The 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee, perhaps more than any vehicle it competes with, has to be a lot of things for many different buyers. In its base Laredo and mid-level Limited trims, it offers core-market buyers a rugged two- or three-row option with legitimate dirt-road capability. In its top-spec Summit and Summit Reserve trims, we said it compares favorably to luxury offerings from Audi, Lincoln, Land Rover and Mercedes-Benz. And then there’s the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk, which is the model we just spent a week driving on and off pavement. It ostensibly competes with off-road SUVs like the Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro, but as we’ll explain, it casts a much wider net than that.
Jeep has made it easy for casual observers to tell that the Trailhawk is no ordinary Grand Cherokee. A matte-finish hood decal immediately reveals it, punctuated by bright red tow hooks and unique 18-inch wheels shod in chunky Goodyear Wrangler all-terrain tires. But it’s what you don’t see immediately under and inside the vehicle that really makes the Trailhawk tick.
As you’d expect from a Jeep with a Trail Rated badge on its fender, the 2022 Grand Cherokee Trailhawk comes with a full set of steel skid plates to protect its delicate underbelly. Hopefully they won’t be necessary, because the height-adjustable Quadra-Lift air suspension system raises the Grand Cherokee to a maximum ground clearance of 11.3 inches. That’s more clearance than a Wrangler Rubicon (without the 35-inch tires from the Xtreme Recon package) and offers up to 24 inches of wading depth. The suspension will adjust based on the selected Selec-Terrain traction management mode, or can be adjusted manually with a rocker to the right of the knurled dial that acts as a shifter.
Jeep’s Selec-Terrain traction management system includes modes for snow, sand/mud and rock in addition to automatic mode which it will stay in most of the time and, oddly enough, a sport mode. These modes are selected with a toggle to the left of the rotary shifter. Selec-Speed Control keeps the vehicle at a constant (slow) speed regardless of incline or grade, without further driver input.
Like the Wrangler Rubicon, Ford Bronco and some versions of the Toyota 4Runner, the Trailhawk offers a stabilizer bar disconnect. Basically, pressing a button on the console electronically disconnects the front stabilizer bar that normally connects the driver-side and passenger-side wheels. This allows both wheels more freedom of movement and therefore increases the articulation of the suspension. It automatically reconnects at normal driving speeds to provide safer driving on pavement.
Also standard is Jeep’s Quadra-Drive II permanent four-wheel-drive system, which includes an active transfer case and an electronic-locking limited-slip rear differential. It is capable of sending up to 100% of the total engine torque to a rear wheel. Naturally, there’s a Mode 4 Low that locks the front and rear diffs and shifts to 2.72:1 gearing for low-speed crawling. There is also a neutral mode that allows flat towing on the road.
Now would be a good time to point out that all of this excellent premium hardware is primarily designed to help the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk excel off-road. Sure, there’s a Sport mode, but there’s no getting around the fact that this SUV wears knobby tires and was designed to look its best while crawling over rocks, rummaging through mud, sledding in the snow or any other type of off-road scenario you can dream up. That’s not to say it’s not good to drive on the road, but buyers who don’t know what a disconnectable stabilizer bar is or why it might be useful – things that add significant cost – should look one of the other handsome Grand Cherokee trim levels. We’ll dive a little deeper into this discussion a bit further.
Power for our tester came from a 3.6-liter V6 engine that produces 293 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. We never felt the Trailhawk suffered from power, but for buyers who want more, a 5.7-liter Hemi is available that makes 357 hp and 390 lb-ft. Both engines send those ponies through an eight-speed four-wheel automatic transmission. The EPA rates the V6-powered Trackhawk at 19 miles per gallon city, 26 mpg highway and 22 combined, and that’s exactly what we managed in a week. The V8 is rated at 14 city, 22 highway and 17 combined. That’s not great, but it’s actually on par with the much less powerful V6-powered Toyota 4Runner’s EPA rating of 16 city, 19 highway and 17 combined.
There’s a Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk 4xe coming this spring, and it looks promising on paper. It will produce 375 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque from a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder paired with an electric motor. Jeep estimates drivers will get 25 miles of electric range from a full charge, and the EPA says drivers should expect a combined 23 mpg once the battery runs out of juice to power the vehicle without using the engine. As always with a plug-in hybrid, it’s up to you to charge as much as possible to maximize its efficiency.
The standard V6 engine is not only powerful enough, but also capable. We’ve long been fans of the eight-speed transmission that Jeep uses in the Grand Cherokee (and a number of other Stellantis vehicles), and it works well in the Trailhawk. There are tiny paddle shifters on the steering wheel; we tested them to make sure they work, and they do, but we found them to be of little use afterward on the road.
Switching to Sport mode lowers the Trailhawk’s center of gravity, which indeed gives the driver more car-like responses, and we won’t complain about that. Big, chunky tires, however, still wallow far more than low-profile, street-oriented tires, and there’s really no other electric trickery Jeep can do about it. We were content to leave the Trailhawk in Auto most of the time, letting it control itself and drop into a lowered aero position at highway speeds.
We mentioned the Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro as a competitor to the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk, and that’s probably as close a bogey as there is in today’s market. Compared to the $56,030 Trailhawk, the $53,635 TRD Pro looks outdated, both by design and because it’s been around for ages. The 4Runner may be a charming old beast, but it’s less powerful, less refined, bumpier and louder than the Trailhawk. Its interior tech is a far cry from the slew of displays Jeep offers, its gauges are, well, gauges instead of customizable digital displays, and the suspension doesn’t raise or lower ride height. You also can’t get a disconnectable sway bar on the TRD Pro. Both will take drivers to their off-road destinations, but the Jeep will do it with more comfort and refinement both on and off the pavement.
We made good use of the wet spring road conditions to test the extra traction offered by those big tires and rugged off-road technology. Although we waded through ankle-deep mud and mush, we never came close to getting stuck. The low-end gearing made quick work of the steepest grades we could find in central Ohio, and while we didn’t need to use the disconnect sway bar, we did. We still tested on a two-row boat ramp divided by a thick concrete berm. No surprise, this increased the amount of suspension articulation and therefore the distance we could achieve while straddling the gap.
The 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk’s $56,030 price includes a mandatory and seemingly extortionate destination fee of $1,795. Add $395 for any paint that isn’t solid white—our test car showed up with two tones of Silver Zynith and Black that we wished were something brighter or deeper. We consider the $1,295 Luxury Tech Group to be mandatory to get things like proximity entry and a tilt/telescoping steering column with memory. Our tester’s sticker price soared to $61,040 with a dual-pane panoramic sunroof, $1,095 front passenger interactive display, highly recommended $1,495 Uconnect infotainment system on a large and impressive 10.1-inch screen and a $1,995 package that adds a useful night vision mode and surround-view camera package. Buyers who want a third row are out of luck as there is no Trailhawk version of the Grand Cherokee L available – there are only two rows.
We’ll repeat here that we’ve tested all of this great off-road kit, and it works exactly as advertised. But we never really had to test it, despite the specific search for the roughest slope we could traverse on hunting roads only occupied by ATVs and people wearing rubber boots. All that to say, we applaud Jeep for delivering a Grand Cherokee that’s truly off-road capable, but the 4×4 Limited that’s $5,000 less or the Overland that only costs a grand or two more would probably be better choice for drivers who don’t know why they need a Trail Rated badge.
But for buyers who know exactly why they need nearly a foot of ground clearance, the ability to wade through 2 feet of water, or enough suspension articulation to straddle a mini Mount Rushmore, hey. well, there really isn’t anything else on the market that also offers luxurious and refined finishes for the price of the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk.