2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk Review

Caught Between a Mainstream and Premium SUV

The Jeep Grand Cherokee has long occupied an awkward space in the market, finding itself somewhere between mainstream and premium SUVs.

It’s not quite on the same level as anything from Audi, BMW or even Infiniti, but it certainly feels slightly more upmarket than the likes of the Ford Explorer or Nissan Pathfinder. That identity crisis has a noticeable impact on the Grand Cherokee’s pricing, with enough boxes on the order sheet to push it well into premium territory. That’s particularly true for the Canadian market, with its $44,195 starting price coming just shy of the slightly smaller 2018 Audi Q5.

Regardless of its price tag, the Grand Cherokee has a definite advantage over any of its adversaries out on the trail. With a pedigree that predates most other SUVs on the market, the Grand Cherokee doesn’t have quite the same trailblazing bravado as the Jeep Wrangler, but it’s not far off. And no version encapsulates that go-anywhere ability better than the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk, the roughest, toughest trim in what’s a fairly long list of them.

A Pricey Proposition

The Trailhawk isn’t the most expensive model in the Grand Cherokee lineup, though it’s not far from claiming that title. Take away the outrageous SRT model and the trail-tackling Trailhawk finds itself near the top when it comes to price, starting at $43,095 ($57,245 in Canada). That’s roughly $13,000 more than a base Laredo version of the Grand Cherokee — and that’s also before any options are added.

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Our tester has been fitted with the full gambit of what’s available from the factory, and it shows in the price tag. Replacing the standard six-cylinder engine with a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 adds $3,295 ($2,400 in Canada) to the price, while the luxury package, which includes features like a panoramic sunroof and rain-sensing wipers, tacks another $2,995 to the order sheet. Blind spot monitoring, meanwhile, is a standalone option worth $595 ($500 in Canada), while the rest of the available active safety features, including adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist, are packaged at a cost of $1,495.

Adding navigation functionality to the infotainment system is another standalone option, and one that costs $450 ($700 in Canada), while the rear seat entertainment package runs another $1,995 ($2,150 in Canada). Throw in the reinforced rocker panels for another $895 ($1,195 in Canada), and the as-tested price of our Trailhawk swelled to an astonishing $55,015 ($70,575 in Canada) including destination charges.

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Built to Tackle Trails

That’s a lot of scratch for any vehicle, let alone one wearing a Jeep badge. It also takes some serious guts to buy one with the intention of getting it dirty let alone taking it out for some off-road fun, but that’s what this Trailhawk version was made for. It’s got the same basic bones as the far more affordable Grand Cherokee Laredo, which means plenty of capability has been baked into it right from the start. Of course, this being the Trailhawk model means everything in that regard has been amped up a notch or two — and it extends far beyond the flashy red tow hooks.

Aside from the addition of underbody skid plates, which protect vital components like the fuel tank, transfer case and front suspension from damage out on the rough stuff, the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk also features drivetrain components intent on improving its already impressive off-road prowess.

Adjustable air suspension is standard fare, providing as much as 11 inches (279 millimeters) of ground clearance, while the full-time four-wheel drive setup features a limited-slip rear differential to keep wheel spin to a minimum. The Grand Cherokee Trailhawk also features hill ascent and descent modes, which take the onus of throttle and brake modulation off the driver in off-road situations, as well as a traction control system that tailors the transfer case, transmission and throttle response to terrains ranging from snow to sand and rocks.

If all that weren’t enough, the front and rear bumpers specific to the Trailhawk trim do away with excess plastic to give the Grand Cherokee approach and departure angles that are almost in line with the Jeep Wrangler.

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Out on the trail, the Trailhawk is a blast to drive — even if it is a little nerve-racking. Given that it’s equipped with far less body-cladding than the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk, let alone the Wrangler, an extra dose of caution needs to be exercised when negotiating narrow trails behind the wheel of the Grand Cherokee. With a body that spans 76.5 inches (1,943 mm) from side to side, the Grand Cherokee brings with it a sudden awareness of its width out on the trail, while it’s equally important to become acutely aware of the 189.8 inches (4,822 mm) of overall length that’s along for the ride.

