We can report that the Trailhawk's throttle has been fixed for production, landing it properly in Goldilocks territory. In the off-road Mud setting, the throttle is soft and easy to modulate. You can balance this rig with the gas pedal, reaching just past tip-in to steadily prod forward. But the gas pedal doesn't delay when you really need power. Move beyond the initial tip-in, and the engine responds quickly, which is a good thing, as a sluggish throttle is almost as dangerous off-road as one that's too sharp. Rock mode promises even more precise control over the throttle, although our lack of a spotter and a desire to avoid damaging the 700-mile-young Trailhawk kept us from hitting Bundy Hill's rockier sections. The wet, non-snowy weather meant we didn't properly test Snow or Sand mode.
This test model was equipped with FCA's popular 3.6-liter V6, but like the rest of the Grand Cherokee range, more power is available from the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V6 and the 5.7-liter Hemi V8. You don't need them – the 3.6-liter and eight-speed automatic are perfectly fine on the trails. Faced with an incline, the transmission holds its gear without complaint – you don't even need to switch into manual mode. Despite the 4,800-rpm torque peak, the V6's 260 pound-feet arrive early enough that you don't need to strong-arm the throttle.
So that's resolution for the pre-production issue. But our time at Bundy Hill exposed a different and ultimately much easier to fix problem for the production model. Late fall in Michigan is not always a good time to go off-road – sub-40-degree temperatures and a steady, depressing drizzle can turn a relatively simple trail into a slippery mess of wet clay. Conditions like these can easily overwhelm an on-road tire like the Goodyear All-Terrain Adventures the Trailhawk uses. Simply driving around in the stuff will coat the mainstream SUV tires in nearly half an inch of muck, cutting the coefficient of friction to about zero. If you're really planning on taking a Trailhawk off-road, especially in mud or clay, spend the money on some better rubber. A quick search of TireRack.com shows plenty of more aggressive alternatives in the stock 265/60/18 size.
Tires aside, the Trailhawk is far more capable than most consumers will ever need. The Jeep's impressive approach and departure angles meant we could tackle nearly any obstacle at Bundy Hill, confident it could get up it and over, while the increased suspension travel and wheel articulation meant bigger bumps and dips didn't require a serious rethink of our line. That's a boon, particularly on tight, tree-lined trails.
That capability is largely down to the accessibility of the Trailhawk's off-road systems. Twist a knob and push a button, and the vehicle's transmission, throttle, brakes, differential, suspension, and traction control are ready for whatever you throw at it. It's as easy as simply showing up at the trail. This takes the mystery out of going off-road. There's no tricky locking differential to mess with – the Trailhawk doesn't even have a locker, just a rear limited-slip differential – or sway-bar disconnect like there is on the Wrangler. Ground clearance is never an issue, as the air suspension lifts the Jeep into the air at the push of a button. You just look at the terrain and select what you think is best.
Hard-core Jeepers will balk and say that their Wranglers can do all of this and more, without the fancy suspension or the other computer-controlled systems, and for less than the $46,435 sticker of this particular Trailhawk. But you can drive the Trailhawk, and we mean really drive it, every day without a second thought. That air suspension? In addition to making the Trailhawk more capable, it greatly increases on-road comfort. The Grand Cherokee's unibody platform, real doors, and roof also make it much more livable. And if you're really honest with yourself, you don't need the Wrangler's extra capability (or much of it at all). Trade the bouncy ride, lack of space, and road noise for the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk's civility. It's just like a Jeep, but for grown-ups.
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