2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk review

Comfy on road, competent off road, Jeep's Grand Cherokee Trailhawk finds 4X4 zen

Jeep's Grand Cherokee can still go off the grid, but remains comfortable between adventures
Jeep's Grand Cherokee can still go off the grid, but remains comfortable between adventures
Jeep's Grand Cherokee can still go off the grid, but remains comfortable between adventures

Highs

  • Legitimate off-road capability
  • Wide range of standard features

Lows

  • ’17 model doesn’t get the latest version of the Uconnect infotainment system

DT Editors' Rating

Like many automotive enthusiast contingents, Jeep fanatics tend to be a pretty vocal bunch. In recent years, there was a growing sentiment among them that – with the exception of the Wrangler – the Jeep lineup had gone soft, opting to cater to customers wanted a convincing aesthetic but had no intention of actually taking their vehicles off the beaten path (short of occasionally barreling over a median in a tight parking lot).

Those enthusiasts might’ve pointed their finger at the previous generation of the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk, a package that ultimately stayed within safe distance of the standard soft-roader Grand Cherokee equation while raising the asking price by a significant margin.

However, this time around Jeep has made a more earnest effort to turn the Grand Cherokee into a viable alternative to the Wrangler when venturing out where the pavement ends, while also retaining the livability of a typical SUV. That can be a tricky proposition, as capable dirt dwellers often compromise street-friendly manners in the pursuit of off-road prowess.

But the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk has a few clever tricks up its sleeve, and while it can’t satisfy the demands of every potential Jeep customer simultaneously, a week with the sport-utility provided some insight into its surprisingly effective split personality.

Beyond the badge

At first glance, one might dismiss the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk as a tire-and-sticker treatment designed to achieve a look, as the package is fairly subtle in its aesthetic execution, but there’s a lot going on underneath the skin that earns the Trailhawk its Trail Rated fender badge. That rating signifies that the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk has passed the battery of off-road tests conducted by the Nevada Automotive Test Center (NATC), which evaluates vehicles for traction, ground clearance, off road articulation, maneuverability, and water fording.

While competence in the dirt is obviously important, the requirement of day-to-day livability is equally vital.

To achieve that, Jeep engineers outfitted the Trailhawk with a long list of standard hardware, including a specially tuned version of Quadra-Lift air suspension that allows for more articulation than the standard system, along with a two-speed transfer case, an electronic rear limited-slip differential, and Jeep’s Quadra-Drive II four-wheel-drive system. Skid plates protect vital underbody components, while the Trailhawk’s 18-inch aluminum wheels are wrapped in Kevlar-reinforced Goodyear Adventure all-terrain tires.

Fortunately, Jeep hasn’t neglected the need for livability in the pursuit of this off-road capability. The Grand Cherokee Trailhawk also comes standard with heated and ventilated front seats, a 506-watt nine-speaker audio system, an 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment system, and a number of additional comfort and convenience features, resulting in a surprisingly well-rounded package designed to appease one’s urge for adventure as well as their need for a little coddling on a day-to-day basis.

Pounding pavement

During our First Drive of the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk back in September, our seat time was largely relegated to the off-road trails of the Malibu Hills. While that’s undoubtedly a logical locale to showcase the Trailhawk’s off-road behavior, it does leave some unanswered questions about the SUV’s street manners. In the real world, the latter is where the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk will likely spend the vast majority of its time, so while competence in the dirt is obviously important, the requirement of day-to-day livability is equally vital.

The Trailhawk’s air suspension might seem like an unusual choice for a vehicle tuned for off-roading, but it starts to make a lot more sense out on the street. It proves to be a far cry from the fairly harsh ride of other capable off-roaders like the Ram Power Wagon, offering plenty of compliance without feeling floaty during freeway maneuvers.

There are some minor quibbles, however. Chalk it up to either this author’s addiction to horsepower or the Trailhawk’s hefty curb weight, but the base 3.6-liter V6 – while capable of doing the job – feels a bit strained at times out on the road. Even with the eight-speed automatic’s numerous cogs on hand to provide mechanical leverage and paddle shifters on the steering wheel providing direct control over the proceedings, 4900 pounds is a lot of mass for 295 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque to contend with. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, but acceleration isn’t always an effortless affair either, and the extra 130 lb-ft provided by the optional 360hp 5.7-liter V8 might be appreciated by lead foots, especially during highway passing.

Also, while we’d still consider FCA’s current Uconnect system to be one of the strongest infotainment system offerings in the industry, it’s still a bit disappointing to find that the updated version of the system isn’t on hand here in the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk while other ’17 models in the FCA portfolio are starting to roll out of the factory with those upgraded electronics.

But aside from not being the latest and greatest available, there’s little to complain about with this 8.4-inch touchscreen system – it’s just as responsive, feature-rich and free of temperamental behavior as it is in the numerous other vehicles across the company’s lineup that utilize it. Similar to Dodge’s SRT Performance Pages, Jeep’s Off-Road Pages feature within the Uconnect system provides a wealth of real time data including wheel articulation, drivetrain settings, system temperatures, and so on.

