When you hear the name “Jeep,” off-road ability is likely to be the first thing you think of, and even some models of the newest generation of the Jeep Cherokee keep true to that concept.
The Cherokee is a crossover SUV capable of seating five passengers, offered in five main trim levels – Sport, Latitude, Trailhawk, Limited and Overland – priced from $23,595 to $34,895.
Four special trims are available – Sport Altitude, 75th Anniversary Edition, High Altitude, and Trailhawk L Plus – priced from $24,590 to $35,195.
Both Altitude models feature striking gloss-black accents on the exterior badges, grille surrounds, roof rails, 18-inch wheels, and fascias, and an all-black interior – cloth in the Sport and leather in the High – with satin metallic trim.
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The 75th Anniversary Edition celebrates the freedom Jeep has stood for since 1941, featuring special colors, accents and badging. The Anniversary Edition is the only Cherokee available in Recon Green; the classic, five-spoke wheels, roof rails, fascias and badges get a distinctive bronze treatment; pearl and tangerine double stitching outlines the door armrests, console and instrument panel; the ombre mesh inserts in the cloth seats shift color from linen to black.
A 2.4-liter four-cylinder 184-horsepower engine is standard on most Cherokees, with 2.4 inline-four PZEV or 3.2-liter V-6 271-horsepower engines available, all mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission.
Front-wheel drive and four-wheel drive are available, with two 4WD systems offered. Light-duty Active Drive I requires no input from the driver other than choosing from four Selec-Terrain modes for different terrain – Auto, Snow, Sport, and Sand/Mud.
Here’s the one for serious off-roading: The more rugged Active Drive II system features low-range gearing, locking rear differential and an additional Rock mode for Selec-Terrain.
An optional towing package for V-6 models will handle trailers weighing up to 4,500 pounds.
For 2017, the Cherokee has only minor equipment changes, including standard bi-xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights on all but the base Sport. This is also the first full year for Overland, introduced in mid-2016.
For this review, I drove an attractive Trailhawk L Plus 4X4 in Rhino Clear Coat with flat-black bumpers, lower-body cladding, and hood decal, powered by the 3.2-liter V-6 featuring electronic stop/start technology, part of a $1,745 package, which also had a 700-amp maintenance-free battery and dual bright exhaust tips.
The four-wheel drive system was the Active Drive II, which, when combined with tow hooks, skid plates, and unique fascias, earned the Trailhawk the red Jeep “Trail Rated” badge.
Trail Rated vehicles have a raised ride height of one inch. Selec-Speed Control, only available on the Trailhawk, helps the vehicle drive up or down hills at controlled, steady speeds, with little effort on the part of the driver.
A red tow hook peeked out of the lower rear bumper, which was embossed with Cherokee, with two more red tow hooks in the front bumper. A red “Trailhawk” winged badge trimmed the lower liftgate. The grille surrounds, lower rocker panel trim, mirror housing, window surrounds, and roof rails were gray metallic
Nine exterior colors are available for the Trailhawk L Plus, including Billet Silver Metallic, Deep Cherry Red Crystal Pearl, and Light Brownstone Pearl, with interiors in brown or black leather with red topstitching, red “Trailhawk” embroidery on the front seat back and satin metallic trim. Mine also had Zebra wood on the door armrests.
My Trailhawk, base price $31,195, had 17-inch wheels with five silver “Y” spokes and dark-painted pockets, wearing all-terrain tires; off-road-oriented suspension tuning; hill ascent and descent control; a 7.0-inch color driver-information display; satellite radio with Jeep’s 8.4-inch Uconnect touch screen and a USB audio interface, Siri Eyes Free and smartphone-app integration. Uconnect Access included automatic crash notification, on-demand roadside assistance, remote door unlock, and stolen-vehicle assistance.
Uconnect 8.4 Nav ($1,195) added HD radio, SiriusXM Traffic and SiriusXM Travel Link. A CommandView Dual-Pane Panoramic Sunroof ($1,755) gave an open-air feel. ParkSense Rear Park Assist System and Blind Spot with Cross Path Detection came in a SafetyTec Group package ($1,155).
For an off-road oriented vehicle, the Trailhawk cabin had a quality look and feel, with generous space for passengers and easy-to-use infotainment features with easy-to-navigate menus and large virtual buttons.
The power front bucket seats were heated (part of a $4,000 customer preferred package added to the base Trailhawk to become the L Plus) and easy to adjust for maximum comfort – including height adjustment for both front seats and lumbar for the driver.
The L Plus package also brought a Nappa leather interior, a power liftgate, remote start, keyless Enter-n-Go/passive entry, dual-zone climate control, heated steering wheel, windshield wiper de-icer, ventilated front seats (removes underseat storage from the passenger seat), and an auto-dimming rearview mirror with microphone.
Other items in the package included power multi-function mirrors with manual fold-away, turn signals and memory; memory for radio and driver’s seat; security alarm; engine block heater; garage/gate opener; and a tonneau cover and cargo net.
Also included was the Trailhawk Off-Road Accessory Kit, with tow strap and gloves, in a soft bag with Jeep and Trailhawk logos, used with the Jeep Brand Cargo Management System on the wall of the cargo area. Hooks and grocery bag holders are included in the system, and a first aid kit, pet kennel and cargo mat can be added.
Trailhawk’s rear split-bench seat reclined and moved fore-and-aft, and the high-mounted cushion supported adult thighs comfortably. Cargo space behind the upright second row was 24.6 cubic feet; that increases to 54.9 cubic feet with the seatbacks folded down. Unfortunately, these numbers are five to 15 cubic feet less than most other small crossover SUV’s, and there isn’t much useful storage in the front for personal items.
My Cherokee Trailhawk was a good combination of off-road ability and everyday usability, with supple suspension and a strong V-6 engine, excellent infotainment features, and decent hauling capacity for day-to-day use.
The cabin was quiet and comfortable, and driving was relaxed. My Trailhawk was EPA rated at 18 mpg city/24 highway/21 combined. I managed 21 mpg with lots of highway driving.
With $5,850 in options and $995 destination charge added to the $35,195 base price, the total delivered price was $42,040.
The automotive columns of Emma Jayne Williams have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 2007. Contact her at email@example.com.