SUV Review: 2021 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Elite

Let’s tell you one thing: this is not your typical soft-road assault vehicle

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It must prove awful for Jeep to see almost every carmaker essentially cross the sports market with smooth-running, car-based crossovers. Sure, the iconic, long-lasting manufacturer of rugged off-road vehicles has done just that tried to compete with like-minded models, but with limited success and more than a little mockery. (Patriot, Renegade, First Generation Compass, anyone?)

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But the faithful hate to accept anything less than superior all-season all-weather all-terrain capability all the time – with all the modern conveniences, comforts and technologies of its boring rivals. Oh, and competitively priced too.

The Wrangler (born CJ, YJ, TJ, etc.) have a legion of fans; also Grand Cherokee. I respect them both. When it comes to Cherokee, though, I’ve been a confirmed fence keeper. Front-wheel drive “Sport”? Seriously? The 4 × 4 versions powered by the 2.4-liter MultiAir four-cylinder? No! Even the turbo 2.0L four – an engine configuration popular with many carmakers – leaves me cold, though its 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque are impressive.

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Ah, but unlike most of its softer competition, there’s a rare V6 alternative for the Cherokee, the 3.2L Pentastar – paired with a nine-speed automatic – that delivers rugged 271bhp and 239 lb-ft of torque. Call me old-fashioned, but I like smooth, simple, uncomplicated power. Dad’s Jeep Wagoneers were all powered by powerful V8s, which is how it is shall be, but would be a case of overkill – not to mention a tight squeeze – if tried in the smaller Cherokee. But you catch my drive. Pentastar feels like home, especially in the Trailhawk, the most macho and terrain capable of the eight equipment levels on offer.

Not that the acceleration of the V6-powered Jeeps will make you breathless. In Trailhawk trim, the rig weighs 1,928 kilos, so it takes about 8.5 seconds to reach 100 km / h. By comparison, the much lighter Mazda CX-5 with its optional 250hp turbocharged 2.5L four-cylinder performance can achieve the same feat in a tick over six seconds. However, the Mazda is a sporty soft-roader, while the Trailhawk is powerful and capable. It can also pull up to 4,500 pounds.

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And, perhaps in an attempt to recapture some of my youth, I’re drawn to the extroverted look of the Trailhawk, or at least my tester ($ 41,795 before option) with its bright, bold Spitfire Orange lacquer, matte black hood, black plastic strip , the towbars and the aggressive Firestone Destination A / T tires. It’s not a combination of shy, bookish types. Think Eddie-Bauer outdoors instead, especially considering that Jeep certifies the Trailhawk as “Trail Rated”, which means it will tackle terrain trails that will leave much of the competition weakened. Its 4 × 4 setting comes with Selec-Terrain traction control system, complete with a sleek console-mounted controller that allows up to five custom settings of Auto, Snow, Sport, Sand / Mud and Rock.

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With this tough look, you can expect the Trailhawk to provide a tough driving experience. But if you do not expect a Lexus-like solitude and agility – and if you do, you have no business even considering the jeep – everything goes pretty well together. Yes, it has legitimate offroad honesty, but it’s still a car-based sport-out, with a ride that is firm but forgiving enough to absorb the effects of potholes and frostbite without punishing drivers or passengers. And its handling, with well-weighted steering – albeit a bit of wood in the feedback department – is competitive with most of its rivals.

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Even with automatic stop / start, the fuel economy is not Trailhawk’s strength among other crossovers in its class, not with its V6 and heavy weight. NRCan rates the Jeep at 12.9 L / 100 km in the city; and 9.7 on the highway. I had on average much thirstier 14.6 L / 100 during my week of sports-outdoors, with a 50/50 mix of highway and city commuting.

When moving inside, the dashboard is simple and logically designed, with the main controls front and center. The optional 8.4-inch multimedia screen Uconnect dominates the center and controls sound, climate, navigation, Bluetooth, heated / ventilated seats and more. It is extremely user-friendly, with large, easy-to-read graphics. A revision of Cherokee’s list of standard features for 2021 sees Trailhawk adding a heated steering wheel and heated front seats, along with a remote starter and windshield wiper.

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Sport-utes’ list of standard safety and security features is also upgraded to include blind spot and rear crossing detection, full-speed collision warning with active braking, LaneSense lane change warning with lane-keeping assistance and rain-sensing wipers.

The tester was generously equipped with the included options for about $ 7,500, all guaranteed to make life easier, more comfortable and / or more comprehensive. Personally, the only option I would choose is what the FCA calls the Uconnect 4C NAV with 8.4-inch screen, for $ 920. This includes a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, SiriusXM Guardian subscription, SiriusXM Travel Link, SiriusXM Traffic, Off-Road information pages and GPS navigation.

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When it comes to passenger comfort, those in the front seats do not have much to complain about, with plenty of headroom and legroom. That said, and since I happen to be particularly long-legged, I found the optional leather-covered, ventilated bucket seats (part of the $ 2,295 Customer Preferred Package 27L) a bit stingy in the thigh support section. Since I was long-legged, I had the back seat in its groove, which would seriously jeopardize the knee and leg room for everyone sitting in the back seat.

2021 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Elite
2021 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Elite Photo by Brian Harper

There is a usable cargo space of 781.5 liters with the 60/40-split rear seats in an upright position. With both seats folded down, the luggage capacity increases to 1,549 liters. It’s not bad, but not as spacious compared to Cherokee’s main competitors.

This is the deal. To say that the compact crossovers segment is crowded and competitive would be a huge understatement. And if you looked at the list of the ten best-selling models in that segment, you would not find the Cherokee there. But there is a unity, a substitutability to these top sellers. The Cherokee, in Trailhawk costume, is much more distinct, bolder and with track-winning Jeep machismo and smooth V6 power. It may not stand out, but it does stand out. Unforgivable.

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