2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk: Trail Rated for the Everyday [Review]

The Trailhawk at it’s home at the Toledo North Assembly Plant.

The 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk is Jeep’s long-awaited replacement to the previous Cherokee in the small-ish SUV segment. The debut to the public didn’t go so well, as photos leaked from the Toledo North Assembly Plant ahead of the official unveiling, and the photos weren’t flattering to the new SUV’s unique front fascia. Even when reviewing the vehicle almost a year after it hit the streets, people still seem to either like the looks or hate them. Regardless, the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk is a very capable vehicle and would be a vehicle I would personally purchase. It’s just that good.

STATS Starting Retail Price As Tested Price HP / Lb-Ft
2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk $29.595 $34,974 271 hp / 239 lb-ft
EPA Rating As Tested MPG
Rating: BUY IT! 18 mpg city / 25 mpg highway 25 mpg

Styling of the Trailhawk is indeed controversial. Turn signals and LED running lights adorn the top of the front end, but the actual headlights reside where one would expect the fog lights. If you’re familiar with the Nissan Juke’s lighting arrangement, this is similar. The seven spoke Jeep grille is present, but the front end is rounded more than it is flat. Wind tunnel testing was definitely at work with the development of this vehicle, and eschews  the boxiness of the previous Cherokee.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk

Around and the side and out the rear the Cherokee looks more like a normal SUV. The Trailhawk rides an inch taller than normal Cherokees, and the approach and departure angles are better than most other Jeeps sold. In the Anvil exterior paint, it looks the business. Black accents, logos, and darkened aluminum wheels make the Trailhawk look sinister. Red, completely functional, tow and rescue hooks offset the darkness. It’s all business.

Inside, it’s a modern Chrysler product. The full Uconnect infotainment system is on tap, including navigation, Pandora support, and a built-in vehicle hot spot. The steering wheel is nice and thick, and all controls are in easy reach. The only issue I had was I wish the steering wheel was adjustable one or two clicks lower. In my driving position, my wrists where a bit uncomfortable when gripping the wheel.

My review unit came equipped with the 3.2L Pentastar V6 engine making 271 hp and 239 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent to all four wheels through Jeep Active Drive II and all-wheel drive. Active Drive II includes driver adjustable on and off road modes, and includes a low range with a 56:1 crawl ratio and a locking rear differential. When not in use, the front is completely disconnected from the rear, improving fuel economy. All of this is controlled with Chrysler’s new 9-speed automatic transmission.

Drive mode selector in the 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk.

The 9-speed transmission is a bit of an enigma. During my week of testing, I was unable to make the vehicle shift into gear nine. Highway cruising at 70 mph resulted in either 7th or 8th gears. If you were to drive faster, there is a point where it needs to be in 6th or 7th to maintain speed. I’m not sure if there’s any point that it’ll actually be in 9th.

I reached out to Chrysler to see about 9th gear and what conditions the Cherokee would use it. Eric Mayne, Media Relations Manager for Engineering and Powertrain told me that the vehicle is constantly analyzing the current conditions and will use 9th gear if necessary, though it’s not that often. One thing he did point out is that using nine gears allows the engineers to have a 9.81 gear ratio speed overall, which helps them eek out fuel economy and still be an effective off-roader. So even though you may never see 9th gear (and believe me, I tried), it’s still being used by the engineers for overall performance.

For an off-road vehicle with chunky, off-road tires, the Cherokee Trailhawk rides really well. There isn’t much road noise at speed, and the seats are comfortable. I took the Trailhawk on a 600 mile road trip and found it to be an excellent companion. In Sport mode, the throttle quickens up and the transmission holds gears longer. The Trailhawk does not have adaptive suspension.

Passenger seat storage in the 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk.

Visibility is decent out of the Trailhawk, though I’d like to see Jeep offer lane keep assistance, blind spot monitoring, and adaptive cruise control to the Trailhawk version. It’s available on the non-Trailhawk Cherokee, but would be nice here, but I’d definitely opt for the Technology Package that adds blind spot monitoring and lane keep assist. Also, HID headlights would be a welcome addition to the Trailhawk. The standard headlights at night are okay, but would be improved by the HID lights that are available on the non-Trailhawk Cherokee.

The Ford Escape and Honda CR-V immediately come to mind as competition for the Trailhawk. While those are both good vehicles in their own right, they do not have the off-road capability that the Trailhawk does. I had the opportunity to seriously off-road the Trailhawk last year in Texas, and I must say I was really impressed with its capability. Granted, most people won’t take the vehicle off-road, but for the buyers of this vehicle they like knowing that they could. In my mind, there really isn’t much competition for this version of the Cherokee at this price.

The EPA rates the Cherokee Trailhawk with the V6 at 18 mpg in the city, 25 mpg on the highway, and 20 mpg combined. With about 1,000 miles on the clock after a week of driving, I observed 25 mpg in combined driving, though much of it was on the highway. I can’t help fight the niggling feeling in the back of my head that if the Cherokee used 9th gear more there’d be better mileage, but I have no empirical to actually think that’d happen. While watching the instantaneous gauge on the road trip, 70 mph in 8th gear was over 30 mpg in many cases.

Other than the steering wheel not being as comfortable as I’d want, and my desire for HID headlights, I was really smitten by the Cherokee Trailhawk. While I’m a bit wishy-washy on the normal Cherokee, the Trailhawk ticks all the right boxes for me in design, performance, and features. I drive a lot of vehicles, and I like a lot of vehicles, but the Cherokee Trailhawk is a car that has stuck with me since returning it to Chrysler. It is a vehicle I’d gladly buy for myself. The only thing it was really missing with the $34,974 as-tested price is a panoramic sunroof. I’d probably get it, but I don’t think it’s necessary.

On the TFLcar.com recommendation scale of:
– Buy it
– Lease it
– Rent it
– Forget it

The 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk is a strong BUY IT! You may not take it on the Rubicon Trail, but you’ll have an affordable, comfortable utility that could if you really wanted to.

Chad Kirchner

Chad Kirchner is a freelance automotive journalist that can be reached at Google+Twitter, and his website.