Car reviews - Jeep - Grand Cherokee - Trailhawk
Loads of standard equipment, looks even tougher in Trailhawk form, impressive interior packaging, smooth automatic transmission, genuine off-road ability
Room for improvement
Poor fit and finish, pronounced bodyroll spoils on-road dynamics, excessive wind noise at highway speeds, slow off-the-line performance, lingering reliability concerns
Off-road-aimed Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk gets judged on its on-road credentials
17 Dec 2018
JEEP’S WK2-series Grand Cherokee has been around for a while, with the large SUV breaking cover at the New York Auto Show in April 2009. For those of you playing at home, that’s coming up to 10 years ago.
Of course, the American brand prides itself on its ‘Don’t Hold Back’ mantra, which sees some enthusiastic owners tackle off-road adventures in their model of choice.
However, like most SUVs – even those with genuine off-road chops – some Grand Cherokees find themselves inevitably sentenced to the urban commute.
Priced from $73,500 before on-road costs, the Trailhawk commands a $6000 premium over the Limited grade upon which it is based. However, our test car is finished in Granite Crystal metallic paint, which is an $895 option. As such, the price as tested is $74,395. While the pricetag is high, buyers are compensated with a long list of standard equipment.
This includes dusk-sensing bi-Xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, LED foglights, LED tail-lights, power-folding Neutral Gray side mirrors with memory and heating functionality, a power tailgate, rear privacy glass, rain-sensing windshield wipers, heavy-duty engine cooling, roof rails and a 245/65 R18 spare steel wheel.
While the extent of the Grand Cherokee’s latest facelift is limited to revised front and rear fascias, headlights, foglights and alloy wheels, it still looks fantastic in the metal. Even after all these years, there is no denying its on-road presence.
In particular, the Trailhawk looks rather intimidating, thanks to its Kevlar-reinforced 18-inch Off-Road alloy wheels, 265/60 all-terrain tyres, four underbody skid plates (fuel tank, two-speed transfer case, front suspension and full-length underbody), front rear recovery tow hooks, black anti-glare bonnet decal, Neutral Gray front grille and Trail Rated badging.
Inside, an 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen infotainment system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, Bluetooth connectivity, digital radio, satellite navigation, a nine-speaker Alpine sound system with a subwoofer and 506W amplifier, a 7.0-inch digital instrument cluster, Nappa leather upholstery with suede inserts and red contrasting stitching, ventilated front seats with eight-way power adjustment, heated first- and second-row seats, a heated steering wheel with power adjustment and paddle shifters, driver-seat memory functionality, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and all-weather floor mats feature.
The Trailhawk’s cabin is equal parts impressive and disappointing. Its Nappa leather and suede upholstery teams with a black headliner to add a touch of premium-ness, while soft-touch plastics adorn the dashboard and upper door trims to good effect. The front seats are very comfortable, too.
However, the glovebox in our test car is ill-fitting but manages to realign itself after being opened and closed several times. Fit and finish issues also extend to the lumpy leather and inconsistent stitching on the steering wheel. Granted these are minor complaints, they do harm one’s perception of the Trailhawk.
While the centre stack’s folding lid successfully conceals two USB ports, an auxiliary input and a 12-volt power outlet, it is cheap in execution, with its closing operation proving to be rather clunky. The tacky long horizontal chrome button that opens it does not help matters, either.
Additionally, the driver’s rubber all-weather floor mat easily gets caught behind the foot-operated park brake when it is engaged, leading to an unwanted permanent bend in it. Despite our best efforts to bend it back into shape, the issue persists.
Wind noise at highway speeds is excessive and easily penetrates the cabin unless drowned out by some loud beats from the nine-speaker Infinity sound system, which features a subwoofer and a 506W amplifier. This problem appears to be caused by the non-aerodynamic square shape of the large side mirrors.
Measuring in at 4828mm long, 1943mm wide and 1792mm tall with a 2915mm wheelbase, the impressively-packaged Trailhawk provides 782L of cargo capacity, which can expand to 1554L when the 60/40 split-fold second row is stowed. Rear legroom and headroom for our 184cm driving position is more than generous, meaning three children or two adults will sit comfortably on journeys of any length.
Engine and transmission
Motivated by a 3.0-litre EcoDiesel turbocharged V6 engine, the Trailhawk produces 184kW of power at 4000rpm and 570Nm of torque at 2000rpm. As these outputs suggest, a thick dollop of Sir Isaac’s best is available early in the rev range, but then it quickly starts to taper off. As such, it is best to keep this unit in its lower reaches for maximum thrust.
As a result, the 2340kg Trailhawk can sprint from standstill to 100km/h in 8.2 seconds while on the way to its top speed of 202km/h. These figures are relatively brisk on paper, but, in the real world, it doesn’t hustle off the line the way you’d think it would. In fact, it can feel slow as the eight-speed ZF torque-convertor automatic transmission quickly upshifts towards peak torque again.
However, the Trailhawk’s off-the-line troubles have no impact on its overtaking abilities, as burying your right foot at 80km/h does result in a purposeful thrust that propels it towards the horizon. As such, the turbo-diesel holds plenty of promise, just don’t expect it to be a quarter-mile champion. Engine noise can be loud, too, although vibration and harshness are imperceptible.
Jeep’s decision to tap ZF as the supplier for the Trailhawk’s automatic transmission was a stroke of genius, as the unit is predictably sublime. Gear changes are buttery smooth, and it is willing to kick down when called upon at a moment’s notice.
Its intelligence means it also happy to punt around town or participate in spirited runs. A dependable winner, indeed. However, don’t expect any tangible difference when its Sport mode is engaged, as gears are held onto for a fraction longer before settling in at cruising speeds.
Claimed fuel consumption on the combined cycle test is 7.5 litres per 100 kilometres, while carbon dioxide emissions have been tested at 198 grams per kilometre.
Ride and handling
The Trailhawk rides on Jeep’s Quadra-Lift independent air suspension, which consists of double-wishbone front and multi-link rear axles, the latter of which is load-levelling.
Cruising on smooth stretches of tarmac is a predictably enjoyable experience, while unsealed and uneven roads do little to impact this ride quality when encountered. However, the rear end can become unbalanced over some speed humps, generally bouncing a couple of times before it settles again. Potholes are not met with this same reaction, as the Trailhawk manages to quickly regain its composure.
Electrically assisted rack-and-pinion power steering has been adopted for all variants as part of the Grand Cherokee’s facelift, and it proves to be not too bad at all. It feels well-weighted, although it doesn’t provide the level of communication that a hydraulic set-up would. Our test car’s set-up also feels slightly off-centre, which is strange given we picked it up with less than 1000km on the clock.
The power steering’s Comfort, Normal and Sport modes offer little differentiation, with each almost imperceptibly increasing weight and speed. As such, the driver engagement Sport provides makes it the pick of the bunch, even if on name only.
Unfortunately, the Trailhawk comes unstuck when you throw it into a corner – at least when on the blacktop. Any sense of dynamism is lost due to pronounced bodyroll. Even low-speed handling is compromised by its tendency to lean inwards.
Jeep’s full-time Quadra-Drive II four-wheel-drive system is teamed to a two-speed transfer case and a rear electronic limited-slip differential (e-LSD) in the Trailhawk. As mentioned, we haven’t had the chance to take it off-road yet, but our initial impressions from its launch were more than promising. We eagerly anticipate the opportunity to do it again.
Part of its success are the Selec-Terrain Control driving modes that allow the driver to select from Sand, Snow, Mud, Rock and Auto settings. As the default option, Auto stands up to the task of every-day driving, ensuring traction is there when needed, whether conditions are dry or wet.
Safety and servicing
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) awarded the entire Grand Cherokee range – excluding the V8-powered SRT and Trackhawk – a five-star safety rating in July 2015. It earned an overall score of 34.09 out of 37, or 92.1 per cent.
Standard advanced driver-assist systems in the Trailhawk extend to forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, parallel and perpendicular park assist, a reversing camera, high-beam assist and tyre pressure monitoring. That is one long and impressive list, folks.
Other safety features include seven airbags (dual front, side and curtain, plus driver knee), hill-ascent and -descent control, hill-start assist, anti-skid brakes, advanced brake assist, trailer sway control, and the usual electronic stability and traction control systems.
As with all Jeep models, the Grand Cherokee comes with a five-year/100,000km warranty, which includes roadside assistance for the lifetime of the vehicle if serviced by an authorised technician. Service intervals are every 12 months or 20,000km, whichever comes first. Capped-priced servicing is offered for the first five intervals.
Unfortunately, the Grand Cherokee holds the distinction of being the most recalled model currently on sale in Australia, with about 20 notices to its name. This does Jeep’s brand reputation no favours, meaning concerns about reliability will continue to linger for a while yet.
The Grand Cherokee remains unlikely to set the large-SUV sales chart on fire, but it definitely holds appeal in its off-road-capable Trailhawk form. It looks tough as hell and comes loaded with standard equipment, including advanced driver-assists systems that are now expected at its price.
However, dig a little deeper and fit and finish issues become apparent, while pronounced bodyroll spoils dynamics and wind noise grinds at highway speeds. Nevertheless, the automatic transmission is an absolute peach, even if off-the-line performance falls short.
There are undoubtedly better options on the market for a high-riding every-day runabout, but few can offer the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk’s combination of on-road competence and off-road prowess. Time will tell if Jeep’s latest addition becomes worthy of its full-time status.
Mitsubishi Pajero Exceed (from $65,990 before on-road costs)
Approaching its 12th birthday, the Pajero is a proven prospect, although tech-savvy buyers will be disappointed. It strikes the right balance between on- and off-road ability, but engine noise annoys.
Toyota Prado VX (from $73,990 before on-road costs)
A much better looker than before, the Prado is also better value post-facelift. Its off-road pedigree remains a point of difference at the cost of a wallowy on-road ride, while its engine lacks power.
Volkswagen Touareg V6 TDI (from $85,490 before on-road costs)
On the verge of full-model changeover, the Touareg has long been set apart by its refinement, quality, spaciousness and performance, although it commands a hefty premium over its rivals.
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