Ready For The Worst with the 2020 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Elite 4×4

Nowadays Jeep has quite a lineup of SUVs that all follow the same basic design language and frankly look quite similar too.Can you tell the difference between the Jeep Compass and the Jeep Cherokee with the same trim package in the same color? Then again, Jeep has a good thing going and retains its enviable reputation as a solid off-road vehicle that can handle just about any inclement weather or poor driving conditions it encounters. Post apocalypse, you should probably hustle and get ahold of a Jeep so you can get to your mountain aerie and survive the collapse of civilization. 🙂

Which isn’t to say that the 2020 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Elite doesn’t have an impressive array of amenities, from a terrific stereo system to smart adaptive cruise control, advanced brake assist, parallel and perpendicular parking assist, and much more. Not to mention the swanky and super comfortable premium leather-trimmed seats. Here’s an exterior photo to set the mood for our adventure vehicle:

2020 jeep cherokee trailhawk elite - exterior red

This is in velvet red pearl-coat exterior and the interior is black. No fancy name, just black. It also features a 9-speed 4WD automatic transmission running from a 2.0L I4 DOHC DI Turbo Engine. Suffice to say; it’s a pretty peppy drive, though from a stop there’s a typical fraction of a second gas engine delay on getting power. Crawling over rocks, wading through a muddy river, or helping you navigate an icy road surface are all easily done, particularly with the traction control options:

2020 jeep cherokee trailhawk elite - traction controls

Disappointingly, we had beautiful weather for the entire week that I was driving the Jeep Cherokee, so I didn’t have any chance to really try out all the 4×4 and traction options, but if there had been a freak storm, we’d have been ready to keep moving forward.

The Cherokee Trailhawk is also known for its towing capabilities, and as you can kind of see in this photo of the rear cargo space, there’s quite the towing system installed when that option is selected:

2020 jeep cherokee trailhawk elite rear cargo towing kit

I felt the cargo space was good but nothing exceptional for a vehicle of its size and class. The rear seat is a 60/40 split as is typical and I appreciate that the vehicle included a cargo cover (part of the $3195 Trailhawk upgrade package, along with upgraded front seats, power liftgate, security alarm system, premium Alpine speaker system, remote start and universal garage door opener. I guess the Trailhawk medallions on the car are included free with that package 🙂

The front dash had a nice, functional layout that felt very familiar from previous Jeep models:

2020 jeep cherokee trailhawk elite front dash dashboard

An interesting design choice (that’s repeated in other FCA [Fiat Chrysler Automobile Group] vehicles) is to have the main CarPlay / Android Auto USB plug behind the gear shift, just to the right of the traction controls. Logical and quite easy to access, but you can’t help but have wires in sight and in the middle of things. A smarter design would be to have these plugs back behind the cup holders, even on the side of the center armrest. Not sure why that’s so uncommon.

The steering wheel got its usual load of buttons too, with channel selector behind the left crossbar and volume control behind the right. Or maybe it was the other way around. There’s no visual cue which is which, you just have to figure it out through trial and error. Otherwise, the left controls the information display on the center of the main gauge section, while the right button set let you manage that adaptive cruise control. Speaking of main gauges…

2020 jeep cherokee trailhawk elite main center gauges

Again, nothing remarkable, nothing new or innovative, but a solid and entirely functional design with tach, engine temperature, fuel gauge (yes, I need gas!) and speedometer. The center info display is also showing my speed but there are quite a few other items of information that can be displayed. Including fuel efficiency, which is one of the weaknesses of the Cherokee Trailhawk; It just doesn’t get very good mileage.

In fact, the EPA estimates for this model and configuration are 20/26 but with mostly highway driving I was seeing an average of 23.7 mpg. That’s an acceptable number for fifteen years ago, but with a relatively small 2.0L engine helped by a turbocharger, I expect something much closer to 30mpg of actual driving experience, not optimal EPA ratings. Indeed, poor fuel efficiency is one of the biggest complaints that people have about the Cherokee Trailhawk year over year.

Speaking of fuel, it was interesting to not have the gas cover lock or even have a gas cap, as you can see when I did finally put gas in:

2020 jeep cherokee trailhawk elite - no gas cap

Coupled with the lack of a vapor seal on the pump nozzle at this particular gas station, it’s like the 90’s all over again and I’m not a fan. Still, not having a screw-on cap does ostensibly make the car slightly safer since you won’t get any pressure build-up in the gas tank.

There are also some styles of vehicle where you know that the rear passengers are going to get the proverbial short end of the stick: It’s a four seater, but it’s really a two seater with space in the back. The Fiat 500X is an example of this, as are many sports cars. But the Jeep Cherokee Elite should have more legroom if you have a tall driver than this woeful amount of space:

2020 jeep cherokee trailhawk elite rear leg room

It takes a lot to make United cattle class look roomy! Okay, maybe that’s not fair, but stretching out the Cherokee another 12-inches and having 6-inches more legroom + 6-inches more cargo space would be very welcome as an upgrade to the current design. As a tall driver (6’3″) I’m rather used to having to scoot my seat up if there are passengers behind me, but it’s sure nice when I don’t have to do so because it’s a sufficiently roomy vehicle.

Still, even with those complaints, there’s really a lot to like about this attractive, comfortable and tough terrain-ready SUV. Certainly it has a lot of curbside appeal:

2020 jeep cherokee trailhawk elite rear view

I received a number of compliments on the car too, with more than one person extolling the velvet red exterior color. It is quite beautiful. Indeed, car companies have really figured out popular red tones for vehicles and whether they have a small surcharge (Jeep charges an additional $195 for this color) or not, they’re darn nice. The 2020 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Elite 4×4 is a solid, if unimaginative addition to the Jeep lineup. A lot of drivers and families will find this a solid choice, particular if you encounter rough terrain or want to tow a boat, trailer, or similar. There’s still room for improvement, though, and it’ll be interesting to see what’s new for 2021.

CONFIGURATION: 2020 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Elite 4×4 with velvet red exterior, black interior, 2.0L DOHC DI Turbo Engine and 9-speed automatic 4WD transmission. Additional packages as driven: velvet red exterior paint, trailhawk elite package, technology group, trailer-tow group,2.0L DOHC Turbo Engine, Full sunroof, Uconnect nav system, 17-inch black aluminum wheels. BASE MSRP: $34,505. AS DRIVEN: $45,425 (including $1495 destination charge)

Disclosure: Jeep loaned me the 2020 Cherokee Trailhawk for a week for the purposes of this writeup. Thanks, Jeep!

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