Drive: 2015 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Review

New Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Looks Rugged But Does the Interior Stack Up?

The familiar Cherokee name returned to the Jeep line in 2014, attached to a vehicle that looks like nothing that has graced the brand’s showrooms before. There’s that well-known seven-slat grille, but bracketed by squinty lights that make the Cherokee look like a character from the animated movie Lilo and Stitch.

Designed and positioned to compete against vehicles such as the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Mazda CX-5, the Cherokee starts out in plain sub-$25,000 Sport trim, but can be optioned through North and Limited trims before arriving at the Trailhawk model I tested. As its name suggests, this is the variant that best fits Jeep’s off-road-ready image with more aggressive bodywork, underbody skid plates, bright red recovery hooks front and rear, knobby tires, and a starting price approaching $32,000.

Regardless of trim, a 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine is the starting point, but the one Jeep sent me included the optional 3.2-litre V6 that’s one of the most powerful engines in the compact crossover class, with 271 hp and 239 lb-ft of torque.

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It’s a smooth, strong motor that makes refined noises as it hauls the two-ton Trailhawk up to speed. This is a heavy little crossover, the most basic front-drive Sport model outweighing some of its competitors done up in fully-loaded AWD trim, so this engine is to be praised for feeling more powerful than it is, and for its respectable fuel economy: my tester averaged a respectable 10.7 L/100 km in a week of mixed city and highway driving, against ratings of 12.2/9.0 (city/highway).

Not everything about the way the Cherokee goes over the road is as positive. The nine-speed transmission showed a tendency toward clumsy shifting, a well-known problem in the other Chrysler family vehicles it’s used in.

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On paved surfaces, hard acceleration from a stop prompted significant front wheelspin before the rears hooked up and got into the action. Off-roaders will be grateful for Jeep’s lockable rear differential, selectable off-road modes, and low-range gearing. Less of a surprise is the noise the Trailhawk’s knobby tires generate at highway speeds; this is an obvious trade-off for off-road ability, one worth considering if your Cherokee will do frequent road trip duty.

2015 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Gallery:

Cherokee’s headlights—hard to identify on that alien face, they’re the fixtures in the upper portion of the front end’s black cladding—are weak, shining a narrow beam of not-bright-enough light on the road ahead.

Inside, the Cherokee is comfortable for four, with decent seating all around and good passenger space. The cargo area is on the small side next to something like the Honda CR-V; the back seat’s fore-and-aft adjustment creates more trunk space, but at the obvious expense of rear-seat legroom.

The Uconnect touchscreen interface shared with other Chrysler-build vehicles is responsive and easy to figure out, one of the best of its kind in the industry.

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Interior materials are fine for a $25,000-ish crossover, but things in here looked cheap next to my tester’s fully-optioned $44,000 price tag, and on rough pavement, a squeaky rear seat and creaky panoramic sunroof reinforced that notion—in a vehicle Jeep will tell you is built to shine on unpaved surfaces. For that price, at least Jeep isn’t cheap with features: there’s that big sunroof, a heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats, intelligent keyless entry, leather seats, and a slick customizable information display in the gauge cluster.

Off-roaders will be grateful for Jeep’s lockable rear differential, selectable off-road modes, and low-range gearing. Less of a surprise is the noise the Trailhawk’s knobby tires generate at highway speeds…

We’ll give Jeep credit for making Cherokee stand out with creative styling and a true off-road option, but in a tight vehicle class like this, it’s the details that matter, and my tester didn’t feel well screwed together. Buy the Trailhawk for its aggressive looks and off-road ability, but don’t expect fantastic look and feel from its interior finishings.

Chris has been writing professionally about cars since 2004, in print and online. He lives in Ottawa with his wife and two feline tyrants. In rare quiet moments, he can be found travelling or playing one of his way-too-many guitars. Chris is also a journalist member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).