Jeep Trailhawk plush and pushy
FOUR-wheel driving with my dad was not exactly what dreams are made of.
Yes, they were exceptionally fun trips but bouncing around on a hard, flat seat in the middle of nowhere with a fishy tackle box balancing on your lap and a flimsy seatbelt with a broken clip your last line of defence if things went pear shaped, is hardly a feeling you want to bottle and sell.
Still, it was an education - in articulate swearing - if nothing else, and you quickly learned the intricacies of traversing a rocky descent, how to prevent yourself being bogged or how to get out when you do.
I would like to say that my little fingers were not called upon to deal with securing ropes or my voice was never hoarse from shouting instructions from way down a muddy slope but where's the fun in that? Still, I will never forget those trips in the beautiful African bush.
I can conjure up the smell after it rained without even trying, on trails that had seen very few vehicles. In fact, now that I think about it, many were probably not trails at all.
But there was always a pay-off. A beautiful waterfall, an ice-cold swim hole or a pristine white beach. But more than that, it is that feeling of bubbling excitement in your tummy that is hard to match. It is memories like these that you recall at the wheel of the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk.
The ride itself is much more comfortable and hi-tech of course, but that feeling in your tummy - that's still there.
The Trailhawk may be built in Ohio but it has a decidedly European interior, flair mixed with purpose and more soft-touch plastics than hard. Contrasting materials, stitching and colours add interest with a modern but simple dash offering a breezy welcome to driver and passenger alike.
The seats cannot go without comment; their cushioning and bolstering providing the utmost support even in trying conditions. There is sufficient head and legroom for all occupants, helped, of course, by the fact that the second row can be moved forward and aft on rails. Three across in the rear seat may be a bit of a squash, especially if you opt for a sunroof which asks a lot of headroom in return. Instruments are clear and precise and buttons are large and sturdy, making them so much easier to operate. A newly designed three-spoke steering wheel is nice to the touch with well-placed controls, although a button for volume wouldn't go astray.
It is a little difficult to reconcile the rugged capability of the Trailhawk with its almost plush interior, yet it is very easy to get used to. Storage is great with options on top of the dash and in the front seat adding to a large glove box and a number of well-placed and well-shaped cup and bottle holders. We found the boot a tad small, especially if you intend camping, although the accessories, including a cooler bag, collapsible cargo box and off-road gear, were extremely useful.
On the road
Like the other Cherokees in the range, The Trailhawk offers up an exemplary on-road performance. The 3.2-litre Pentastar V6 is ably paired with a nine-speed auto transmission, which has little trouble irrespective of the road surface. Acceleration is without effort, corners are easy to navigate and the brakes, once you get accustomed to them, are extremely reliable.The cabin is generally quiet but the wider all-terrain tyres do add a bit of road noise. But the Trailhawk's ability off the bitumen is what held our interest.
Put through its paces on trails hugging the Queensland and New South Wales border, this Jeep beast certainly put its best foot forward. While no Rubicorn Trail, our foray included a fair bit of rock, steep inclines and declines and enough angles and loose material to work up a sweat. First, let's say that the Trailhawk, with its high ground clearance, good approach (30 degrees) and departure angles (32 degrees) and well-protected belly, is built for more than a little ruggedness. In fact, it relishes it, using its advanced technology and well-honed ESC to keep you safe off the beaten track. It was excellent on the beach too, its all-round capability allowing you to out-run the tide if you happen to be foolish enough to get caught (Although it's best not to push your luck).
Its Active Drive Lock system combines a low-range option and a locking rear diff which helps to make light work of most challenges. You can use the Selec-Terrain dial to choose from Auto, Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud and Rock, but in reality you can just leave it in Auto and let the Trailhawk do the rest. The hill descent control offers a cool feature allowing the vehicle to control the speed (up to 10km) leaving you to just worry about the steering. It does require a leap of faith at the start but proves to be heaps of fun.
What do you get?
Pretty much everything you need is on the inclusions list. The Trailhawk boasts the luxuries offered by the Cherokee Limited, like heated front seats, remote start, an 8.4-inch touch screen with sat nav, Bluetooth and reverse camera, dual-zone climate control, power tailgate and rain-sensing wipers but also adds a number of special off-road features like skid plates, heavy-duty cooling systems, Jeep Active Drive Lock 4×4 system with low range and locking rear axle, and Selec-Speed Control featuring Hill-ascent Control and Hill-descent Control.
You can also choose from optional packages like the Electronic Convenience package, which includes proximity key with keyless entry, wireless charging pad and 230V auxillary power outlet, or perhaps the Technology package which features niceties like Advanced Brake Assist, Lane Departure Warning Plus, Auto High Beam Control, Forward Collision Mitigation, Adaptive Cruise Control, Blind-spot Monitoring and Cross-path Detection and ParkSense Parallel and Perpendicular Park Assist.
The Trailhawk has a five-star safety rating with features including amongst others, anti-lock brakes with EBD and brake assist, traction and stability control, dual front, side chest, curtain and driver knee airbags, electronic roll mitigation and blind spot monitoring.
The Trailhawk will pit its strengths against the Toyota RAV4 Cruiser (from $47,290), Honda CR-V VTi-L (from $45,790), Mazda CX-5 Akera (from $46,570) and Land Rover Freelander 2 Si4 (from $55,600).
Despite improvements made to efficiency, we found the Trailhawk a little bit dear both on and off the tarmac. We failed to get close to the official 10l/100km, our best return closer to 12.6l/100km. Jeep offers a three years/ 100,000km warranty with free roadside assist for the duration.
The Trailhawk is a great option for those who need to transport the family around during the week but really need a vehicle that is not going to shy away from the off-road challenge. Visibility can be hindered by the side mirror when you are turning right and the boot is a bit on the small side for our liking. But it is good that the rear and front passenger seats can fold flat offering more options and we also like the higher ride height and nifty interior features.
The new-shaped Cherokee seems to be gaining support after a lukewarm start. Personally, we prefer the boxier outfit - it just appeared tougher - but this car for the future retains enough trademark Jeep features to hold our interest. It sits determinedly on wider 17-inch alloys with the three red two-hooks giving some indication of its capability. The "Trail Rated" badges and unique front and rear fascias also add some street cred as does the seven-slot grille and off-road wheel flares.
Model: Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk
Details: Five-door four-wheel drive medium SUV.
Engine: 3.2-litre V6 petrol generating maximum power of 200kW @ 6000rpm with a peak torque of 316Nm @ 4400rpm.
Transmission: Nine-speed auto.
Bottom line: from $47,500