Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk: First drive

SAY HELLO to the most off-road orientated Grand Cherokee yet offered in the brand’s fourth (WK2) generation range.

It’s called a Trailhawk, a nameplate also used for the off-road-pitched models in the respective Cherokee and Renegade ranges. All Trailhawk models carry a ‘Trail Rated’ badge; although, whether that means they’re rated for the fabled Rubicon Trail in the USA’s Sierra Nevada mountain range isn’t certain.

The Trailhawk is the headline act in a revamped 2017 Grand Cherokee range, and it uses both existing hardware from the Grand Cherokee options inventory and some Trailhawk-specific bits. Key features include a fully automatic electronic rear locker and height-adjustable air suspension in a unique Trailhawk ‘tune’, which adds more wheel travel and articulation.

 

Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk rear
The Trailhawk also gets underbody protection, a distinctive front lower fascia complete with two prominent (red) recovery hooks, and all-terrain rubber on bespoke 18-inch alloys that carry a small red image of the original WWII Jeep. If all this detail goes unnoticed, you won’t miss the blacked-out bonnet panels.

POWERTRAIN AND PERFORMANCE

THE Trailhawk comes with the familiar 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 from Italian diesel specialist VM Motori. It’s mated to an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission, which has received a number of internal upgrades for improved shift quality and durability.

Jeep Renegade Trailhawk review

As before, the engine claims healthy maximums of 184kW and 570Nm, and it delivers on those claims with brisk and lively performance helped along with the relatively close ratios of the slick-shifting eight-speed automatic. From a standing start the Trailhawk will sprint to 100km/h in just over eight seconds – more than handy by 4x4 standards – and offers decisive overtaking performance on the highway.

The engine and revised gearbox runs in a default ‘Eco’ mode, which makes throttle and downshift responses feel a little doughy at times; although, the Eco mode can be cancelled via a dashboard button. Switching it to Sport mode (adjacent button) sharpens throttle and creates more aggressive shift protocols from the eight-speed auto. Even so, the V6 diesel isn’t all that strong just off idle, with maximum torque not on tap until a relatively high (by diesel standards) 2000rpm.

Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk engine
However, there are no complaints with general running refinement and noise level, or the agreeable partnership the V6 has with the smart and intuitive ZF eight-speed auto. Fuel economy is good, too, with highway figures in the eights and mixed on- and off-road driving in the tens. Combined with a handy fuel capacity of more than 90 litres, this thrifty economy translates to a touring range almost always in excess of 800km.

ON-ROAD RIDE AND HANDLING

THE HIGH benchmark set by the Trailhawk’s powertrain is reflected in its polished on-road dynamics. Thanks to its fully independent suspension and monocoque construction, the Trailhawk has the road feel of a passenger car, and a good one at that – the Grand Cherokee’s platform is shared with the third-generation Mercedes-Benz ML SUV (now called GLE) thanks to Jeep (as part of the Chrysler group) being previously owned by Mercedes-Benz.

Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk platform
Even on its all-terrain rubber, the Trailhawk’s new electric steering is sharp and predictable, while the height-adjustable air suspension provides a compliant ride on all surfaces including potholed bitumen and gravel roads. The Trailhawk is nicely poised at speed on bumpy back roads, far more so than the likes of Prado and Everest with their live rear axles.

Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk unveiled

The height-adjustable suspension, which automatically lowers the ride height once you get up to highway speeds, also contributes here in terms of better road holding, less body roll and reduced aerodynamic drag. The lower ride height is also activated – regardless of road speed – if the driver selects Sport mode.

OFF-ROAD

THE height-adjustable suspension plays a huge part in the Trailhawk’s off-road performance. The fact you can jack it up to provide 260mm of clearance puts it, literally, well above competitor vehicles with conventional fixed-height coil-spring suspension. Add the Trailhawk’s automatic self-locking rear diff into the mix, which includes a self-locking and self-proportioning centre diff, and you have off-road performance that’s worthy of a ‘Trail Rated’ badge.

Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk trail rated badge
However, all of this comes with a caveat. Despite being able to lift (or lower) some 85mm, the Grand Cherokee’s suspension doesn’t have the wheel travel of the fully independently sprung Discovery or Range Rover Sport, let alone a live-axle vehicle.

Jacked right up, the Trailhawk’s ride becomes harsh and sometimes noisy as the suspension tops out due to the limited droop travel it has when extended. On gnarly tracks, the Trailhawk also readily lifts wheels and is ‘dramatic’ in situations where something like a Toyota Prado, with its much longer suspension travel, is far more composed.

