“Handling capabilities that inspire confidence” is one of the most worn out statements in the world of automotive journalism. There are various ways to phrase it, but they all mean the same thing and they’re all usually uttered when talking about some new sports car that will both redefine the segment, and make you more skilled driver. The 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk is not a sports car and it won’t turn you into the next Max Verstappen, but it damn sure inspires confidence.
The majority of my week with Jeep’s most formidably spec’d Grand Cherokee was spent in the mountain town of Truckee, CA, which just so happened to be getting hit by the most aggressive winter storm to roll into the region in years. The snow started falling heavily the day I arrived and didn’t let up until the day I left. It was a situation that couldn’t have been any better considering what I was driving.
Each morning I awoke to find fresh snow covering the Trailhawk, fired it up using the ever essential remote start, and then braved the elements to brush away the heaps of white stuff deposited overnight, revealing the surprisingly attractive Velvet Red Pearl Coat paint. Were I to build one out, I’d opt for the Bright White Clear Coat because of the badass “Stormtrooper” look the anti-glare matte black hood decal creates when paired with it, but the deep shade of red is a solid choice as well. Speaking of red, how about those front mounted tow hooks? These were consistently commented on by fellow car enthusiasts, friends, and strangers. Funny how such seemingly small details stick out to everyone if painted the right color. I took to calling the color “safety red”, and it’s also used on the “Trail Rated” badges on the front fenders, the “Trailhawk” badge on the rear hatch, as well as outlining both Jeep badges, and the Grand Cherokee badges on both front doors. Even the little “Willys” silhouettes found on the on the wheels are the same color red. The folks at Jeep are clearly sweating the small stuff on the exterior and it continues inside the Trailhawk as well.
In terms of tactile quality, Jeep interiors range from “penalty box” to “WOW, well done Detroit”, but the former doesn’t apply to even the most basic Grand Cherokee, and certainly not the Trailhawk. The cabin is nicely outfitted, one of the few that I’ve been in where I never once found myself wanting for more options. It’s not overtly luxurious, but by no means cheap. The front seats are leather trimmed with suede inserts to better hold you in place when you’re getting jostled around crawling over boulders, or doing snownuts in a un-plowed high school parking lot. As one would expect, both are heated and cooled, though with temperatures never getting above 35, I had no need of the latter function. My many rear seat passengers enjoyed their heated seats, as well as the two rear console USB plugs and 120V power outlet, seeing as the cold weather was draining iPhone batteries faster than The Orange One failed to drain the swamp.
The extra large moonroof that runs the nearly the whole length of the cabin was also a favorite among occupants since it allowed more light into the otherwise dark interior. Watching snow re-cover the glass ceiling from the inside was rather entertaining as well, backed by a cinematic soundtrack played over the unbranded high quality audio system. Many of my peers have claimed F.C.A.’s “UConnect” system to be the best infotainment setup out there and I wholeheartedly agree with them. There far fewer redundancies between physical buttons and onscreen options than you find in most vehicles and the important stuff is always easily found. For example, when the system turns on, the first thing it does is allow you to select seat climate options and turn on the heated steering wheel. That is of course if you haven’t already used the remote start, which turns heated options on automatically when the temperature is below freezing.
On top of that, UConnect is the most customizable infotainment system I’ve come across, giving you the ability to move “apps” around the menu pages just like a smartphone. Go down the rabbit hole of settings available for the many safety and convenience features included with the Jeep Active Safety Group ($1,495) and Trailhawk Luxury Group ($2,695) and you may not re-surface until 2020, which I wouldn’t blame you for. I won’t run through all the personal preferences you can set because there are just too many of them to go through. Instead I’ll simply say that if you want to turn a feature off, you can.
Further adding to the list of choices Jeep allows buyers to make are three superb engines, each of which I have sampled in one kind of Grand Cherokee or another. This Trailhawk was fitted with the standard 3.6-litre Pentastar V6, which makes an ample 295-horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. Again, if I were building one out for myself, I’d opt for the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V6, which makes 240-horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque. The 5.7-liter Hemi V8 is tempting with its 360-horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque, but it’s better suited to the personality of the ultra-lux Grand Cherokee Summit. The Trailhawk is an adventuremobile, capable of taking on true overlanding missions, so ideally I’d take all the efficiency and torque of the diesel, thank you very much.
That being said, the Pentastar V6 was no slouch on the highway, providing plenty of passing power during the lengthy run up to Truckee from Los Angeles, and returning an average of 22 mpg while doing it. During the week, with power going to all four wheels in “Snow” mode the majority of the time, I still managed an average of 16 MPG. Pretty good considering the taxing conditions the motor was being subjected to.
By now you’re probably waiting for the other shoe to drop and I know what you thinking, the Trailhawk costs a fortune right? To some people, it may seem that way, but if you take a quick look around at what the competition costs and what the competition is bringing to the table, it quickly becomes apparent that the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk is a great value. A bare bones Trailhawk starts at $43,095, which is completely reasonable for a stylish SUV that boasts standard features like Quadra-Lift air suspension that was specifically tuned to allow for improved articulation and suspension travel, Quadra-Drive II 4WD system with a two-speed transfer case, and an electronic rear limited slip diff. Perhaps most importantly though, is that all those features are accompanied by rubber you can rely on, and this is where that sense of confidence I mentioned earlier comes from.
I have been in adverse weather conditions with four-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive vehicles that boasted all kinds of intelligent safety systems meant to guide you through the storm, literally and figuratively. When these vehicles didn’t have the right tires, any sense of confidence that that marketing teams hoped to instill with their ridiculously named systems went right out the window. Thankfully, Jeep equipped the Trailhawk with some of the finest rubber I’ve had the good fortune to roll on, Goodyear Wrangler All-Terrain Adventure tires with Kevlar®. These are rated as all-season tires, but they performed better than many a snow tire that I’ve encountered over the years. With “Snow” mode selected you can plow through and/or over large snow banks. With “Auto” mode selected and traction control turned off, you can flick the rear end out into patches of fresh snow and execute drifts with ease. Stopping power is equally impressive, on both plowed and unplowed roads. Heavy slush, ice, packed powder, all conditions were handled with ease and that locked up my overall opinion of the Trailhawk. This is a go anywhere, do anything vehicle, in which you will be comfortable, and safe, and you can get one fully loaded for under $50k. The first Grand Cherokee to receive the “Trailhawk” designation was a 2013 model and it was nothing more than a “badge and sticker” pack. This 2017 Trailhawk is the real deal, a 4×4 weapon capable of competing with overland vehicles well above its price bracket. If impulsive adventures to locations that experience all kinds of weather patterns are your cup of tea, or you want to push further out into the wilderness than most, while remaining really comfortable the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk is your vehicle.
Bonus Pics: Scenic As Shit!
All photos and text by Andrew Maness who is a creative type who is especially good with words, photography, and video. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @theroadlessdriven on Instagram.