13 Nov 2018

Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk 2018 review

A feature-packed SUV with real off-road cred
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When it comes to ‘crossover’ vehicles, the likes of a hatchback morphed into a plastic-clad SUV, or a large wagon propped up higher on stilts, are probably the first images that come to mind. 

But the 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk plays things differently, and uniquely.

It takes a model already well-regarded as offroad-capable, and steps up even higher with the sort of rugged additions that those looking for rock-crawl, mud-churning prowess want – tougher tyres, extra ground clearance, more underbody protection, extra recovery tow hooks.

The Trailhawk is unique because it starts life as a sub-$50,000 two-wheel drive SUV with a semi-premium edge, then adds another 50 per cent to that purchase price.

Its rivals range from a Ford Everest, which starts life as a rugged ute-based wagon then becomes more luxurious, to the Land Rover Discovery, which is sparse without options but provides strong off-road capability. Finally, there’s the perennial sales favourite Toyota Prado – focused on simplicity and reliability.

Clearly, they take subtly different paths. But is the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk’s the best one?

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Vehicle Style: Large SUV

Price: $73,500 plus on-road costs

Engine/trans: 184kW/570Nm 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 | eight-speed automatic

Fuel Economy Claimed: 7.5 l/100km Tested: 11.7 l/100km

 Overview

OVERVIEW

The Trailhawk sits mid-field in the Grand Cherokee line-up. It places above the petrol V6-only Laredo – $47,500 plus on-road costs 4x2 and $52,500 (plus orc) 4x4 – and both the chrome-tinted 4x4-only Limited petrol V6 at $62,500 (plus orc) and Limited diesel V6 at $67,500 (plus orc). And the latter forms the basis for this model grade, at $73,500 (plus orc).

But the Trailhawk reserves most of the Limited’s goodies, except that it swaps out the café-strip appeal of 20-inch alloy wheels for bush-ready 18s. It also adds four underbody skid plates, twin front recovery hooks, a black bonnet decal that is actually functional (it’s said to reduce glare), adaptive-speed hill-descent control, an auto-locking rear differential, extra modes for the Jeep Quadra-Drive II permanent all-wheel drive system, plus air suspension.

The latter provides four height settings for the body, raising ground clearance from 218mm to a lofty 260mm, while boosting the approach angle by 10 degrees (to 36deg), and rampover (22deg) and departure (27deg) by three degrees. Wading depth (508mm), towing capacity (3.5 tonnes) and low-range gearing for the eight-speed auto carry over, though.

Meanwhile, you need an $83,450 (plus orc) Discovery SD4 SE with air suspension, and optional multi-mode terrain response ($2060) and locking rear differential ($1080) to provide 283mm clearance, and 34deg approach/27.5deg rampover/30deg depart angles that mostly best the Jeep. An Everest Titanium and Prado VX – both $73,990 (plus orc) – get 227mm and 219mm clearance, while the latter falls short of the other angles by about 5deg in each case. The Land Rover gets 3.5t towing and 900mm wading, the Ford 3.1t towing and 800mm wading, and the Toyota 3.0t towing and 700mm wading…

THE INTERIOR | RATING: 3.5/5

Standard Equipment: Keyless auto-entry with push-button start and electric-folding door mirrors, electric tailgate, automatic on/off headlights and wipers, auto up/down high-beam, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, leather-wrapped steering wheel, adaptive cruise control, dual-zone climate control, Nappa leather/suede trim with electrically adjustable and heated/ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, and heated rear outboard seats.

Infotainment: 8.4-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth and USB connectivity, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring, digital radio satellite navigation and Alpine nine-speaker/506-watt sound system.

Options Fitted: None.

Cargo Volume: 782 litres.

Unlike its aforementioned rivals, the Grand Cherokee is only available with five seats, not seven. That’s disappointing, because many chairs and off-road capability go together like camping and marshmallows. After all, you’re spending $75,000 on a two-tonne-plus SUV…

Thankfully, Jeep isn’t stingy when it comes to cabin appointments.

Features such as automatic up/down high-beam, auto reverse-park assistance, electric tailgate, blind-spot monitor, lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, heated front and rear seats, ventilated front seats, digital radio and premium audio are all, incredibly, optional on a Discovery SD4 SE that already starts $10K higher.

The Everest Titanium comes closest as an equipment match, adding a dual-pane sunroof (a $3250 option here) and active lane-keep assistance, though it lacks ventilated front seats a premium audio equivalent. The Prado VX adds in that duo, but it lacks a sunroof.

Yet the Trailhawk feels like a much more upmarket vehicle inside compared with the Ford and Toyota. It may be getting on in years now, but Jeep has kept this interior fresh courtesy of an 8.4-inch touchscreen that is brilliantly easy to use and offers a full suite of digital radio, nav, voice control and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring.

Sink into the wide, Nappa leather-trimmed front armchairs, reach for the kransky-sized steering wheel, peer through to the driver’s colour screen and up over to the soft-touch – if a bit shiny and rubbery – plastics, and it’s clear this large SUV is a cut above.

