It was back in 1941 during the tensions leading up to the US entry into World War II that a small car company was formed to deliver “General Purpose” vehicles. GP was easily pronounced as “jeep” and that’s the most common explanation for how Jeep got its name. And they’ve been making solid off road vehicles since 1941. It’s even emblazoned on their steering wheel to remind you of the colorful history of the brand.
I’ve also driven quite a few Jeep vehicles and while the luxury appointments have definitely improved over the years (the original Jeep didn’t have windows!) it’s hard to get away from its rugged heritage. Jeeps are generally just a bit of a tight ride letting you feel the road surface, not mask it, and you hear the road noise, not drive in a hermetically sealed bubble of triple pane glass. They’re not Mercedes or Tesla sedans, for sure.
This time it was a 2019 Jeep Cherokee TrailHawk Elite 4×4 I had a chance to drive and while there were some odd design choices and drive experience issues, overall I really enjoyed the big, tough SUV. And it’s definitely big. Here’s my first pic for you to enjoy, thematically showing that no roads are closed when you’re driving a Jeep:
Note the bright red tow hooks on the front. Grab some good rope and you’ll be the person pulling other people out of the ditch when the weather is bad and the driving is dangerous. In fact, the Jeep had a variety of bad weather traction and control options, all easily accessed from a dial on the dash:
Sadly the manufacturers don’t really want us auto writers to beat up their vehicles so we’re asked not to do any off road adventures with these shiny new vehicles. Dirt road with a bit of snow and mud? No worries. But really going off road or deliberately aiming for some awful driving situations? Not so much. So I can’t be a Jeep stormchaser! 🙂
In terms of the above, notice that the traction management has been simplified quite a bit by this point. It’s hard to believe that drivers used to have to stop and change settings on the wheels themselves to go from 2 wheel to 4×4 mode. Now you can stay in the comfy cab with your favorite music and heated seat while simply dialing up the weather you’re facing. Nice!
Stepping back a bit, here’s the entire dashboard so you can see the design of the interior:
Quite a nice layout, with everything an easy reach from the driver’s seat, whether it’s the volume and channel selector buttons hidden behind the steering wheel or the window controls on the driver’s door arm. The two things I had to hunt down was the parking brake control (in front of the gearshift) and the rear hatch open button (behind the left side of the steering wheel, adjacent to the light control dial).
One thing I did find annoying about the Cherokee is that every time you started up the car it reset the cruise control to OFF. Most all of the vehicles I drive – including my own Mazda – remember the last setting so you never really need to worry about engaging cruise control before you use this super helpful feature. Not with the Jeep, however, which constantly felt like an unnecessary step while driving down the highway. On the bright side, it features Adaptive Cruise Control, which is a must-have with modern cars in my opinion. In fact, the car I got to test drive after the Jeep has old school cruise control and it feels like such an imposition for me to have to pay attention to the car in front! Yup, us modern drivers.
Speaking of the dashboard, here’s a closeup view of the main gauges:
With an automatic do you really need a tachometer that shows you the engine revolutions? Perhaps that’s a philosophical question, but my attention was always in the central portion of the gauge display. Notice also the current fuel efficiency data is shown too: I averaged 23.2 miles per gallon and with a 3/4 tank had 243 miles of range left before I’d run out of fuel. While I always wish cars had better fuel efficiency, 23.2 mpg for mostly city driving with a big, heavy SUV is pretty darn good, actually. According to the vehicle specs, the Cherokee gets 24mpg on the highway, so I’m actually almost at its theoretical maximum. Not too bad at all.
I also really liked the UConnect map display in the navigation system. A great color scheme made it super easy to read and while there’s a lot of data being shown along the top and bottom, it’s quickly understood for the driver while trying to get from point “a” to point “b” as efficiently as possible:
This is actually my favorite configuration, though it’s the most expensive: An in-dash navigation system that works great, but also supports both ApplePlay and Android Auto. Prefer to plug in your smartphone and use that for navigation? It’s easy enough and quickly done. Your choice.
Having said that, it’s possible that the system is a bit too complicated, as you can see when you pop over to the Apps area:
You can change the buttons along the bottom by simply dragging and dropping. Nice and customizable, but overkill for a vehicle? What do you think?
Stepping back out to the back of the Cherokee, you can see it has a lot of classic Jeep lines:
You can’t see anything special or different about the vehicle rear, but it had the foot activated hands-free liftgate: With the key in your pocket, you can wave your foot under the rear bumper and the hatch just magically opens up. Darn nice if you’ve got your hands full or just want to impress your kids or neighbors.
There’s also a lot of cargo space in the back:
The only issue we had was that there’s nothing to ensure that bags of groceries don’t fall over while driving back from the supermarket, but that’s common in lots of cars, not by any means unique to the Jeep. There are a lot of little tie down hooks and other elements on the sides of the vehicle too, so with a handy length of twine or rope – or a bungee cord – you actually would be able to carry most anything securely. It’s good attention to detail.
With all these positives, there are some other negatives too. One of which was the relative lack of leg room for the rear passenger if the driver’s average height or higher:
I admit, I’m taller than most at 6′ 2″ but after trying it out, I could quickly ascertain that I wouldn’t be comfortable in the back seat of this particular vehicle.
The other concern I had with the Cherokee is that it’s not a hugely comfortable ride. It’s a Jeep and you don’t really get to forget that as you cruise around, whether it’s on a rough mountain road or a smooth urban corridor with fresh blacktop. The 3.2 liter V6 with its 9-speed transmission is peppy enough, but I prefer a slightly more comfortable ride rather than one where you feel and are aware of every bump on the journey.
The SUV category is a hot one and every manufacturer has an entry. The 2019 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk is very much a Jeep entry, with the tough, ready-for-bad-weather design that’s always been a hallmark of the brand. If you’re looking for an SUV with decent mileage, a good driving experience and the heritage to keep you rolling in style for the years to come, the 2019 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Elite 4×4 is definitely worth a look.
AS DRIVEN: 2019 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Elite 4×4 in Olive Green Pearl Coat exterior and black interior. Featuring a 3.2 Liter V6 24-Valve VVT Engine with 9-speed automatic transmission, Trailhawk Elite Package, Technology Group and Uconnect entertainment system. Base Price: $33,320. As driven: $40,245.00
Disclosure: Jeep loaned me the Cherokee Trailhawk for a week for the purpose of this writeup. Thanks, Jeep!