2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Long-Term Update 1
A Day Spent in Dirt
If there were an award for Most Underutilized Vehicle Segment, there's no question the distinction would go to the sport/utility category. Sure, sports cars --and their maniacal siblings, supercars -- fall into the same trap, but I'm assuming most of those owners make the occasional run to redline or now and then take that freeway off-ramp at something approaching double the speed limit. It's true the vast majority of Ferrari owners will never set a tire on an actual racetrack, but most will get a sense for their car's special skill set, probing acceleration, braking, and handling limits at least a few times on some deserted back road. Sometimes, the result is bent sheetmetal and bruised egos, but that's another conversation.
Likewise, the typical 4x4 sport 'ute owner will never even engage 4 Low in the transfer case. The difference is that opportunities to use a vehicle like the Cherokee Trailhawk to its fullest don't come readily on the road. In my Arrival story, I half-jokingly mentioned the concept of urban off-roading, which, like driving quickly on the road in sports car (or any car, for that matter), is a socially irresponsible thing to do. But the truth is, there's just no way to really experience the capability of an off-road-ready vehicle if it's not taken off-road. And I don't mean just over parking curbs. There's no good way to get even a taste of the experience without venturing off the beaten path for real.
With that in mind, a few weekends ago I recruited a navigator (my brother), gassed up the Jeep, checked tire pressures and oil, tossed a couple gallons of drinking water inside, and headed toward the trail closest to my house. I ended up driving down Orange County's paved Silverado Canyon Road, which starts in rolling hills but terminates in lush forest. At the point where asphalt turns to dirt, the road's name changes to Maple Springs Trail and the fun begins. The trail starts off easy enough as it climbs back into the hills, with mostly loose dirt and small rocks and no real obstacles save for a few drought-ravaged dry stream crossings. Ultimately, the trail gets steeper, the going gets tougher, and I'm in low gear, crawling along over larger rocks and other seriously uneven terrain. The Trailhawk eats it up, never getting remotely close to stuck and providing enough ground clearance so that only the very largest rocks brush the factory skidplate. There are several off-road mode settings available, but we're doing fine in Auto. It's more than 90 degrees outside, but we've got the climate control set to 68 degrees and the water temperature needle is pegged in the middle at normal operating temp.
After turning onto Main Divide Road we quickly climb from just a few hundred feet above the level of the Pacific Ocean to more than 3000 feet. The trail follows the spine of the mountain's ridge. It's a broken, rocky stretch and we're well beyond the point that would leave front- or rear-drivers spinning their wheels, but through it all the little Cherokee Trailhawk doesn't miss a beat. Passersby in other off-road vehicles (mostly modified Jeep Wranglers, but some serious-looking pickups, too) are friendly and wave as they pass, though some look a little baffled to see the Cherokee so far out in the wilderness. "Don't mind us -- we got a little turned around looking for Starbucks."
Eventually we reach the turnaround point. Beek's Place is the remnants of a stone cabin built in the 1930s by the Beek family. It was used as a weekend retreat for decades and featured an underground, spring-fed system of cisterns to provide fresh water, but by the '80s, vandalism and disrepair had taken their toll and most of the structure was torn down. It's roughly three hours back to the trail start and civilization, which we reach as the sun starts getting low. A quick post-trail inspection shows the Trailhawk to be in perfect order, save for desperately needing a wash. To be humming over paved roads again is almost unreal after 6 hours bumping and jouncing through the mountains, and I've definitely had enough dirt for one day. Rest assured, the Cherokee will return.
|Service life||6157 mi|
|Average fuel economy||19.5 mpg|
|CO2 emissions||0.92 lb/mi|
|EPA City/Hwy/Comb Fuel Econ||18/25/20 mpg|
|Energy consumption||160 kW-hr/100mi|