Having enjoyed first the surprisingly capable Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk and then the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk, I set my bar high for the big-boy Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk. Fortunately, the largest Jeep SUV largely met my expectations — even as this review came hot on the heels of weeks spent in the Land Rover Discovery and BMW X5.

Those vehicles are perhaps a bit more high-brow than the rugged Trailhawk with its bright red tow hooks and aggressive hood graphics, but the Jeep proved capable, comfortable and surprisingly high-tech for a toy you’re meant to get dirty. Overall, I was left with the impression that the Trailhawk wasn’t just a beefy 4×4 that can throw mud with the best of ’em, but also a balanced SUV that’s just a capable on the commute.

Quadra-Trac II 4×4 system

Pop the hood and you’ll find FCA’s 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine, the workhorse of Fiat Chrysler’s North American lineup. In this incarnation, the naturally-aspirated V6 makes a respectable 295 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque which gets sent through a single option 8-speed automatic transmission on its way to the wheels.

The addition of Engine Stop Start (ESS) technology helps to reduce fuel wasted to idling for this generation and contributes to the also respectable 18 city and 25 highway mpg economy estimates. My tested average of 16.9 mpg fell a bit short of those averages, but that’s expected given the unique rigors of the review and production processes.

Quadra-Trac, Quadra-Drive, Quadra-Lift? The team behind the Jeep Grand Cherokee are obsessed with the number four.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

The 295 horses help the Grand Cherokee to accelerate confidently on the highway, but this is no neck-snapper. Decent gearing help the SUV to feel responsive around town. Those who know they’ll want more power (or more specifically maximum torque for offroad crawling) should consider the optional 5.7-liter V8 engine upgrade, which steps up to 360 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque. And the truly mad can step up to the ridiculous Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, which trades all offroad ambitions for 707-horsepower and street performance.

There exist many 4×2 rear-wheel drive and 4×4 four-wheel drive variants of the Grand Cherokee, but the Trailhawk in question features a standard Quadra-Trac II system, the best available to this body type. Quadra-Trac II upgrades over the standard 4×4 setup with a two-speed transfer case with low range capability for high-torque crawling and more advanced sensors to detect wheel slippage. As needed, up to 100-percent of available torque can be shifted to the front or rear axle, depending on where the most grip is available.

The Trailhawk also features Jeep’s Selec-Terrain traction control system which allows drivers to select between terrain presets — Snow, Sand, Auto, Mud or Rock — to adjust the behavior of the powertrain and all-wheel drive systems for specific driving conditions.

Finally, there are the Quadra-Drive II powertrain upgrades that beefs up the Trailhawk’s rear axle and adds an electronic limited-slip differential (LSD) that can proactively transfer up to 100-percent of available torque between the left and right rear wheels if slip is detected. Between the center diff and the rear LSD, the Trailhawk could potentially send all 260 pound-feet of its torque to just one of the rear wheels if the other three are slipping.

Trail-rated Trailhawk

In addition to the Selec-Terrain traction control systems, the Trailhawk is also outfitted with Jeep’s Selec-Speed Control systems which are basically really low-speed cruise control that help the SUV to maintain rock-steady speed control when ascending or descending tricky or severe slopes.

Rounding out the electronic offroad upgrades is the Quadra-Lift air suspension with ride height adjustment. (There are a lot of “Quadras” and “Selecs” in this feature set.) In its tallest “Offroad” setting, the ride height raises to 10.8-inches. Combined with the Trailhawk’s shortened overhangs, the SUV’s approach angle also grows to 25.7-degrees with a departure angle of 27.1-degrees.

Offroad mode is restricted to low speeds, but even the Trailhawk’s static ride height and angles are in the neighborhood with the likes of Land Rover’s Discovery. And when it’s time to get in or out of the SUV, the suspension can lower 1.6-inches below the static height when parked for ease of access or at low speeds for ducking under low garage ceilings.

Not all of the upgrades are electronic. Up front, there are bright red tow hooks which can be used for pulling fellow trail riders out of tight spots (or getting pulled out yourself). Beneath the chassis, skid plates for the front suspension, fuel tank, transfer case and underbody protect the SUV’s sensitive bits when crashing over logs or stones. The hood graphic isn’t just for style, Jeep claims this matte black design also reduces glare bouncing up off of the hood, sort of like a football player’s eye black. 

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