By Derek Price
At a time when American roadways seem to be overflowing with crossover vehicles — ones that visually project toughness without actually being SUVs — it’s refreshing to drive one with some authenticity.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee is nothing if not authentic.
This is a vehicle that has always offered a breadth of capability that few can match. It’s clearly a luxury vehicle with creature comforts and buttery smoothness for drivers who want to pamper themselves in a leather and wood cocoon. But it’s also a Jeep, with all the mountain-climbing, river-fording imagery that name inspires in the imagination, if not suburban reality.
And while every Jeep is engineered with some level of outdoor adventure in mind, this year there’s a new version of the Grand Cherokee designed for drivers who want to use their Jeep as God intended, probing its limits on the trails.
The Grand Cherokee Trailhawk pushes this vehicle’s considerable capabilities even higher, literally. Its standard height-adjustable air suspension provides almost 2 inches extra ground clearance compared with the base Ground Cherokee, along with more articulation and suspension travel for climbing over ruts and boulders.
Jeep’s Quadra Drive II 4×4 system, an electronic limited slip differential in the rear, beefed-up skid plates and 18-inch Kevlar-reinforced off-road tires add to its legitimacy.
Eye-catching red tow hooks and a matte finish hood decal make it look the part, too.
Obviously, designing a vehicle for off-road travel means it’s got to make compromises on the pavement. The Trailhawk package definitely rides rougher and transmits a bit more road noise into the cabin compared to other versions of the Grand Cherokee, so it’s not the package I’d buy if I planned to use it for long highway trips. The new, luxurious Summit trim, with its quieter ride and electronic noise cancellation system, is better suited to that task.
But for people who love off-roading on the weekends and still want to drive their Jeep daily, the Trailhawk keeps the compromises to a minimum. It’s optimized for the trails but still very livable, if not downright comfortable, for commuting and family-hauling duty.
It’s interesting to watch how much Jeep is showing off this chassis’ strengths in different ways.
Both the Trailhawk and Summit are new this year, spotlighting two extremes of its personality through custom tuning: luxurious silence on the Summit, and X-Games thrills with the Trailhawk.
But Jeep has also been indulging enthusiasts with its high-performance SRT versions of the Grand Cherokee that show it can be capable on the race track, too, with a lower suspension and incredible power under the hood.
As if the SRT wasn’t fast enough already, Jeep is also launching the long-rumored Grand Cherokee Trackhawk for 2018. It shoehorns the 707-horsepower Dodge Hellcat engine over the front axle and sends the power to all four wheels.
Jeep claims it makes this the fastest SUV in the world, with a 3.5-second 0-60 time, an 11.6-second quarter-mile time, and a top speed of 180 miles per hour.
And that gives the Grand Cherokee the most wide-ranging capability I’ve ever seen from one vehicle. From a luxury tourer to off-road champion, and now even going 180 mph on the track, this Jeep doesn’t just look impressive.
It’s for real.
At A Glance
What was tested?
2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk 4×4 ($42,995). Options: Customer preferred package ($2,695), active safety group ($1,495), Mopar rock rails ($895), Connect 8.4 Nav ($450), slid spot and cross path detection ($595). Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $50,120
Wheelbase: 114.8 in.
Length: 189.8 in.
Width: 84.8 in.
Height: 69.3 in.
Engine: 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 (295 hp, 260 lbs-ft)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 18 city, 25 highway
Why buy it?
New Trailhawk and Summit trim levels push its capability at two ends of the spectrum. The Summit is silent and luxurious, while the Trailhawk is optimized for off-road driving.