The 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk Is Better Than Our Judgment

With an off-roading trim package, Jeep's Grand Cherokee finds its sweet spot. 

Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk
Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com

Touted by Jeep as their most capable Grand Cherokee ever, the 2017 Trailhawk trim package adds a number of desirable off-road options like adjustable air suspension, additional ground clearance and 18-inch wheels, Jeep’s Quadra Drive II setup and a two-speed transfer case, plus a decadent spattering of skid plates. They’re options that make a good thing better. If only they’d do the same for our judgement.

Driving with just three tires touching the road is called “carrying a wheel.” It doesn’t matter if you’re on track behind the wheel of a sports car or off somewhere in the woods; carrying a wheel is a little macho and a lot delightful. Add ventilated seats, a moonroof, and a sound system, and carrying a wheel is elevated to decadent mischief. There is a school of thought that says a person should suffer for the stupid things they do, that driving through mud should leave you spattered and driving through dust should leave you dry-mouthed. This Jeep proves the idea foolish; for all its capability and new hardware, the Trailhawk’s neatest trick is to coddle you in the midst of your worst decisions.

Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com

Literally and figuratively sweating an especially treacherous descent? The Trailhawk has climate and traction control settings that will sort you right out. Carrying a wheel through deeply-dug ruts on a Malibu fire road? You can’t even hear the suspension grumble over the stereo. The Trailhawk enables. It says: Go ahead and live dangerously, in comfort and safety.

Outwardly, the Trailhawk is set apart from the rest of the Grand Cherokee lineup by red tow hardware, those 18-inch wheels, and a matte hood treatment. And badges. Lots of badges. But functionally, the Trailhawk sets itself above the rest of the lineup with a stride into the Grand Cherokee’s sweet spot. Adventurous and capable, but most of all, enabling. The shift in attitude and capability makes it the Grand Cherokee we’ve wanted most since the advent of the SRT.

Another credit in the Trailhawk’s column is the availability of all three Grand Cherokee engines, from Chrysler’s relatively thrifty 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 and 360-horsepower 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, to the especially intriguing 3.0-liter diesel-burning V-6. The later boasts an appealing 420 lb-ft of torque and returns an equally appealing 30 mpg on the highway. Regardless of powertrain configuration, in Trailhawk trim the Grand Cherokee handsomely aids and abets idiocy. Capability always comes at a cost, but on that score the Trailhawk also serves itself well, selling from the middle of the Jeep lineup at $42,995. 

Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com

It’s a rare vehicle that simultaneously appeals to your best, and worst, instincts. Here, the Jeep Grand Cherokee is in vaunted company. The Corvette comes to mind, as do Ford’s Raptor and KTM’s Adventure bikes. And regardless of driving realites—your commute, your life—it’s pretty appealing having a competent playmate, and a reliable instigator with a veneer of sensibility.