2019 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk 2.0 First Test: Ready for the Wilderness

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Most crossovers share their underpinnings with traditional cars, and their capabilities only go as far as a dirt road leading to a campsite. What if you’d like to go farther? Crawl through a rocky trail? Or even traverse a stream to get to that spot where you’ll wake up with an epic sunrise after a long night? Jeep has you covered with the 2019 Cherokee Trailhawk, a crossover that’s at home on the highway and off the beaten path.

For the 2019 model year, the Jeep Cherokee received a major refresh. Gone is the controversial tiered headlight design with LED running lights and turn signals up high and the main headlight cluster separated, right below it. Instead, the crossover has a single cluster with a more conventional look. Because the Trailhawk model has different bumpers for improved approach, departure, and breakover angles, its foglights are smaller LED units positioned closer to the main headlight cluster.

The most notable addition to the 2019 Cherokee is an available 2.0-liter turbo-four with 270 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque paired to a nine-speed automatic transmission. At the track, our tester hit 60 mph in 7.6 seconds and finished the quarter mile in 16.0 seconds at 85.9 mph. Associate road test editor Erick Ayapana liked that the turbo engine meshed well with the transmission, which shifted smoothly and holds revs close to redline before shifting. Stopping from 60 mph took 139 feet. Ayapana found that although the Cherokee dives under hard braking, it has great body control and pedal feel.

On the skidpad, the 2019 Cherokee generated 0.76 g of lateral acceleration. It finished the figure eight in 27.8 seconds with a 0.61g average. Road test editor Chris Walton noted that the Cherokee had good brake bite and that it cornered flatter than expected for an off-road-oriented crossover. However, Walton also observed that the transmission is slow to respond in manual mode and would sometimes reject your shifts.

Because the Cherokee Trailhawk is an off-road-oriented model, its suspension has been revised and raised by an inch compared to the standard model, and it wears 17-inch alloy wheels shod in all-terrain tires with more sidewall. Total ground clearance is 8.7 inches, giving the Cherokee plenty of room to clear large obstacles. All four-wheel-drive-equipped Cherokees get a rear axle disconnect feature for improved fuel economy. When you upgrade to the Active Drive II system, it adds a Neutral mode and a four-low setting. Trailhawk models build on that with the Active Drive Lock four-wheel-drive system that adds a locking rear differential and Rock mode.

Despite its off-road-tuned suspension, the Cherokee Trailhawk rides comfortably on pavement and dispatches imperfections well. The all-terrain tires do make a significant amount of road noise, and there’s also some wind noise coming from the passenger-side A-pillar. The SUV’s handling is secure, but its steering is vague and slow. Off the beaten path, the Cherokee Trailhawk is in its element; you can clear obstacles that would cause less capable crossovers to lose their bumpers, or cross reasonably deep bodies of water without the risk of flooding. Put the Cherokee in four-low and select Rock mode, and it will crawl over everything except for trails that require a more specialized vehicle like the Wrangler.

FCA’s punchy new 2.0-liter turbo-four suits the Cherokee well on and off pavement, offering plenty of power for passing, merging, and climbing up grades. Turbo lag is minimal and doesn’t detract from the driving experience. With smooth shifts on all driving condition, the ZF nine-speed automatic is much improved over its previous iterations. This is a step up over the unit in our long-departed long-term Cherokee, which had its transmission reflashed three times. The new Cherokee’s transmission could be quicker to respond to your inputs, but thankfully the engine’s torque doesn’t always require a downshift when passing slower traffic. EPA fuel economy ratings are 20/26 mpg city/highway, which is good considering the 2.0-liter turbo-four’s output, and the Cherokee’s curb weight of more than two tons. Powertrain noise is minimal, even at full throttle.

Jump inside the Cherokee’s cabin, and you’ll find FCA’s Uconnect 4 infotainment system. The unit in our tester didn’t have an onboard navigation, but it did have an 8.4-inch touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration. Like its predecessors, the latest version of Uconnect is easy to use thanks to its responsive touchscreen and shortcut buttons. Most functions, including climate control and heated/ventilated seat controls, are found in the touchscreen, but they’re not buried within hard-to-find menus.

Android Auto gives you access to apps like Waze, Spotify, Google Maps, Pandora, and Google Play Music. Our tester, however, had a minor hiccup with Google Maps, which kept thinking we were in Moab, Utah, before eventually realizing that we were in Los Angeles. Instead, we used Waze to get us around Los Angeles’ gridlocked roads, and it worked wonderfully, telling us about road hazards ahead of time and providing quicker alternative routes to our destination.

The 2019 Cherokee offers generous space for four passengers, but five will fit in a pinch. Comfort levels for front and rear passengers are respectable, but the front seats’ lumbar is a little too aggressive even if you dial it down all the way. Otherwise the front seats hold you in place well when you get off the pavement and start playing in the dirt.

Cargo capacity in the 2019 Cherokee is 25.8 cubic feet behind the rear seats or 27.6 cubic feet with the cargo floor lowered. Need extra space? Fold the rear seats, and cargo space expands to 54.7 cubic feet. That’s behind many cars in its class. With the rear seats down, the Hyundai Tucson and Chevrolet Equinox have about 60 cubic feet, and the Honda CR-V and 2018 Toyota RAV4 are even larger at more than 70 cubic feet. Even the smaller Jeep Compass has more maximum cargo capacity at 59.8 cubic feet. For added flexibility, the Cherokee’s rear seats slide forward and back. Trailhawk models come with a full-size spare tire, which deletes the two-level cargo floor.

Solid off-road capability is hard to come by in the compact crossover class; many entries are soft-roaders that will spend most of their time on pavement. The Jeep Cherokee is one of the few compact crossovers that offers you more capability when the road ends. In Trailhawk guise, the Cherokee becomes a rig that’ll get you far into the wilderness. Sure, it isn’t as capable as the Jeep Wrangler, but in its segment, there aren’t many—if any—that can touch its off-road chops while still remaining comfortable on pavement.

2019 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk 4×4
BASE PRICE $34,515
PRICE AS TESTED $41,650
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 2.0L/270-hp/295-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 9-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4,389 lb (57/43%)
WHEELBASE 107.1 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 182.9 x 74.9 x 67.8 in
0-60 MPH 7.6 sec
QUARTER MILE 16.0 sec @ 85.9 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 139 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.76 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 27.8 sec @ 0.61 g (avg)
REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB 17.7/26.4/20.8 mpg
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 20/26/22 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 169/130 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.87 lb/mile



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