Jeep's Quicksand concept scorcher

Thankfully, the Trailhawk can be jacked up in two stages for off-road use, initially from the default 205mm to 233mm (comparable with the Prado), and then up to 260mm at max lift. At the first off-road setting, the ride, although not plush, is still pretty good and is all you need for most trail and beach driving. The system automatically holds the selected higher height up to a decent speed – 40km/h for the highest (260mm) setting and up to 80km/h for the 233mm setting; although, the driver can override this manually.

Like all Grand Cherokees, the Trailhawk comes with Selec-Terrain to allow the driver to set the chassis and drivetrain electronics for different conditions such as Sand, Snow, Mud and Rocks, or just leave it in Auto mode. Selecting low range also changes the chassis and drivetrain settings, most noticeably tightening the rear locker.

Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk water crossing
The Trailhawk comes with no fewer than five steel underbody plates to protect vitals like the engine, transfer case and fuel tank, but it could do with rock rails to protect the vulnerable-looking rear bumper. There are also no recovery hooks at the rear, which seems at odds with the set-up at the front. The location of the engine air-intake behind the bonnet lip is also something to be aware of before getting too adventurous with water crossings, even if the air-filter box is big, tall and drained.

CABIN, EQUIPMENT AND SAFETY

GIVEN the Trailhawk sits near the top of the Grand Cherokee model range, it’s no surprise that it comes loaded with kit given that even the base-model Laredo (including the budget 4x2) features keyless entry and start, electric seat adjustment, dual-zone climate, a reversing camera, seven airbags, and a five-star ANCAP safety rating. The Trailhawk then adds sat-nav, bespoke premium leather seats with suede inserts, driver’s memory settings, heating and cooling for the seats (including heated second row), a heated steering wheel, and a power tailgate. The seat and steering wheel heaters have an auto-on function in cold weather, so they start warming up the instant you switch on the ignition.

Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk interior
As ever with the Grand Cherokee, the cabin is nicely detailed, comfortable and roomy, and by not squeezing in a third row it benefits in terms of rear-seat and luggage space. Not so good is the tight driver’s footwell that’s further crowded by the foot-operated parking brake. Older buyers may also lament the lack of a CD player.

PRACTICALITIES

AS mentioned, the Trailhawk comes with all-terrain rubber, specifically 265/60R18 Goodyear Wranglers. This size is used by the Prado and Hilux (among others), which is a bonus, but the large front brakes mean that 17s can’t be fitted to open up the tyre choice further.

Custom 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee

There’s also a problem with the spare, as it’s not a match for the road wheel/tyre combination. It’s a narrower 245/65R18 road tyre on a steel rim that – unusually – for a space saver has a higher speed rating (H or 210km/h) than the T-rated (190km/h) all-terrains and is not distance restricted.

The good news here is that the spare-wheel well in the cargo bay is just deep enough for a 265/60R18, even if it’s a bit of squeeze to close the spare-wheel cover.

Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk water

SUM UP

AS WITH all Grand Cherokees, the Trailhawk offers a shedload of 4x4 for the money and a broad spectrum of on- and off-road capability. That spectrum of capability may be skewed more towards the on-road side of things than off-road, but it’s nevertheless impressive. However, where the Trailhawk does miss out off-road is more through its comfort rather than its capability.

Those who don’t wish to pay the $74K (plus on-roads) for the Trailhawk but still want an off-road-capable Grand Cherokee can save a packet by opting for the Laredo and adding the off-road options pack, which includes air suspension, rear locker, underbody protection and all-terrain tyres. That way you get most of what the Trailhawk offers and only miss out on luxury and convenience features.

JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE TRAILHAWK SPECS

Engine: V6 turbo-diesel
Capacity: 2982cc
Power: 184kW @ 4000rpm
Torque: 570Nm @ 2000rpm
Gearbox: eight-speed automatic
4x4 System: dual-range full-time
Crawl Ratio: 44.2:1
Construction: monocoque
Front suspension: independent/air springs
Rear suspension: independent/air springs
Tyre/wheel spec: 265/60R18 (see text)
Kerb weight: 2300kg (approx.)
GVM: 2949kg
Payload: 650kg: (approx.)
Towing capacity: 3500kg
Seating capacity: five
Fuel tank capacity: 93.5 litres
ADR fuel claim: 7.5L/100km?
On-test consumption: 10.6L/100km
Touring range*: 832km
*Based on test consumption and 50km ‘safety margin’.

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