Regardless of where you choose to call home, you've probably seen, or at least heard, about the Pure Michigan ads, showing off all the splendor that the Mitten State has to offer. You can make fun of them all you want (several spoofs already exist), but as a native, I fully stand behind the idea that Michigan is a truly gorgeous place. The western coast along Lake Michigan and the northern half of the Lower Peninsula are seriously pretty, and vastly different from the southeastern area that houses big cities like Detroit, Ann Arbor, Flint, and so on. Beyond that, the Upper Peninsula is the closest you'll get to seeing vast spoils of untouched wilderness, and trust me – it's truly pretty. I've seen the world, but I still feel all warm and fuzzy every time I venture north to experience all the vistas that my own state has to offer.
The Trailhawk's rugged good looks were right at home against the backdrop of changing seasons.
In the autumn months, the changing leaves in Michigan put on quite a display. Sure, this happens all over the world, but we truly embrace autumn in the Wolverine State, and practically every Detroit-based Autoblog staffer has gone on at least one fall colors tour to the northern Lower Peninsula to take it all in. That's exactly what associate multimedia producer Chris McGraw and I did just over a month ago, behind the wheel of our long-term 2014 Jeep Cherokee. The Trailhawk's rugged good looks were right at home against the backdrop of changing seasons, and we opted to capture the whole experience on video for this latest long-term update.
As you can see in the video above, the Tunnel of Trees is a picturesque stretch of Michigan's M-119 highway that starts just northeast of Petoskey and follows Lake Michigan's Little Traverse Bay. This winding road through the woods goes on for nearly 30 miles, largely unobstructed by neighborhoods, fueling stations, shops, or roadside fodder, and spits you out at the famous Legs Inn in Harbor Springs. (Top-notch Polish food, if you're hungry.) From there, you can either continue north toward Mackinac City and the Mackinac Bridge that connects Michigan's lower and upper peninsulas, or you can turn around and take in all the goodness again. The trees arc over the road, there are countless scenic overlooks of Lake Michigan, and in the fall, when the leaves are turning gorgeous shades, the Tunnel is truly a treat.
The Tunnel of Trees is a picturesque stretch of Michigan's M-119 highway that starts just northeast of Petoskey.
When McGraw and I went for our trip, we weren't the only folks who had the idea of doing a colors tour that weekend, and traffic was kind of messy at times – lots of slowpokes. So about halfway through the Tunnel, I darted off on a two-track trail into the woods to get some shots of the Jeep in its natural habitat, and do some very light off-roading. Honestly, I didn't even have to touch the Selec-Terrain off-road traction system, but did throw it into sand/mud mode at one point, just to see how the Trailhawk's dynamics changed while driving through the mucky two-tracks. Piece of cake, of course, and I'm still planning to do some more hardcore off-roading in the Jeep to truly test its Trail-Rated abilities. But nevertheless, the Cherokee felt properly good in the wilderness. Looks damn good in the woods, too.
The big takeaway from this experience, for me, was seeing just how versatile the Cherokee is for practically every task thrown its way. The drive from Autoblog HQ just north of Detroit to Petoskey, MI, takes about four hours, and on the highway, the Jeep was calm, collected, composed and truly comfortable – everyone on staff raves about its supportive, cushy cloth front seats. It offers a great view of the road ahead, with its relatively high seating position and great visibility from all angles. Beyond that, the Cherokee's cargo area might be smaller than many rivals, but it earns huge road trip points for being able to easily swallow a long weekend's worth of luggage and a full load of camera gear, without even taking up much space in the rear bench. We could have easily brought another passenger or two along for the ride, with enough room inside to handle everything without it feeling too cramped.
The Jeep was calm, collected, composed, and truly comfortable.
Beyond that, things we've already raved about with the Cherokee take center stage on these long journeys. The stereo is killer, the Uconnect navigation/infotainment system is excellent to use, and the 3.2-liter V6 provides plenty of power for freeway stuff. The only slight gripe continues to be the nine-speed automatic transmission, which still hunts for the right gear at times and loves to go up and down through the gears on the highway. It's sort of tough to get the tranny to just settle down, and the fuel economy is still middling – there's a price you pay for the knobby tires and off-road ground clearance.
But that's hardly a sour enough point to keep me from disliking the Cherokee. Simply put, I'm kind of smitten with our little Jeep, and I've warmed up to its appearance, especially in tiny-tough Trailhawk guise. This thing absolutely eats up the miles with ease – paved roads or not – and for a weekend getaway, it's perfect. Heck, even just for daily life, the Jeep has proven to be a really solid driver. Its small size makes it easy to use in the city, but it's still plenty functional. And with that Selec-Terrain system and knobby tires, I'm pretty stoked to get this thing out in a proper Detroit blizzard once the snow really starts to fall.
Life with the Jeep has been worry-free, and the miles are quickly accumulating.
As for how the Jeep is fairing in our garage, things have been mostly copacetic. We had an incident earlier in the year where two rocks came in contact with the windshield, so we had to have the front glass replaced. Chrysler took care of this for us, because replacement windshields for the Cherokee weren't in high stock just yet, but the repair came to $362, all-in. Other than that, life with the Jeep has been worry-free, and the miles are quickly accumulating. By the time you read this, we'll have rolled over 17,000 miles – and we've still got five months to go.
Stay tuned for more Cherokee updates, and follow along on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more, on-the-fly impressions.