Jim Bray's Car & Tech rants - publishing online exclusively since 1995
Jeep Cherokee

Jeep Cherokee a great vehicle to have when it snows a lot

By Jim Bray
January 13, 2021

When the snow flies and the drifts get deep, it's nice to have a vehicle with robust four-wheel drive to get you through it. And it's especially nice when it's a vehicle with good ride height that can navigate the deep December doo-doo as if it were born for it.

Such is the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Elite 4x4 – at least for the most part.

We had about a foot and a half of snow dumped on our little corner of the Rocky Mountain foothills just before Christmas, and it was enough to keep less capable vehicles either off of the road or stuck in the snow; heck, I helped push multiple vehicles into or out of their parking spots during that time, just on my little hilly cul-de-sac.

Click on the image to open a slideshow.

Thanks to having the Jeep that week, our personal vehicles didn't have to leave the garage, and it was just as well. Oh, my dear wife's RAV4 would probably have gotten through the stuff okay even though it's only part time all-wheel drive and could stand to be a bit higher in the ground clearance department – but my A4 quattro wagon, with its lowered sports suspension, would never have made it out of the garage until the alley behind our house was plowed (which means, Spring thaw or the next Chinook…) because it would've bottomed out.

But, while I'm not generally a fan of Jeeps, the company's Trailhawk version of the long-lived Cherokee model line was ideal for those conditions. Heck, it never caused us to slow us down a whit.

Mostly. More about that later.

Cherokees start at just under 30 grand (the Sport) and the line goes right up to include the Overland (just under $42 K CAD to start). Jeep's sample "Trailhawk" is in the middle of the lineup and starts at about $35.5K. Jeep's 2020 model year sample had quite a few options, too, and tipped the fiscal scale at $51,135 (including $1,895 in "destination charge" and $100 worth of "Velvet Red Pearl" paint).

The Cherokee Trailhawk is available with two engines (well, you can't cram 'em both in!), a 3.2-litre Pentastar VVT V6 engine (the base engine) and a two-litre DOHC turbocharged four – both of which have stop/start capability to supposedly save gas, and both of which are coupled to nine-speed automatic transmissions that shift well but, like most of these "high numbered gear" transmissions, emphasizes keeping the revs low rather than keeping the performance high. So they tend to run up through the gears as quickly as possible if you aren't absolutely going for the gusto.

Thanks, Greenies!

Oh, there's also a 2.4 litre four-cylinder engine available on some trim levels.

The turbo four of Jeep's sample will add about a grand to the price but it's a willing engine that pulls well once you get past a bit of turbo lag. I had no issues getting up to highway speeds or passing slower vehicles with this engine. Jeep says it's rated at 270 hp and 295 lb.-ft., (the V6 puts out 271 hp/239 lb.-ft.). Not much difference between the specs of the turbo and the V6, though the six might be a bit thirstier. Still, I like the smoothness of sixes and how they never seems to work as hard as the little turbo fours do.

On the other, other hand, the extra torque from the turbo four is quite delicious.

The suspension is designed for off road performance, but it's actually reasonably stiff and sportier than I had anticipated. That said, the Cherokee Trailhawk managed a bit of a wallow anyway, and the vehicle drove bigger than it felt. This is the opposite of such SUV's as the Kia Telluride, which actually feels smaller to drive than it is. I prefer Kia's approach, but to each his/her/its own.

As a serious off-roader, the Jeep gives you five customized drive modes (Auto, Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud and Rock). After we got that big dump of snow shortly before Christmas, the Jeep backed out onto my cul-de-sac like a pro and it handled the deep snow on the roads beautifully. And that was in Auto, without even activating Snow mode.  

Until we went off the pavement, apparently. We had to visit a butcher shop located in the boonies north of our city and the road there was unpaved, unplowed, and barely travelled by the time we got there – so the snow was deep and pure and pristine. And the Jeep handled it beautifully, as far as we could tell, never getting bogged down and carrying us to our destination in comfort and confidence. I tried both Snow and Auto modes on that trip and the Cherokee didn't seem to care which I chose – it ate up the snow and spat it out like a pro.

Alas, we discovered later that the Jeep must have picked up some gravel that had been dredged up by one of the few drivers before us, because we noticed later that there was a horrible grinding or scraping noise that seemed to come from the area of the right rear wheel. It sounded awful, and it led to the Jeep getting plenty of probing peeks from the people we passed.  At the time, I had no idea about there being any stones in the wheel mechanism (couldn't see 'em for the snow!) and so I could only get totally paranoid and assume the worst.

I went online to see if others had reported a similar issue and there were plenty, a list stretching over 20 years and encompassing a variety of problems. This is one reason you should always take online research with a grain or two of salt. Or, in this case, gravel.

So, I reported the issue and was instructed to take the Cherokee back to the dealer, where they discovered quickly the little rock issue (and I've never even been to Arkansas!).

Other than that, we had a mostly pleasant experience in the Jeep.

Oh, I couldn't get the driver's seat low enough for my stubby little legs, but other than that the driving position is fine (and I'm shorter than average…). And instead of paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, you get controls for the audio system; this is typical Jeep/Chrysler stuff and there's nothing wrong with it, but I'd rather have paddles.

The audio system is very good, but the 8.4-inch central LCD atop the stack is a tad busy because there's so much info on it. One bit of fuzzy design is that you have to use the screen to operate the seat and steering wheel heaters instead of buttons on the instrument panel. Not a big deal, but an extra step that shouldn't be needed.

On the upside, the Jeep came with remote start and you can have it fire up the seat and steering wheel heaters for you, so the vehicle is nice and toasty when you get in. That was lovely at this time of year!

The Cherokee only has two rows of seats, and there's nothing wrong with that. There's plenty of places to store stuff and the rear cargo compartment is roomy and easy to access; the sample also had a power tailgate, which is always handy.

Jeep's sample's front seats were also leather, ventilated and powered (with driver's memory), and the Cherokee also featured push-button start/stop, dual zone air conditioning, windshield wiper de-icer and a garage door opener. Blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic warning is a $895 option, and the $1095 Technology group added stuff like side distance warning, park assist, forward collision warning, rain-sensing wipers, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control and auto high beams.

I wish you could get all this stuff a la carte, choosing the features you want and not having to pay for ones you don't (I'd dump lane departure warning, for one). This is not a dig at Jeep, because most Canadian car companies are like this.

The test vehicle also had a lovely panoramic sunroof ($1595 extra) and the upgraded Uconnect system with navigation ($920).

Other than the rock grinding (which could be a whole new sales point for people who work in quarries!) and not being able to get the seat as low as I like, my time in the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk was fine. It isn't a vehicle on which I'd personally spend 50 grand, but I can see why folks (including some family members) do, especially if robust off-road performance is a priority.

Not surprisingly, given Jeep's history, that's where this vehicle shines.  

Copyright 2021 Jim Bray
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