Our Take

Unlike many vehicles tuned to be capable off-road, the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk makes very few compromises on the street to make that a reality, and the package’s combination of standard features that satisfy both capability and comfort are indeed impressive.

Ultimately, the Trailhawk package is probably overkill for most drivers who don’t plan to put the SUV through some pretty unforgiving terrain on a regular basis. But for those that do, there’s plenty of reasons for this Grand Cherokee to be on the shortlist.

What are the alternatives?

Despite the wealth of mid-sized SUV options on the market, there are surprisingly few that offer off-road capability on same level as the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk. The Land Rover Discovery offer similar prowess with much more refinement, but it also commands a significantly higher price tag.

How long will it last?

The next redesign for the Grand Cherokee is expected for the 2019 model year at the earliest, so the current generation definitely has some life left in it.

Aside from its heavy duty (and thus theoretically durable) mechanicals, the Jeep’s longevity is fairly bulletproof from an electronics standpoint as well, as the Uconnect infotainment system has a fairly comprehensive suite of features – despite the fact that latest available version of the system isn’t used in the 2017 model year Grand Cherokee Trailhawk, and likely will be next year.

Should you buy it?

For those that don’t require the off-road hardware, there are numerous alternatives available that are worth considering. But if you need an SUV with genuine capability where the road ends, the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk is one of very few choices on the market – especially in this price range.

Thankfully it’s a solid driver on the street as well, with enough standard features to keep all occupants content during day-to-day use. We say go for it.

Product Review

Audi's new A8 is so sophisticated and serene, it practically deletes potholes

The 2019 Audi A8’s outline looks promising: Level 3 autonomous driving capability, haptic-feedback infotainment screens, rear-wheel steering, Matrix LED headlights and OLED taillights, plus a predictive suspension.
Cars

'4WD' or 'AWD'? Which setup is right for you?

Although four-wheel drive (4WD) and all-wheel drive (AWD) are related, they are actually quite different in how they operate. Here, we talk about the fundamental differences between the two systems, and what it means for you as a driver.
Cars

Room to roam: The supersized X7 is unlike any BMW you’ve ever seen

The first-ever BMW X7 is the 7 Series of the SUV world in terms of size, price, and image. Its supersized body has enough room for seven adult passengers and enough tech to impress even the most cutting-edge buyers.
Product Review

Volvo’s redesigned 2019 S60 sedan is the best kind of remix

The 2019 Volvo S60 borrows almost everything from other recent Volvo models, but that’s not a problem. From its infotainment system to an available plug-in hybrid powertrain, the S60 takes the best bits from a lineup of great cars.
Cars

Watch this 1,000-horsepower Jeep Trackhawk scorch supercars in the quarter mile

The Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is pretty quick out of the box, but Texas tuner Hennessey Performance Engineering never settles for stock. Its HPE1200 Trackhawk boasts over 1,000 horsepower.
Cars

Hold on to your butts: These are the fastest cars in the world

Think your car is unbelievably fast? Think again. From wind-cheating bodywork to powerful engines, these cars were designed for the singular pursuit of speed (and it shows).
Cars

Google Maps now shows EV owners the way to the nearest charging station

Google Maps now lets electric-car owners find the nearest charging station with ease. It's also added data on the number and types of ports available, charging speeds, and notes on the business where the station is located.
Cars

Heads up, George Jetson: Terrafugia starts taking orders for its flying car

The Terrafugia Transition flying car will go on sale next year, roughly a decade after the first prototype rolled out of its hangar. Terrafugia promises improvements, including a hybrid powertrain, to make up for the long wait.
Cars

At 503 mph, Turbinator II is the world’s fastest wheel-driven vehicle

The Turbinator II is a four-wheel drive streamliner powered by a 5,000-horsepower helicopter engine, and it just achieved 503.332 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats. That's an unofficial record for a wheel-driven car.
Cars

Lyft has a new fixed-price subscription plan for frequent passengers

Lyft wants you to save money by using rideshare services instead of owning a car. The new Lyft All-Access Plan monthly rideshare trip subscription includes 30 rides a month with a small discount for additional trips.
Cars

Could the next Mazda3 boast a fuel-saving breakthrough in engine tech?

Mazda released a teaser video that likely previews the next Mazda3. Expected to make its global debut at the L.A. auto show, the next 3 will wear a more curvaceous design and offer one of the most advanced engines in the automotive…
Cars

Workhorse takes on diesel with lighter, cheaper NGEN-1000 electric delivery van

Ohio-based Workhorse Group claims its new NGEN-1000 electric delivery van costs the same as a conventional diesel van and can haul a similar amount of cargo. A lower curb weight makes this possible.
Cars

Forget transponders with Peasy’s nationwide pay-as-you-go toll service

Verra Mobility launched Peasy, a consumer highway and bridge toll payment service. Designed to be less hassle than managing traditional transponder or toll tag accounts, Peasy pays tolls as they are levied across most of the U.S.
Cars

Just 10 people will get to put this limited-edition Audi R8 in their garages

The 2018 Audi R8 V10 Plus Competition makes use of Audi's motor sports experience to turn up the performance dial. Decreased weight and increased aerodynamic downforce make this R8 a track monster.