Fiat Chrysler’s Jeep division does well with its Grand Cherokee line, selling just under 200,000 of them last year in the U.S.
So it’s only logical the company would expand the line to include the Trailhawk badge, which signifies increased eagerness to hit the trail.
For 2017, Jeep has reintroduced a Grand Cherokee with that badge — and those capabilities. Falling in sequential order above the Laredo and Limited, but below the Summit, Overland and SRT models, the Trailhawk version aims to offer superior on-road comfort matched with superior off-road capability.
On road, this Grand Cherokee feels much like its non-Trailhawk sibling. It’s a quiet, calm, luxury SUV, built for comfort.
Fiat Chrysler has done well with the ergonomics, and has made piloting the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk simple. The controls for navigation, climate control, radio, phone, and other media, as well as things such as seat temperature control, are all in a small dashboard screen above the center console.
They’re easy to reach and easy to use, though I had difficulty getting my iPhone to boot into the car’s system, as I have had with other Fiat Chrysler vehicles.
The drive controls are a little more complicated — because there are so many of them and they do so many things.
The Grand Cherokee Trailhawk is delivered standard with Jeep’s Quadra-Drive II and Quadra-Trac II 4-wheel-drive systems, as well as its Selec-Terrain. Together, these allow gear selections that control traction, throttle and suspension settings to maximize power to the ground and minimize wheel spinning.
Settings include auto, sport, snow, sand/mud and rock. Those pair with Jeep’s Quadra-Lift system, which can increase the ground clearance to 11 inches and is standard on this vehicle, to help the Trailhawk climb over rocks and ruts without wasting energy.
There’s a fair amount of energy to throw around.
The Trailhawk comes standard with Fiat Chrysler‘s 3.6-liter V-6 Pentastar engine, which makes 295 horsepower and 260 pound feet of torque.
The Trailhawk can also be had with a 3-liter diesel engine or a 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 — both of which boost the Pentastar’s towing capacity to 7,400 pounds, from 6,200 pounds. (There’s even a Grand Cherokee SRT, outside the Trailhawk class, that comes with a 6.4-liter V-8 that makes 475 horsepower and 470 pound feet of torque. Fiat Chrysler is also rumored to be planning a Hellcat version of this vehicle, called the TrackHawk, with more than 700 horsepower.)
For this vehicle, that Pentastar engine is mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission, outfitted with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters for easy gear selection.
For a daylong drive around Santa Clarita’s Rowher Flats, the Pentastar was more than adequate. Though we did not put the vehicle to any severe tests, of the kind the off-road warriors get in Moab at the annual Jeep Week, we chucked it up and over enough steep, unstable slopes to get a feel for its rock-readiness.
Jeep has given this trim line other elements to increase trail credibility. The Trailhawk comes standard with a full-size spare tire, Jeep’s signature red tow hooks, fog lamps, roof rack and beefy skid plates covering the transfer case and fuel tank.
Also standard at this level are a power lift gate, keyless entry and ignition, eight-way adjustable front seats, LED tail lamps, an 8.4-inch touchscreen display monitor and rear-view back-up camera.
Options on the model we tested included a set of “luxury group” amenities such as special headlamps, a sunroof and a telescoping steering wheel, as well as elements from Jeep’s “active safety group.” Among these are “Adaptive Cruise Control” and “Advanced Brake Assist” systems that are as good as the best in the business. You can’t quite read a newspaper or take a nap in bumper-to-bumper freeway traffic, but almost.
The Grand Cherokee Trailhawk has done well in head-to-head tests with an equivalently equipped Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. Despite its far higher degree of on-road comfort — which adds about 800 pounds to its overall weight — the Trailhawk was judged by several publications to manage the rough stuff just as well as its tougher-seeming brother.
To win over new buyers, it will also have to compete with Toyota’s TRD, Nissan’s Armada and several vehicles from the Land Rover family.
But the real question isn’t how it will hold up off-road, but how well it will hold up over time. The Jeep line, like a lot of Fiat Chrysler products, has been plagued by a reputation for long-term dependability issues.
In October, Consumer Reports ranked the Jeep brand 23rd, out of of 29. Of a possible 100 points for reliability, the Jeep scored a 30 — better than fellow Fiat Chrysler brands Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat and Ram, but below Chevy and Ford.
In the last few years, the Jeeps have been subject to multiple safety recalls. One large one was designed to retrofit vehicles whose fuel tank was at risk for puncture and fire. Another massive one, issued earlier this year, involved more than 1 million Fiat Chrysler vehicles and concerns that the dial-up transmission left them subject to unexpected rollaways — of the kind that may have led to the death of actor Anton Yelchin, who was killed when his Jeep Grand Cherokee slipped out of gear and crushed him as he passed behind the vehicle.
The 2014 Grand Cherokee was subject to a whopping 14 recalls, involving problems with everything from transmissions, brakes, electrical systems, seat belts and the awesome Adaptive Cruise Control program.
The company has had time to repair and resolve those issues. But early December saw yet another recall, this one involving risk of a fuel leak fire, affecting 30,183 Grand Cherokees and Dodge Durangos — all outfitted with the same Pentastar engine used by the Trailhawks.
I hope they get that all sorted out. Jeep is a great American name plate. The fans passionate about their Grand Cherokees deserve the best.
2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk 4x4
Times’ take: A grand combination of rough and refined
Highs: Plush, powerful and off-road ready
Lows: Plagued by recalls and reliability issues
Vehicle type: 4-door, 5-passenger SUV
Base price: $43,990
Price as tested: $50,125
Powertrain: 3.6-liter V-6 gasoline engine
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Torque: 260 pound-feet
EPA fuel economy rating: 18 miles per gallon city / 25 mpg highway / 21 mpg combined