First Drive: 2019 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk

Jeep recently showed me all of the work it put into updating the 2019 Cherokee during its media launch event in Southern California. The extensive mid-cycle refresh features new styling on all ends of the vehicle.

Front end styling finally unites the daytime running lights with the headlights – all of which are now LED. The back end features more LED lighting and a redesigned and lighter composite liftgate. Thanks to that, a shortened front overhang, an aluminum hood, re-engineered seats, and changes to the Jeep Active Drive I rear drive module, weight is down approximately 150 pounds, although that’s partially offset by the 2019 Cherokee’s additional content.

Five new wheel designs are available across the Latitude, Latitude Plus, Limited, Overland, and Trailhawk trim lines. Engineers packed updated infotainment and 80+ available safety features into the 2019 model. A new twin-scroll-turbocharged and direct-injected 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque (and a 4,000-pound tow rating*) joins the naturally aspirated 2.4-liter Tigershark I4 (180 horsepower and 171 lb-ft) and 3.2-liter Pentastar V6 (271 horsepower and 239 lb-ft, and the top tow rating of 4,500 pounds*) powerplants. All are mated to an upgraded nine-speed automatic.

The facelift makes the new Cherokee appear less awkward than before, but with the front air dam in place, the Trailhawk’s approach angle remains 29.9 degrees. The 22.9-degree breakover and 32.2-degree departure angles stay at their 2018 levels as well. Ground clearance holds steady at 6.7 inches.

Two of the three optional engines on the Jeep Cherokee – the 3.2-liter Pentastar V6 (left) and 2.0-liter twin-turbo I4 (right).

Trailhawks with the V6 come with a 3.517 axle ratio; 2.0 models get 3.734 gearing. The Active Drive Lock 4×4 system features a two-speed power transfer unit, 2.92:1 low range ratio, and 51.2:1 crawl ratio. Additional off-road hardware includes a locking rear differential. As for software, the Trailhawk gets Hill Descent Control and Selec-Speed Control for pedal-free travels through the wilderness.

I spent a couple of hours driving a V6 Overland through the winding roads of Westlake Village and alongside the sunlit waters of the Pacific Ocean. It was a jaw-droppingly beautiful route, but there was something missing. As handsome as the new Cherokee was, I knew it would look even better with dirt on it.

Articulation is not the Cherokee's strong suit, but Hill Descent Control and other electronic doodads get the job done.

Luckily, Jeep had a fleet of Trailhawks ready at the Canyon Ranch Studio. I hopped into a 2.0-liter model and hit the off-road course. Jeep Jamboree volunteers were posted at each section to make sure I didn’t get more than forest pinstripes on my test rig.

For the rock crawl section, I engaged 4LO, fired up the rear locker, and put the Selec-Terrain system into Rock mode. After activating Selec-Speed, I bumped the shift lever into first gear. I took my foot off the brake and proceeded to tilt and creep my way over a jagged stretch of large rocks, only scraping one of the underbody skid plates once.

Ground clearance on the 2019 Cherokee is 6.7 inches, but with Selec-Terrain and a rear locker, the SUV can make its way over some nasty stuff.

A steep decline served as a showcase of Hill Descent Control’s effectiveness, but I was more interested in how the Trailhawk could perform going the opposite way. During one challenging ascent, I was convinced I would have to back up and change my line of attack. The Trailhawk pleasantly surprised me. All I needed to do was stop where I was, slightly change my steering angle, and apply throttle. My sheet-metal Sherpa got me where I needed to go.

Fine dirt covered the course’s longest uphill section. I needed to keep my momentum up. Hopefully, the fully inflated Firestone Destination A/Ts under me would maintain their grip on the loose terrain. Determined to make it to the summit on my first attempt, I kept my right foot down until I reached the top – covered in reddish brown powder.

One particularly sharp downhill turn and a series of whoops tested the Trailhawk’s traction… and my intestinal fortitude. Several parts of the course brought me closer to the rocks around me than I wanted to be, especially since I had the front windows open. If I wasn’t using Selec-Speed to inch through a difficult segment, I was carefully pressing the gas or brake pedal as the Trailhawk turned into a rubber-tipped tripod. Even though I was sure one whoop was going to cause the Trailhawk to tip onto its passenger side, my test vehicle didn’t lose its grip. I kept my grip on the wheel, too – with white knuckles.

So, Jeep has officially priced this bulbous crossover. A base model 4X2 Cherokee is $23,995.** Four-wheel drive costs another $1,500. Trailhawk pricing starts at $33,320.** Expect 2019 Cherokees to roll into your local Jeep dealership during the first quarter of this year.

*With Trailer Tow Package (Class III)
**Prices don’t include $1,195 destination charge.

About the author

Derek Shiekhi

Derek Shiekhi is a native Texan who grew up loving cars because of his father, who took Derek with him to buy early Mustang convertibles and Post-WWII pickups from GM. Throughout high school and college, he dreamed about cars, and returned to college to earn a second degree in journalism. After writing for the Austin-American Statesman newspaper, Derek joined the Texas Auto Writers Association, and is a member of the organization's board of directors.
Read My Articles

Everything Off Road in your inbox.

Build your own custom newsletter with the content you love from Off Road Xtreme, directly to your inbox, absolutely FREE!

Free WordPress Themes

We will safeguard your e-mail and only send content you request.