It does, however, stop a little short of feeling properly premium, owing to a flimsy centre console lid and some sticky switchgear that can lack tactility.

The Grand ‘Chekka’ may not have a third-row of seats, but the middle row is spacious and comfortable, complete with a reclining backrest, air vents and map lights, although the high waistline and black rooflining can make for a claustrophobic – or paparazzi-evading – feel.

The 782-litre boot volume is also among the largest in the class, although this is measured to the roof and not to the parcel tray like most rivals do. In reality the broadly foursquare space is about 550-600L-rated, with a high loading lip at least offset by an automatically actuated ‘low’ setting for the air suspension. It’s a bit sophisticated, even at this price.

ON AND OFF THE ROAD | RATING: 4.0/5

Engine: 184kW/570Nm 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6.

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, AWD.

Suspension: Independent front and rear.

Brakes: Ventilated front and rear disc brakes.

Steering: Electrically assisted mechanical steering.

The Trailhawk is the first step at which the 3.6-litre petrol V6 – 213kW of power, 347Nm of torque, but claimed combined-cycle fuel consumption of 10.0 litres per 100 kilometres – is ousted by this 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 with 184kW, 570Nm and 7.5L/100km respectively.

An Italian-sourced VM Motori unit, it’s reasonably refined and decently muscular once up and running, with only a bit of turbo lag off the line blighting the experience. Mostly it just churns away in the background, as it should, aided by an effortless eight-speed auto as well.

It’s more potent than a 130kW/430Nm 2.8-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder Prado, while its 8.2-second 0-100km/h claim eclipses the 177kW/500Nm 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel Discovery SD4 SE’s claim by a tenth. It gives nothing to the same-sized Everest Titanium unit’s 157kW/500Nm, either.

Whether around town or on the road, and no doubt thanks to the chubby footwear, the Jeep’s single-setting air suspension also just thrums away with only the slightest hint of squidginess over really big impacts and undulations, as the system attempts to settle the 2340kg mass.

Especially with ‘mud and snow’ tyres, this is no dynamic superstar, and the steering seems more wishy-washy and a tad looser than other Grand Cherokees have in the past (again, likely down to tyres). However, it never feels as obviously ute-based as an Everest – which is the best-sorted of all the dual-cab-based SUVs – or nearly as pitchy and rolly as a Prado. 

It takes an optioned-up Discovery to beat it in these respects, and at thousands of dollars more, is it even a competitor?

The Trailhawk is good on-road and bloody excellent off it. Heavy rain turned dirt tracks into mudbaths, yet the way it clambered over crests without once bottoming out, and then churned through greasy conditions so effortlessly, makes good on brochure figures and promises.

It’s possible to feel the locking rear diff engaging and disengaging, helping and then easing, while the traction control systems blink once and brake the odd wheel here, before leverage occurs. If there’s a criticism, it’s the throttle response – it’s simply too touchy, in any of the Snow, Sand, Auto, Mud and Rock modes we each tried, in order to find one that fixed it. There’s also hill-descent control and low-range 4x4, the combination of which is terrific.

SAFETY

ANCAP rating: 5 stars – this model scored 34.09 out of 37 possible points when tested by ANCAP in 2014.

Safety Features: Seven airbags, ABS, electronic stability control (ESC), forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking (AEB), blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, rear-view camera, and front and rear parking sensors with rear cross-traffic alert.

WARRANTY AND SERVICING

Warranty: Five years/unlimited km

Servicing: With annual or 20,000km intervals, Jeep’s capped-price servicing plan costs $665, $1095, $665, $1195 and $665 for each check-up until five years or 100,000km, which is reasonable – and free roadside assistance is thrown in.

RIVALS TO CONSIDER

The Everest Titanium mixes ‘mainstream luxury’ with no-nonsense seven-seat off-road ability, and it would be our pick if more than five seats were required. But premium it isn’t.

And while the Discovery SD4 SE is brilliantly resolved, on and off road, and is the clear benchmark with price taken out of the equation, it just asks so, so much for the privilege.

Compared with the above, the Prado VX feels slower and more basic, yet it excels with a huge touring range, Toyota reliability and parts availability nationwide; priorities for many.

  • Ford Everest Titanium
  • Land Rover Discovery SD4 SE
  • Toyota Prado VX

 

TMR VERDICT | OVERALL RATING: 4.0/5

It isn’t the newest large SUV on the block, and Jeep has historically had some reliability issues that will hopefully be eased by the inclusion of a five-year warranty backed by roadside assistance (if you employ its official servicing program).

But the Trailhawk is arguably the best Grand Cherokee available, simply because cheaper model grades can’t compete with newer passenger-car-based SUVs on the road, while pricier versions run into Land Rover-rival territory.

Yet the blend of interior luxury brilliant level of off-road ability makes for an alluring ‘crossover’ blend and enough broad talent to justify the price.

If only the next-generation had seven seats, it would be even better. If that isn’t a deal breaker, though, you’re getting a nicer SUV than most for a good deal less than the best.

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