2016 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk SUV Review: Off Road Ready with Pampering Comforts

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Just a little bad boy here in the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk's rear lines

Jeep continues to improve on its own personal best, making this rugged SUV more comfy and smart than ever.

When the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk appeared in my driveway to review, my cousin came over to take a look. He had been looking at the Grand Cherokee, impressed by its elegant interior and off road capability. He wanted to see the difference between the two.

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When Jeep redesigned the Cherokee, they added a little ‘bad boy’ attitude to the Trailhawk’s rear lines

And he was impressed. Though the two share the same DNA and Cherokee name, the Trailhawk is slightly shorter (7.8 inches) and a little lighter (726 lbs) but has more rear leg room (1.7 inches) and gets better gas mileage (19 city/26 highway versus 17 city/25 highway) than the Grand Cherokee. And while they both have relatively the same ground clearance,  the Trailhawk is easier to get in and out of due to the lower seat-cushion-to-ground height (28.5 for the Trailhawk versus 33.4 for the Grand Cherokee).

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My dog Eli likes having all the cargo space to himself; the cargo net keeps groceries and other things from rolling around in the back and a cargo management system gives you even more capability to manage your stuff

The Grand Cherokee wins on cargo space and towing capacity, with 12 more cubic feet of cargo space with center seats folded down, and 6200 lbs towing capacity versus the Cherokee Trailhawk’s 2000 lb capacity.

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2016 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk; note the red tow hooks on the front bumper

This Jeep SUV is for buyers who:

  • Need 4WD capability, not just AWD
  • Need a SUV rather than a crossover
  • Appreciate a higher ground clearance than a crossover or sedan (8.7 inches ground clearance)
  • Seats that are lower to the ground so it’s easier to get in and out of
  • Need seating for 4 or 5
  • Need a car that can do other things too, like charge multiple devices and provide WiFi
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Love this feature: a hidden compartment under the front passenger seat gives you a little secret storage

What buyers need to consider:

  • Gas mileage is 19 city/26 highway
  • Engine stop/start feature saves gas but takes getting used to
  • In car technology is great, but much of it is accessed via the touchscreen
  • Storage spaces are clever but not huge
  • Many luxury and safety features are options not included in the base price
  • Base price does include many great performance features such as stability control, hill start assist, keyless entry and electronic roll mitigation
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The deep console under the arm rest has lighted USB and 12 V cigarette-style power ports making them easy to see

Hills, snow, ice: Can I do this? Trailhawk says YES

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The Trailhawk’s drive option selector lets you dial (with the outer silver ring) options for the type of terrain you’re on, or you can just punch a button for the function you want: 4WD low, downhill brake assist which is great for towing, ‘selec-speed’ which regulates the speed and power sent to each wheel, and rear wheel lock, which keeps the rear wheel ‘locked’ at the same speed

But where the Trailhawk rules is in giving you that “I can do this” feel, even when you’re standing in your kitchen looking at it in the driveway. The Trailhawk gets its name from Jeep’s trail rating design criteria that, with its drive modes and ‘scrape plates’ that protect the underbody, ensures its traction, ground clearance, maneuverability, articulation, and water fording capabilities can perform off road or in challenging weather.

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The rear of arm rest has some goodies for back seat passengers including that holy grail of in-car technology: the household plug

It’s that challenging weather part that makes the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk a great choice for those of us who don’t live in perfect-weather Utopia. If you have snow, or rain, or hills, or mud, or weather of any type, the Trailhawk can be the difference between getting there and getting stuck.It also has tow hooks on the front and back that give you the capability to do some fun things, like pull an ATV out of a mud bog or tow fallen trees out of your yard and out to the street.

Muscly on the Outside, Smart on the Inside

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This nice little space is perfect for my phone and with two charge ports –one a USB–AUX jack and an SD card port, you can have all your tech plugged in

But if you didn’t know about all the Trailhawk’s capabilities, you might just think that it’s a dressed up SUV: interior features are elegant and smart: Leather upholstery, great touch screen technology, super comfortable (and heated!) seats and a well organized interior.

Add to this the fact that the Trailhawk has more rear legroom (the backs of the front seats are curved for added knee room), back seat passengers have a household plug for charging, the cargo space is ample and a cargo management option lets you haul things in a civilized, organize manner.

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Legroom in the back seat of the Jeep Trailhawk is made even bigger by spaced carved out of the seat backs

An Evolution that preserved the best, remade the rest

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The radio controls are on the back of the steering wheel. I love this feature; it frees up space on the front of the steering wheel and is an intuitive way to control the music

When Jeep completely made over its models a few years ago, the big changes were on the outside: The Jeep’s shape, which hadn’t changed much in eons, was sculpted to be sleeker, more aerodynamic and a bit refined. But inside the changes were more of an evolution; designers looked for more storage capability, more tech and more function. The result is that everything is at you fingertips, even if it’s on the touch screen—such as the heated seats, which are accessible via a screen option, not a physical button. They also kept a few great things, such as the radio controls on the back of the steering wheel, which we just love.

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Access the Jeep’s wifi under the Apps menu

After owning two Jeep Cherokees, getting into the 2016 model was like visiting an old pal. It still feels familiar and comfortable but with some great new features. My favorites include added rear seat legroom, the household plug on the back of the center console, under seat storage in the front seat and all the capabilities on the touch screen, including apps such as Yelp and Pandora. I also loved the easy to pair Bluetooth and that WiFi is an option, though I found it a struggle to get it to work.

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A clip under the back side of the sun visor lets you secure papers there

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The rear view camera with guidelines that show your path based on the angle of the steering wheel

What We Loved:

  • Off road rated capability
  • Multiple drive modes that let you match your situation to the SUV’s capabilities
  • Household plug
  • Comfortable leather seating
  • Touch screen technology
  • Heated front seats
  • Lots of smart storage spaces

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    The view from the driver’s seat in the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk

What You Need to know

  • Base price of the model we test drove: $30,595
  • Options added to this model: $7,665
  • Price of the model we test drove: $39,225
  • Takes regular gas
  • Fuel economy 19 city/26 highway
  • 3 year/36,000 mile basic warranty
  • 5 year/60,000 mile power train warranty

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    The gear selector has a push button that nipped my finger a few times

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Pairing my phone was easy; I just chose Uconnect from the device list and clicked pair on the touch screen

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2016 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Monroney

Disclosure: Jeep loaned me the Cherokee Trailhawk for my review; all opinions expressed are my own.

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss