One learns early in an auto journalist’s career that it’s easier to wring out a sports car on local roads the way the car was designed to be driven than to wring out a sport/utility vehicle on local (off) roads the way it was designed to be rock-climbed. Even in Metro Detroit, the town that gave us the prairie schooners of the 1950s-‘70s, there are a couple of decent on-ramp clover leaves.
I drove a 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk to Houghton Lake one recent weekend. It’s Michigan’s largest inland lake, in the north-central part of what locals call the Lower Peninsula, about 150 miles northwest of Metro Detroit. In late winter, there should be some snow on the many non-paved backroads.
But I found nothing more than a thin layer of snow, nothing that could bury the axles. It was unseasonably warm for February — or, as the kids would say, “because climate change.” Finally, I found a small dirt turn-around lot, which proved the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk is a serious Jeep, barely a half-notch down from the Wrangler. In the Quadra-lift suspension’s “snow mode,” the thick, wet, and slushy snow gave it no trouble, even where it was deep enough to bury the axles. This is no glorified minivan.
This little turn-around off the gravel back road was barely the size of a good suburban back yard, though, and so I was tempted by all the snowmobiles and full-size pickup trucks towing ice fishing shanties on Houghton Lake a few miles away, until my wife reminded me that the insurance probably would be void when driving on ice.
I hung it up a bit on a mound of snow in the parking lot near a Houghton Lake boat launch, on purpose. It was in automatic mode. The rear tires slipped a bit until the system analyzed the surface, gripped and moved on.
The standard 265/60R-18 tires looked a bit more aggressive than usual, but it’s an all-season tread, probably no more than what you’d find on a Ford Explorer.
That was a good thing for most of the weekend, which was spent on fairly smooth highways and country roads. The Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk’s ride felt a bit grainier than most other modern SUVs, but this served as a reassurance that we were in a real off-roader, even if we’d see no more than half an acre of off-road.
Steering offers good feedback, and is adequately light and just quick enough for a vehicle with a high center of gravity. The Trailhawk’s standard 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 offers enough power, but only barely, considering its estimated 4,869 pounds, and the stop/start feature stumbles from time to time, especially if you try to get back on the throttle just as the engine has shut off at a stoplight.
The handsome suede-insert seats were comfortable for most of the ride, though they began to feel too soft after a few hours behind the wheel. My wife appreciated the power lumbar control in the front passenger seat, though she couldn’t quite find the right setting for it. She tried to pair her iPad with the UConnect system, but the system balked and we quickly moved on. The navigation system map provides nice detail, though, and allowed us to follow the closest roads to the lake (at night) for a circumnavigation.
Like all modern Jeeps, the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk has its share of Easter Eggs, including the Willys MB image in the windshield and rubber floor mats. There is a red paint Willys MB Jeep on each of the four wheels for a redline look when in motion.
The Quadra-lift suspension allows the driver (or front passenger) to lower the Trailhawk at low speeds, and get in and out of the SUV easier. Most times, I forgot to do this, and the step-in/step-out height felt about half a foot too tall for my five feet, ten inches of height.
Oh well. The standard height made it like getting in and out of a Jeep, and if you can’t find a good rock formation or frozen lake, the 2017 Grand Cherokee’s step-in height will have to do. The Trailhawk trim model, which doesn’t have all the leather-clad cush of top-end models like the Overland or Summit, feels like just the right mix of premium and authenticity for a Jeep.
2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk Specifications
|ENGINE||3.6-liter DOHC 24-valve V-6/295 hp @ 6,400 rpm, 260 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, 4WD SUV|
|EPA MILEAGE||18/25 mpg|
|L X W X H||189.8 x 84.8 x 69.3 in.|
|0-60 MPH||7.1 sec|
|TOP SPEED||118 mph|