4×4.

It’s got Jeep’s advanced Quadra-Drive II 4×4 system with a rear limited-slip electronic differential, and a special made-for-the-Trailhawk air suspension.

Boston.com Dealer Specials:

The combination offers improved articulation (wheel travel) plus Selec-Speed Control with hill-ascent and hill-descent control.

In the unlikely occasion that you get stuck during a climb and have to back down, the hill-descent also works in reverse.

Also standard are skid plates and an anti-glare hood decal.

Off-roading isn’t among my favorite pastimes, and the Trailhawk basically laughed at my local unpaved sites as if to say, “C’mon, buddy. Give me a real challenge.”

FIRST-CLASS CABIN: Interior quality makes the Trailhawk a plush off-roader that hides its ability to keep going when the pavement ends. —Bill Griffith

Jeep fans took notice of the Trailhawk, too. It got second-glances, thumbs-up, and parking-lot compliments just on its looks, which built on the traditional Jeep styling cues such as the 7-slot grille and trapezoidal wheel arches.

Those compliments came without folks seeing the first-class interior. We loved the black leather and suede performance seats with Trailhawk embroidered in the seatback. Red accent stitching was on seats, doors, and the center console.

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A full gauge pack adds 4WD information, and the Jeep’s Uconnect infotainment system is as user-friendly as any.

The standard engine in all Grand Cherokees is Jeep’s 3.6-liter V-6 Pentastar that produces 295 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque and can tow up to 6,200 pounds.

Our test Trailhawk had one of the two optional engines—the 5.7-liter V-8 Hemi with 360 HP and 390 lb.-ft. of torque, enough to tow a 7,400-pound load. It has a nice exhaust note and does a great job of effortlessly moving this 5,100 pound SUV.

A third option is the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6, which provides up to a 730-mile driving range and a 30 mpg highway fuel economy rating.

In contrast, the Trailhawk is rated at 14 mpg in city driving, 22 on the highway, and 17 overall. We did a pair of long highway stints and could only get the on-board computer up to 20.3 mpg while averaging 18.3 overall.

All the engines send power to the wheels via a smooth 8-speed automatic transmission. It never hesitated or got caught in the wrong gear during our week together.

Fuel economy, an average cargo capacity, and our test Trailhawk’s $53,515 price tag were the only drawbacks.

Otherwise, this is a vehicle with striking looks, first-rate interior, and go-anywhere ability. An Active Safety package ($1,495) offers up-to-date safety features, including adaptive cruise control with braking, lane-keeping assist, and forward collision warning with emergency braking.

For some reason, blind spot warning and cross-path rear detection were a separate, $595 package.

The Trailhawk model starts at $44,090, including destination.

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All the off-road systems are standard, plus a full-size spare, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, and 8.4-inch Uconnect touch screen with 1-year satellite radio subscription.

The primary option was the $2,695 Trailhawk luxury group that adds auto-leveling and auto high beam HID headlights, dual-pane sunroof, cargo cover, LED running lights and fog lights, power tilt and telescoping steering column, and rain-sensitive wipers.

Adding the Hemi V-8 costs $3,295 and includes heavier duty brakes, battery, and a 3.09 rear axle ration.

A set of Mopar rock rails are functional and attractive at $895, and the Uconnect Nav system was $450 and adds 5-year SiriusXM traffic and travel services.

The Trailhawk is a real, old-school, body-on-frame SUV as opposed to the unibody car-based crossovers that are proliferating in all brands.

Don’t look for third-row seating here. Even though the Trailhawk nominally is a 5-passenger vehicle, it’s best as a four (adult) hauler with a fifth person having to deal with the old-time transmission-driveshaft hump.

But when it comes to towing and off-roading, this is a combination that’s hard to beat, especially if you want to do it in style.

2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk 4×4

THE BASICS

Price, base/as tested (with destination): $44,090 / $53,515. Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 14 city/22 highway/17 combined. Fuel economy, Globe observed: 18.3. Drivetrain: 5.7-liter V-8, 8-speed automatic, 4-wheel-drive. Body: 5-passener SUV.

THE SPECIFICS
Horsepower: 360. Torque: 390 lb.-ft. Overall length: 189.8 in. Wheelbase: 114.8 in. Height: 70 in. (w/antenna). Width: 76.5 in. (84.8 w/mirrors). Curb weight: 5,154 lbs.

THE GOOD

Off-road and towing ability coupled with refined on-road driving and first-class cabin.

THE BAD

Pricey, fuel economy.

THE BOTTOM LINE

An SUV that’s at home anywhere.

ALSO CONSIDER

Dodge Durango, Jeep Wrangler, Land Rover Range Rover, Mercedes-Benz G-Series, Ram Power Wagon, Toyota 4Runner and Land Cruiser.

Bill Griffith can be reached at wgriff@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @MrAutoWriter.

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