It’s a rare but welcome occasion when A Wheel Thing is able to do a “back to back” of two vehicles of the same class from the same manufacturer. Jeep’s solidly revamped Cherokee is a four model range and A Wheel Thing has backed up the entry level Sport against the top of the tree Trailhawk.
Jeep has lobbed a 2.4L four cylinder and 3.2L V6 at the Cherokee; the Sport’s alloy block four (only available in the Sport and somewhat of a misnomer calling it that) pumps 130kW and 229Nm of torque versus the 200kW and 316Nm from the Longitude/Limited/Trailhawk trio. All four get the new nine speed automatic gearbox (no manual options at all) and no paddle shift option either, except only offering a sports shift via the gear lever. Fuel economy is quoted as 8.3L/100km (combined) for the Sport and 10.0L/km (combined) for the Trailhawk. However, as very few would take advantage of the off road capabilities, it’s the urban figure that’s scary: 11.6L and 13.9L. For vehicles that weigh 1600 odd kilos and a curious (as in what adds the extra over the other two off road capable) 1936 kilos, with a nine ratio transmission, these figures are troubling.
Compared to previous Cherokees, the current models are almost unrecognisable. Take away the traditional seven bar grille and it’s going to be hard to tell it’s a Jeep. Since the vehicles were released, the big talking point has been the exterior design and, in particular, the nose. In the interests of aerodynamics and pedestrian safety, it’s a long, sleek, laid back design, punctuated by the indicator and LED daytime running lights mounted in an almost eyebrow like cluster, with the headlights reduced in size and placed mid point between bonnet (blackout decal on Trailhawk) and lower bumper. The Sport has plastic inserts where the Trailhawk has the more familiar globes for driving. The Trailhawk also has reprofiled front and rear lower bumpers to allow for better approach and departure angles (29.9 and 32.2 degrees) when offroading, plus sits 36mm higher than the other three. The Sport rides on 225/60/17s and Trailhawk on 245/65/17s.
In profile, the Cherokee has a smooth, rounded, organic look, somewhat akin to Hyundai’s Santa Fe from a couple of years ago and at the rear, that resemblance continues, with the taillight clusters of a similar rounded shape. The reverse camera for the Trailhawk is integrated into the rear door however the Sport seems to have it tacked on to the bottom of the door, almost as an afterthought. A simple yet effective touch is an exterior downlight mounted under each of the exterior wing mirrors. Under the skin the Cherokee has a redesigned body utilising high strength steel, providing a better torsional stiffness rating. Combined with new suspension and a nifty frequency sensitive shock absorber system plus speed sensitive electric steering, there’s some great hidden technology.
On The Inside.
Both the Sport and Trailhawk offer five seats, with comfortable and, importantly, supportive seating. The Sport has a mix of dark and light cloth, the Trailhawk beautifully styled leather (with a tastefully embossed Trailhawk at the top), with the addition of a storage locker underneath the front passenger’s backside. All models get soft touch, padded, leather look plastic dashes including stitching. The rear seats are tumble fold plus slide, adding to the reasonable cargo space, which also cops a cargo blind and chiller shopping bag. Ergonomically the Trailhawk is identical to the Sport, with the oddly angled, dust gathering, USB/SD card slots in the front console but at least both have the second USB in the centre console storage plus a second 12V socket. In a nice little nod to history, the blackout for the front window strip, right in the centre, has a graphic of the iconic car that started the Jeep history. Just in behind that is a storage space, ideal for a small smartphone.
Ignition is done via an electronic key, placed into the slot just to the left of the steering column and the Trailhawk has an added kick, with remote start. Two presses of a button locks the doors and fires up the V6, with the key needing to be in the slot in order to unlock the gear lever. A highlight is the electric tailgate; I’ve tested other cars with the same feature and they’ve had issues. The Trailhawk’s worked every time. Every time. There’s multiple redundancy with this, with a button in the driver’s area and one inside the cargo area as well.
The Sport has a five inch touchscreen (navigation and audio), the Trailhawk a more readable eight, with another ergonomic flaw for both. It makes sense, especially when (in the case of the Sport) there’s no steering wheel mounted controls, to have the the audio dials as close as possible to the screen (as technology has changed to using this form), not inches below that and at a level forcing the driver to lower their eyeline. Although the Trailhawk has a larger screen and fills the console more, it also has the dials lower than where sensible ergonomics should have them. Speaking of the tiller, both feature a good and chunky wheel, allowing a firm grip. The Sport, however, has a tilted wheel to an extraordinary degree, with an extended reach required to touch the top versus a compacted and somewhat uncomfortable hold for the bottom. Tech wise, the Trailhawk comes with collision avoidance, park assist, lane change and blind spot warning and more.
