FOR 25 YEARS, the Grand Cherokee has been Jeep’s poster child of an SUV that could replace the premium comforts found in European rivals yet offer a sure footed, off road driving experience.
Though some Grand Cherokee models like the two-wheel drive entry model Laredo isn’t going to stir up many muddy tracks, more serious models like the Trailhawk encourage the opposite. And it’s now MC certified.
The Trailhawk is in fact ‘trail rated’ by Jeep, which means it passed its own specific testing on the Rubicon Trail. And Jeep also told us that its ‘there and back’ five-year warranty exists for any customers, including those who drive to The Simpson Desert.
What is the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk?
The Trailhawk is the most off-road focused Grand Cherokee in the lineup. Priced from $74,000, the diesel-powered Trailhawk is $5000 more than the volume-selling Limited diesel and offers additional features to enhance its performance off-road. Jeep previously offered the Trailhawk in limited numbers which quickly sold out, and in this latest refresh the brand is offering it as a permanent model.
Along with the 2017 minor exterior changes outside, the Trailhawk is differentiated from the rest of the lineup with unique 18-inch alloy wheels with Bridgestone puncture-resistant kevlar tyres, red tow hooks front and back, and some grey and black accent Trailhawk bits like badges and mouldings.
Underneath its skin are some bigger changes, such as Quadra-lift air suspension, which allows for up to 260mm of clearance. The approach angle of 29.8 degrees can be increased to 36.1 degrees by removing the front fascia, and the breakover and departure angles are 22 and 27 degrees, respectively. Underbody skid plates protect most of the vitals.
Powered by a 3.0-litre diesel turbo V6, the Trailhawk produces 184kW and an impressive 570Nm of torque. The power is shifted through a revised (more durable) 8-speed automatic transmission and low-range transfer caser, and is mated to Jeep’s Quadra-drive II 4×4 system. The system is uses AI to infer when a wheel is at the point of slip and distribute torque to wheels with grip. It also uses an electronic rear limited slip differential.
Inside the Trailhawk has a model-specific leather and suede black interior trim with red stitching and some piano black inserts. The Uconnect infotainment has also been updated and features a special Trailhawk exclusive version of the off-road pages app.
What’s the interior of the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk like?
Like all Grand Cherokees the Trailhawk interior appreciates an almost 5m long and 2m wide body which provides a capacious cabin. The Trailhawk looks smart with its many black interior bits exclusive to the model, but some of interior is beginning to age now as the current generation is getting on. Compared to premium rivals the Trailhawk lacks some of the design and improved material touch points they feature, but at its price it still offers a comfortable interior and plenty of kit.
What’s the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk’s infotainment unit like?
The 2017 Grand Cherokee gets an updated 8.4-inch Uconnect infotainment system with a new app menu system for navigating, along with the usual shortcut buttons along the bottom. The Trailhawk receives a unique off-road pages app specifically tailored for off-road use. It shows a variety of information such as the temperature of the oil, transmission and coolant fluids, roll and pitch angles, and suspension and driveline settings.
This app can show a variety of fluid temps and gauges, along with a lap timer and g-force meter. Unique to the Grand Cherokee is a rear trailer view that uses the reversing camera, for a short period, when driving forwards to show a hitched trailer.
What’s the passenger space of the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk like?
Up front the seats provide good support and proved comfortable during an hour and half driving. The seats feature electric adjustment and can find a reasonably good seating position for tall body frames, along with good tilt and reach adjustment. The footwell space is wide and deep for both front passengers although the driver does have a foot parkbrake inside.
Between the front seats is plenty of space for sharing the armrest and there’s two cupholders next to the revised automatic shifter. Up from the centre console is the infotainment and an array of buttons for climate control before some unique to Trailhawk black accents.
Into the rear and there’s also plenty of room for kids and adults. The legroom benefits from the Grand Cherokee’s long body and there’s plenty of room.
As with most cars, three adults across the back pew would be one too many for a long trip, but there’s enough lateral space to keep an airy cabin for three big kids. There’s also some mod cons in the back, such as heated seats, climate vents and USB charging.
What’s the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk’s boot space like?
The Grand Cherokee capitalises on its long dimensions with a large 782 litre boot which can extend to 1554 with the 60:40 split fold rear seats folded down. Along with a good amount of space are storage compartments and one 12v outlet, but despite its big space there’s no seven-seat option.
What’s the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk like to drive?
The Trailhawk can be set to one of five driving modes via its Selec-Trac system: Snow, Sand, Mud, Rock or Auto. Each setting optimises settings such as the transfer case, throttle response and traction control. In the Trailhawk it will also affect the ride height. The rear electronic differential features a wet clutch and up to 100% of torque can be sent to either wheel.
Our first drive in the Trailhawk was across a four-wheel drive course which negotiated thick wet paddock grass and mud on a cool morning. The conditions were very slippery and provided a challenge at times for the Quadra-Drive II 4WD system. In neutral and standing still, we engaged 4WD low and left the drive mode in auto.
On a choppy steep hill the mud proved too slippery for the Bridgestone Adventure all-terrain tyres and, with drive system set to auto, the wheels struggled to get grip. Moving to mud mode provided the Trailhawk better grip and in this mode, there was less wheel spin.
While off-road drive the off-road pages app was open and provide details for the transfer case and ride height among pages of other useful information.
Across the top of the hills and during descent the hill descent control worked consistently, with minimal slip even across some very wet sections. Controlled via the cruise control buttons, the hill descent control is available in 4WD low range and at up to 40km/h either ascending, descending or crawling on flats.
The off-road loop didn’t provide much more than a tour of a wet, slippery farm track, so we’ll provide a more in-depth test when we test a vehicle locally. However, for the most part, the Trailhawk performed well and was surefooted.
Despite it off-road cred though, the Trailhawk performed well on the road. Despite Kevlar enforced tyre sidewalls, the ride was compliant and smooth, and NVH was well handled compared to our other test vehicle, the SRT.
The 3.0-litre diesel turbo V6 engine provides ample torque and smooth power delivery that’s more than enough for quick overtaking and nimble accelerating at lower speeds. It’s also quiet for an oiler and doesn’t intrude into the cabin.
Across coarse roads the Trailhawk was just as smooth as on the highway, and despite its high centre of gravity it was eager to prove it could handle some spirited driving, not that off-road capable SUVs need to prove that sort of thing…The eight-speed automatic was equally as goodand provided the right gear when required. It’s no SRT, but the diesel engine is perhaps the smoothest driveline in the Grand Cherokee range.
What are the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk’s safety features like?
The Grand Cherokee has been awarded a five-star ANCAP rating for all V6 equipped models. The V8 equipped SRT has not been individually tested.Standard safety features include airbags and advanced seatbelt reminders. Additional safety equipment includes: adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, forward collision warning and optional blind spot monitoring with cross path detection.
So, what do we think of the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk?
The Trailhawk is perhaps the perfect blend of Jeep Grand Cherokee’s main game: a capable off-road SUV that performs equally as well on sealed roads and when urban commuting. Its smooth, powerful diesel engine and compliant ride on the road round out a car which proved capable on some demanding bits of off-road terrain.
Given it’s priced at $5000 more than the top-selling Limited diesel, the Trailhawk should see some of those buyers jumping for extra off-road ability and exclusive interior bits.
Words by Alex Rae