Off-road nobility with a V-8


While every new vehicle in the Jeep brand line-up today has its purpose and place in the broad spectrum of automotive usefulness, the Grand Cherokee holds a singularly distinct position on that roster. It’s the reigning monarch. No, it’s not the best hardcore off-roader in the bloodline; that seat is held quite rightfully by the mounted knight of the Jeep realm – the Wrangler JK. It’s not the most economy minded, either. Depending upon your needs and tastes, that seat is filled by either the Compass or the Renegade with their fuel-sipping four-cylinder engines.

And although the Cherokee does command a princely station somewhere in between these vehicles, none combine power, off-road capability, on-road drivability, comfort, seating room, and style in the same regal amalgam as the Grand Cherokee. Add the Trailhawk performance package and the Jeep Grand Cherokee not only has the crown but the sword of a king as well.

The Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk won our 2017 Four Wheeler SUV of the Year test handily. It did so for many reasons, but chief among them were its powerful and responsive engine and transmission combination, adjustable air suspension system, and firm chassis structure. As we put fingers to keyboard on this first long-term test report, the ‘17 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk has just more than 6,000 miles on it. We’ve learned more, reaffirmed much of what we already thought, and found some things to nitpick.

The sequential multiport fuel-injected 245ci 5.7-liter V-8 Hemi has a manufacturer’s advertised power rating of 360 hp at 5,150 rpm and 390 lb-ft (529 Newton-meters) of torque at 4,250 rpm. The ZF 845RE eight-speed automatic transmission offers a 4.71 First gear (which helps make up for the highway fuel mileage-oriented 3.09 axle gears), and the MP3022 two-speed transfer case has a 2.72 low range. That gives the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk a 39.6:1 crawl ratio. While a great torque number like that with a high peak rpm might not seem as useful for off-roading as we would like, the transmission gearing behind that engine and the engine’s response to pedal input makes up for the lack of a low-end torque peak in almost all situations.

For odd jobs around town such as home or garden supply runs, the Grand’s electric rack-and-pinion system with a 3.2-turn steering wheel (lock-to-lock) and 16.7:1 ratio made the Jeep highly maneuverable and easy to park in slots that these days all seem designed for a Smart Car. The 60/40-split rear bench seat folded flat and the rear hatch opened extra high to offer an easy berth for bags of mulch, lumber for a new gate, and even five 33-inch tires for one of our projects.

Off-road, the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk shined as well. Whether traversing a bladed forest-service dirt road, sandy wash, or a trail pocked with grapefruit to basketball-sized stones, the Jeep performed flawlessly. An electronic rear limited-slip differential will come to life when the system senses a wheel on either side spinning freely; and although this does help in moments of need, we sure would appreciate an honest-to-goodness selectable locker in the rear axle.

The Selec-Terrain dial that engages the terrain modes (Auto, Mud, Rock, Sand, and Snow), which alter the powertrain and drivetrain performance as well as adjusting the Quadra-Lift systems ride-height to best negotiate the terrain selected, seemed a bit more like something you would find in a Tie Fighter than an off-road vehicle, but after a while we got used to it, and we’ve stopped reaching toward the floor for a lever.

You can also manually adjust the Quadra-Lift system by using the Up and Down buttons on the Selec-Terrain module. However, the Terrain Mode must be selected first and then the ride height manually selected. If you change to a different Terrain Mode, the system will automatically reset to the pre-selected ride height for the newly selected Terrain Mode. Hill Descent Control is also built into the Selec-Terrain module.

So in general, there was a lot to like and not much to dislike during our first few months in the ‘17 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk. It served us very well as a weekend getaway vehicle, allowing us to enjoy the backcountry of our surrounding mountains and deserts. It also worked well as a daily commuter and errand runner. We’ll check in with you again a few months down the road, and dig deeper into other aspects of our long-term test Grand Cherokee Trailhawk.


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