Ahead of the driver, the Trailhawk presents a beautiful LCD screen, with information accessed via a four arrow button setup on the tiller. It’s a metallic silver colour, with information covering oil/water temperatures, tyre pressures and more. The fuel gauge is a strip based down on the lower right hand side and looks like the old mechanical strips of the seventies. The Sport has a more restrained screen, more of a bar by bar setup, but still effective.
2.4L four cylinder, 3.2L six cylinder and nine ratio automatic transmission. Guess which combination works better? Yup, the torque of the V6 seems to be more of a match for the auto, shifting crisper and smoother more often. That’s not to say it’s without faults, however the Sport seemed less certain, more indecisive more often. Both are front wheel drive and coming off a front verge and performing a 180 degree turn (turning circles are adequate at around 11 metres) the front end of the Trailhawk seemed more under pressure than the 2WD only Sport. I could feel and hear the squirming, the protest of the drivetrain pushing against the gearbox. The Sport simply turned and made no noise.
On the road, both went about their job with a minimum of fuss, with road noise a touch more apparent in the Sport. Handling on tarmac is wonderful, with just enough initial compliance turning into a firm yet unobtrusive rebound. The Sport had a touch more lift off understeer in the curly bits yet was as easily controlled as the Trailhawk via judicious use of the throttle. On the highway, the nine speeder seems unsure at lower revs with the Sport, less so with the Trailhawk, again with the torque being sent down through the chain of command more efficiently. A hard prod on the go pedal sees a drop down through the gears, with the Sport reacting well and the Trailhawk’s dual V6 exhaust being heard for the first time, a metallic but not unpleasant raspy call. Feedback through the tiller is good, with enough conversation to keep the driver informed of what’s happening on the road.
It’s offroad, the Jeep’s genetically driven environment, where the Trailhawk’s extra goodies play harder. The Sport is simply a front wheel drive SUV, the Trailhawk is the Supreme pizza with garlic bread, soft drink and free delivery. It comes with Chrysler’s Selec-Terrain system, a fully electronic setup that switches between off road surfaces (mud, snow, gravel) via the turn of a dial, has a locking rear differential, hill crawl and low range plus, ahead of the Limited and Longitude, has an additional rock program and an extra 31 mm ride height. The Sport handled A Wheel Thing’s test track with a measure of nervousness, almost as if it was a talented child being asked to try an adult level high jump; more abrupt bumps and slopes were tackled, albeit at a slower rate and ruts were forded with less surety. The Trailhawk dealt better with these, not unexpectedly, but there was, still, some uncertainty about handling over some of the rougher levels. The hill crawl function performed as expected and all modes, including the lower ratio gearing, showed their mettle, but a short throw suspension just never quite felt like imbuing 100% confidence for the driver. Fuel economy is dubious, with closer to ten than nine litres per hundred for the Sport and somewhere in the thirteens for the Trailhawk…
The Sport has an easy question to answer: which two/front wheel drive SUV that will never see off road duties do you want? The Trailhawk has a tougher ask; better torque, a better feature set BUT, how much of it compared to the middle two models makes it cost effective? It’s nice to have the safety features like collision avoidance (something a well trained driver should have learned), remote start and electric tailgate but the extra off road program, locking rear etc, compared to the Limited and Longitude, given they cop the same engine/gearbox as the Trailhawk? Price is, then, another consideration: Trailhawk asks $47K plus and, yes, you get a finely built car with some great toys. But, is the extra cost worth the extra features, features that, in all honesty, the huge majority of people wouldn’t know how to use or desire to use? The Sport is $33500, Longitude and Limited $39000 and $44000 respectively…so, IS the Trailhawk worth the extra $3500 over the Limited or $8500 over the Longitude, given the same engine/gearbox combination?
I know I’d take the Trailhawk if it was strictly between the Sport and it because I would use the offroad programs and the remote start/electric tailgate worked for me, they’re small yet usable luxury touches. In a faceoff, the Trailhawk wins for me. head to http://www.jeep.com.au for all of the info.
Model Range: Cherokee Sport, Longitude, Limited, Trailhawk.
Engine: 2.4L L4, 3.2L V6.
Power/Torque: (2.4L ) 130kW/229Nm, (3.2L) 200kW/316Nm.
Transmission: 9 speed automatic (no manual).
Driven wheels: Front (4WD via Selec-Terrain on Longitude, Limited, Trailhawk)
Fuel: Unleaded (91RON).
Dimensions: Sport 4623mm (L) x 1859mm 1631mm (H), Trailhawk 4626mm x 1904mm x 1686mm.
Clearance: 185mm, 221mm.
Fuel Economy: 8.3/11.6/6.3L per 100km (combined/urban/highway), Sport; 10.0/13.9/7.7L per 100km, Trailhawk.
Price: Sport @ $33500 + ORCs, Trailhawk @ $47500 + ORCs