Far more important, though, is that the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk never feels out of its element on the trail. Setting out the morning after a fairly heavy snowfall, our trail of choice certainly didn’t look like an imposing one. With little more than footprints having disturbed the snow’s surface, it was difficult to judge just how interesting things were going to get.

It didn’t take much time to realize that the snow was quite deceiving. No, we’re not talking the trails of Moab, Utah, but this was no walk — er, drive — in the park, either. No matter what was thrown the Jeep’s way, though, it just did Jeep things to deal with them. It didn’t matter whether the decision was made to drive over, around or right through obstacles, the probability of success was always high.

With the available Hemi under the hood making 360 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque, there was little fear of getting the Grand Cherokee into a situation that a little extra power couldn’t coax it out of. Of course, the larger engine does mean more weight, adding about 250 lb (113 kg) to the overall curb weight. The added heft wasn’t enough to hold our tester down, though. In fact, the only trouble we encountered on the trail came by way of the Kevlar-reinforced Goodyear All-Terrain Adventure tires. While the tread is appropriately aggressive, it did lead to some serious slipping on the snow-covered trails.

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On the Road Again

But it’s out on the road where average Grand Cherokee, Trailhawk or otherwise, will spend most of its time — and it’s perfectly capable there, too. The air suspension that offers plenty of flexibility on the trail is definitely cushy on the tarmac, leaving the Grand Cherokee feeling almost as if it’s floating down the road like an old Lincoln. That’s certainly not a complaint, though, and gives the Grand Cherokee its soft and supple premium-like ride.

Contributing to that hovercraft-esque effect is the added weight of all the Trailhawk’s extra equipment. According to Jeep, V8-powered versions of the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk tip the scales at a hefty 5,154 lb (2,238 kg), and that’s before adding our tester’s extras, like the heavy-duty rocker panels.

The added weight is no matter for the Hemi under the hood, which has more than enough output to make easy work of most situations this side of a fuel stop. And that’s the eight-cylinder’s main weakness: Its insatiable appetite for gasoline. Our tester averaged a borderline brutal 13 mpg (18 L/100 km) over the course of a week covering more than 260 miles (420 kilometers).

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Plenty of Amenities

If there’s one thing the Jeep Grand Cherokee has never been short of since its introduction some 25 years ago, it’s the bevy of available equipment inside that pushes it closer to the premium end of the spectrum.

The Trailhawk model builds on the Grand Cherokee’s roomy cabin with the addition of leather and suede seats that are both heated and ventilated up front and heated in the second row, as well as a heated steering wheel and dual-zone automatic climate control. The Uconnect infotainment system, which continues to be among the easiest to use on the market, runs through an 8.4-inch touchscreen on the center stack, with separate knobs and buttons below to easily control audio and climate functions.

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Our tester was fitted with the available Active Safety Group, which adds adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, forward collision warning, and both parallel and perpendicular park assist. All systems worked as well as advertised, though the adaptive cruise system, which can bring the Jeep to complete stop before resuming on its own, was a little jerky on the gas and brakes. For those that aren’t comfortable using adaptive cruise control, the Grand Cherokee retains its conventional system as well, which is a nice touch.

When it comes to interior space, the Grand Cherokee is roomy and comfortable, with plenty of space in the second row to accommodate a family of four. There’s no third-row seating option in the Grand Cherokee — ironic given the smaller Jeep Cherokee can be fitted with one — but with 36.3 cu-ft (1,028 liters) of cargo space, there is plenty of room to haul around a full family’s worth of stuff.

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The Verdict: 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk Review

The Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk has impressive off-road chops, and can easily go where most other SUVs can’t. It’s only when it comes to price that the Trailhawk gets knocked off its pedestal. For the cost of our tester, it’s possible to walk into almost any premium dealership this side of Porsche and walk out with a comparably sized SUV. Paying premium prices for something wearing a Jeep badge takes almost as much guts as it does to hit the trail in a Trailhawk in the first place. But for those brave enough, there may not be a better dual-purpose family hauler on the market.