2016 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk – Off-Road Performance You Can Live With Everyday

By Jason Saini

Once again we’ve reviewed a car worthy of taking to our favorite off-road park, the Badlands Off Road Park in Attica, IN. We all know that Jeep has been synonymous with off-road since the very first ones were built back in 1940. And while the earliest versions weren’t very comfortable at all, they definitely could ‘go anywhere.’ Over its long history, Jeep has produced vehicles that have lost some of that capability in both the interest of cost savings and everyday usability. The 2016 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk, however, is a master at both – making it true to its roots. We can get behind that!

From the outside, it doesn’t exactly look like a Jeep. That’s not to say it doesn’t look bad, but it just looks… well, odd. We joked around recently that a Kia we reviewed looked like a Pokemon, and this Jeep could be a character too. Maybe the design team was just ahead of the Pokemon GO craze? In some of the more base trims the design doesn’t quite work, but the Trailhawk – with its aggressive wheels/tires and off-road stance – does end up looking quite nice. We particularly like the contrasting matte black-hood graphics. It shows up even better if you choose one of the lighter colors.

How does the Jeep perform? Well, the 271hp 3.2-Liter 6-Cylinder puts out more than enough power to motivate the SUV. It feels powerful, although a bit more refinement from the powerplant would be nice. The economy is rated at 19/26 for the V6, and oddly enough, the 2.4-Liter 4-cylinder is 19/25. With a decent amount of weight to carry around, the 4-cylinder seems to be overworked, keeping the economy down. Given that, choosing the V6 should be a no-brainer, although cost is a factor. With a combined average of 22, we even saw 15.8 over a whole day of off-roading, crawling up and down sand dunes and riverbeds.

Which brings us to the off-road features. The Trailhawk has an incredible set of off-road features, including multiple off-road modes for different terrains, a ‘crawl’ mode and electric disconnect swaybars. The modes cover everything from Auto, which chooses the best mode for you, to Snow, Sand/Mud, Rock and Sport. They really do change how the 4×4 system distributes power, making this SUV more than just an around-town cruiser. The crawl mode keep the speed at .7 mph no matter what grade or terrain you’re on, so you can focus on what’s under your tires. Finally, the electronic swaybars can disconnect to let the wheels articulate more over big gaps and uneven approaches, but reconnect when you’re on the paved roads to improve handling.

The interior is luxurious without going over the top, letting you have a good driving experience without breaking the bank. Storage space is plentiful, with even the entire passenger-seat base being a storage compartment – admittedly at the loss of a power seat on that side. There are plenty of convenience features, and lots of great technology – with apps, navigation and a wifi hotspot. Starting at around $32k, the Trailhawk is a great value – giving you off-road ability that even a serious enthusiast would be impressed with. We got through every part of the off-road park except for the most advanced trail – which is only for complete purpose-built modified vehicles. 

Jeep has always been all about freedom and the ability to go anywhere. This Trailhawk might not go everywhere that a Wrangler will, or coddle you with as much luxury as a Grand Cherokee – but it will do something that is hard to come by these days – give you a real value for your dollar. So if you’re looking for an intermediate SUV, and you like to go off the road every once in awhile – make sure you check out this Cherokee Trailhawk. Just make sure you ask your salesman before steering off the road on your test drive.