Cars, one could argue, are simply tools meant to get you from point A to point B. In my opinion, however, an automobile should inspire you toward something extra: make you want to dress better, get more out of life or be a better a driver. The 2016 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk is this kind of vehicle, one that practically yells at you to go off-road and find adventure. It may be more toned down than the maxed-out Rubicon, but you also don’t feel too guilty for underutilizing its extreme capabilities as you wait for the perfect weekend to do just that. Able to cross vast forests and deserts comfortably while not shaming you during your boring grocery runs is the SUV sweet spot; that’s the Trailhawk’s forte.
The Trailhawk is the most rugged of the seven Cherokee trims; its base price is around $24,000. The example Jeep handed over to me had a sticker of nearly $39,000, which included an upgraded 3.2-liter V6 (from the 2.4-liter in-line four-cylinder), heated and ventilated seats, 17-inch black-painted aluminum wheels, a power-lift gate, blind spot detection and upgraded U-Connect infotainment with an 8.4-inch screen and wi-fi connectivity.
To earn the Trailhawk badge, a vehicle must meet Jeep’s high standards for ground clearance, water fording, traction and more; the vehicle must prove itself on the grueling 17-mile Rubicon trail, which is essentially an off-road Nurburgring. Jeep then adjusts the vehicle’s livery to match its kick-ass performance. Case in point: flat black paint on the top of the hood, red tow hooks, the black wheels and, of course, the Boy Scout merit badge at the base of the A-pillar that lets everyone know this thing is “trail rated.”
2016 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Specs
Engine: 3.2-liter V6
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic transmission
Horsepower: 271 horsepower
Torque: 239 lb-ft
0-60 mph: 6.9 seconds
MPG: 19/26 city/highway
The interior is the ideal balance between “who cares if my boots are muddy” and “everyone remove your shoes before getting in.” Logistically it’s great, too (there is a cargo bin on the dash I used much more frequently than expected). The large UConnect touchscreen is very responsive and features Jeep’s suite of apps, and can make the car a hotspot.
Around town, the Trailhawk drove with confidence — the upgraded V6 is certainly worth it. Steering is light for an SUV and feels more like driving a Ford Fiesta, but it didn’t bother me. As for cargo, even with a car seat in the back the trunk is still very usable for groceries, a stroller or adventure gear for the weekend. The dimensions make it a good fit for the urban lifestyle, though the wide C-pillars reduce rear visibility and create pretty large blind spots.
The Cherokee Trailhawk is aimed at the person who fancies themselves a full-time adventurer but in reality is a weekend warrior at best. It has ample tech inside and aggressively styled accents outside; still, this nearly $40,000 Jeep has to square up against the Mercedes GLC, Audi Q5 and Range Rover Discovery Sport. Jeep hopes their trail-rated badge is big enough to trump the luxury appointments of its competitors. If you require legit off-road expertise and you’re shopping this segment, you’d be wise to follow that badge and check out the Trailhawk.