There is perhaps no more logical variation on a theme than the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk.
Ever since its glass-shattering 1992 launch, the Grand Cherokee has met with skepticism from Jeep loyalists for being another move in a softer direction. Over the years, it’s proven to be sufficiently capable off-road. Yet every iteration draws sharp intake of breath over whether it’ll be softer and less useful when the road stops being paved with stores.
As with the aspirational Summit model, this new-for-2017 Trailhawk variant stretches the Grand Cherokee in another direction to continue to keep this popular SUV in the face of newer rivals. The Trailhawk is the easiest way to get the Jeep-iest Grand Cherokee. Forgoing much of the shiny exterior pieces of the mainstream models as the other Trailhawk versions of the Renegade, Cherokee and now Compass do, the Grand Cherokee here goes for a more muted and purpose-driven look – even if the hood decal has no purpose, it still looks good.
For $50,000 as tested, however, the Trailhawk could certainly stand to look more premium. But then doing so would hurt its off-road credentials. Still, there isn’t quite enough differentiation between this and lower Laredo trims externally, which are priced in the $30,000-40,000 range. That just means you’ll have to show your friends what your Jeep can do.
Having driven recent Grand Cherokees off road, it’s easy to be impressed by the capability but disappointed with how enormous they can feel on trails. For all of the abilities of the Quadra-Drive II system, the physical size of the GC – or pretty much any larger SUV – makes things a little unnerving at first.
For whatever reason, that doesn’t afflict this Trailhawk so much. On the trail in Malibu, California, the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk took everything in stride and with surprisingly plush ride comfort. Even with the standard 3.6-liter V6, power was sufficient. Grip and ground clearance were also very good, if you turned the off-road control in the right direction to set up the system in just the right way. That Quadra-Drive II system comes standard on all Grand Cherokee Trailhawks, and also adds a rear electronic limited-slip differential and air suspension. Crawl modes also take the worry about going up or down a slope. It shouldn’t be this easy, right?
Yet even with the off-road tires and general demeanor of the package, the Trailhawk calms down well on the road and becomes a typical Grand Cherokee. It’s hard to tell it from any other four-wheel drive Grand Cherokee in practice, meaning you’re getting a robust-feeling SUV that still manages to hold its own against newer designs. The interior is fairly quiet and engine noise suppressed in typical situations. This isn’t at all a Wrangler or Renegade on-road.
Sure, the $45,000-$50,000 range the Trailhawk falls in depending on options already sounds like a lot to spend on a Jeep Grand Cherokee, until you think about that Summit model that goes past $60,000. But you’re getting a pretty useful tool for the money – a Jeep that certainly can tackle what’s thrown at it off-road in the best tradition of the brand, but calms down on pavement and makes for a totally practical transportation device.
This, as it turns out, is the Trailhawk-ed Jeep that covers its bases best.
Photos: Zac Estrada/Carscoops