We got behind the wheel of the turbocharged 2020 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Elite, and this is what we thought.
As Jeep's entry into the ultra-competitive middle-weight crossover segment, the 2020 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Elite, with its Firestone Destination all-terrain tires, plastic body armor, skid plates, and a gamut of off-road traction functions, positions itself as the "most outdoorsy" of the bunch. Rightfully so, too, the Cherokee Trailhawk offers impressive capability, comfort, and towing chops in a segment that generally errs on the side of "car."
This Jeep, however, errs on the side of "SUV" without losing its road manners. When cruising down U.S. 85 from Denver, to start my venture into the Pike National Forest, the Cherokee Trailhawk Elite proved itself to be a worthy road-tripper. The heated leather-wrapped seats were plush, supportive, and comfortable, meanwhile, the Uconnect infotainment system kept me in command of my media.
The Jeep's optional 2.0L turbo four-cylinder engine, rated at an impressive 270-horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, felt less anemic at altitude than the V6, and in sport mode, was downright fun. As is often the case when you're heading west into the Rockies, the road got curvy—recommended speeds of 15 mph—but the Cherokee handled them with surprising levels of competence, keeping body roll to a minimum and providing decent steering feel. When I got a little overzealous with my right foot, the brake pedal felt nice and firm, bringing the weighty-feeling Cherokee down to a comfortable pace.
Eventually, I was adequately out of cell-tower range, and the all-wheel-drive Cherokee Trailhawk Elite easily did everything I asked of it, which included deeply-rutted snow-covered dirt roads, some light mud, and small rocks. Should I wish to bring a pop-up camping trailer next time, the Cherokee Trackhawk Elite with the 2.0L turbo has a tow rating of 4,000 lbs. Again, impressive for a vehicle that offers a solid on-road driving experience.
Of course, the rig isn't without its flaws. The Trailhawk is rated at 20 mpg in the city and 26 on the highway, which falls behind others in the segment. On the inside, the Jeep makes use of some cheap plastics that it shares with lower trims, as well as other FCA models across the board, and when it's pushed hard, the 9-speed automatic transmission takes a minute to think. All forgivable if you're the type looking to get lost in the mountains.
With a sticker of our test model coming in at around $45K, the Cherokee Trailhawk Elite isn't necessarily for the frugal, rather it's for the person that spends the majority of their time in the mountains, and in their vehicle getting there.