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Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk is surprisingly off-road capable

2016 Jeep® Cherokee Trailhawk

The biggest eye-opener about the current-model-year Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk is not the front-end styling or price; it’s that you don’t have to sacrifice real off-road ability for family comfort and utility.

Cherokee’s exterior is polarizing, as it has softer contours and a slippery shape compared to more traditional Jeeps, including the smaller, boxier Renegade. But that face! The most polarizing part of Cherokee’s styling include non-round, pinched headlights and slanted fenders and hood. If this is Jeep’s new styling direction going forward, I’ve heard from those that don’t like it, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Inside the cabin is function over form with comfortable seating and a decent 54.9 cubic feet of cargo space with the second row folded. The second row slides back and forth to offer more leg room or cargo space. All the right controls are present in acceptable reaches. My test vehicle came with the optional 8.4-inch touch screen, and it featured the Uconnect infotainment system. New this year are a drag-and-drop menu bar (for personalization), Siri Eyes Free (voice recognition) and a Do Not Disturb feature (to suppress phone/text notifications).

Cherokee offers an inline-4 or a V-6 under the hood. My test vehicle had the V-6, which features 239 pound-feet of torque and includes an engine stop-start system. Cherokee also comes with a slightly finicky nine-speed automatic that offers quick starts and aids fuel economy. On-road, the V-6 Pentastar provides great acceleration and low-end grunt for off-road conditions.

Jeep really roughs it up with the bushwhacking, Trail-Rated Trailhawk model. My Trailhawk tester featured a 1-inch lift, revised front and rear fascias, Active Drive Lock, locking rear differential, added skid plates and red tow hooks — all the serious parts you need to do some real off-roading. Approach and departure angles are serious at 30 and 32 degrees, and ground clearance checks in at 8.7 inches.

My test Trailhawk came with Jeep Active Drive II. It includes a two-speed power transfer unit with torque management and low range. According to Jeep, 4-Low mode locks the front and rear drive shafts for low-speed power or towing up to 4,500 pounds. Low range provides a 2.92:1 gear reduction. This reduction in gearing permits greater climbing ability and surprisingly stout crawl ratios for more extreme off-roading than you would expect. Four-wheel drive Cherokees have Selec-Terrain, which lets you choose the best mode for Sport, Snow, Sand/Mud and Rock conditions.

Except for acceleration, on-road driving is ho-hum. Cherokee’s steering utilizes a dual-pinion rack and felt numb and a little heavy. Ride quality with the Trailhawk hardware and thick 17-inch tires and raised ride height is not as compliant as competitive models or other Cherokee models.

Overall, Cherokee offers city and country versatility for five and outstanding off-road capability.