By on June 9, 2015

2015 Jeep Cherokee Moab

Jeeping in Moab isn’t only a neologism — it’s also a tradition. Like most traditions (anniversaries, birthdays, etc.) it’s hard to pin when the rites began, why they started, or – most importantly – why they continue. For people who live in and around Moab, Jeeping is a mostly tolerable exercise that pours money into the small, southern Utah town that welcomes more its hikers, bikers and frequent hitchhikers to its two spectacular national parks than any rolling convoy of rock-crawling muscle.

I’m guessing very few people in the town can remember why the first person took a motorized vehicle up a beautiful geological formation and into the sand behind it.

Jeeping is also mildly entertaining for locals, up until the moment someone rolls up the hill in a car that looks like it has very little business being there. Then it becomes wonderfully fascinating for everyone.

As we began to climb, the tourists in Hummers peered over their canopied seats to witness firsthand something they may watch again later on YouTube. Jacked-up Suzukis and Wranglers pulled to the side to let us pass as their drivers looked on in disbelief. Wonderful.

And weird, which is how I felt creeping up on the slick rock and hopelessly male-affirming high-five gauntlet of “Hell’s Revenge,” a trail named far-too manly for something so desperately pretty. I guess calling it “Gorgeous Rock Formation” doesn’t get the same number of high fives.

I could see the looks on their faces at the top: No one brings a new Cherokee up here.

2015 Jeep Cherokee Moab

The miles of winding sand, slick rock and brush is hailed as a beginner’s rite of passage for off-roaders, a necessary challenge before tackling hairy-chested boulders drivers routinely tumble down.

The 2015 Jeep Cherokee, for all its grumblings and detractors, has mostly wriggled its way into the American consciousness, helping Jeep sell more cars last month than ever before (many of them were Wranglers) and finding traction in suburban parking lots all over the U.S.

Moab felt like a frontier the Cherokee should finally conquer, albeit carefully.

(Jeep brought a steady stream of international journalists to Moab to taste firsthand how an American icon crawls up another American icon. Most of the assembled foreign journalists were unaware, when it was announced, the Cherokee went over like a proverbial turd with hardcore Jeep fans — or, you know, the type of people who take their Jeeps to Moab — in the states screaming all the while. I wanted to find out if that fuss was entirely accurate. Also, there’s probably uncomfortably close-up footage of me eating salmon on Korean TV.)

A personal note: I learned how to drive in a 1984 Jeep Cherokee when I was 13 years old. The four-speed, two-door Cherokee had less power than a UN resolution and its plaid seats reeked of stale cigarettes and sweat. The driver’s seat was also broken, which made stamping the clutch impossible. I loved it.

To be fair, we weren’t exactly driving 1986 Toyota Camrys down “Fins and Things” (another famously tricky spot out in the desert). These were stock Cherokee Trailhawks, which are supposed to be tough, ready to crawl and conquer anything, and wear shirts without sleeves – or something. Jeff Hammoud, who is a Jeep design manager, talked us through the approach and departure angles of the Trailhawk (29.9 and 32.2 degrees, respectively) that translated to most of us as: “If you can see it, try it.”

2015 Jeep Cherokee Moab

The Trailhawks given to us were 3.2-liter V6 specimens with 271 horsepower and 239 lb-ft of torque, which are splendid smaller-bore versions of Chrysler’s Swiss Army engine, their Pentastar V6. What differentiates the Trailhawk from other models – aside from the bright red tow hooks that look like nerdy suspenders – are the unique front and rear fascias aggressively cut back toward the wheels for better climbing angles, a 1-inch factory lift, locking rear differential (that we used exactly once) and marvelous 17-inch Firestone Destination A/T shoes that could take more torture than the entire SEAL Team Six. Those are wonderful tires.

Of course, beyond the Cherokee’s aero-friendly looks, detractors have pointed to the impossibly complicated 9-speed automatic transmission as reason enough to never buy a new Jeep again. The busy 948TE ZF box, which has been called here “as calm as Robin Williams,” has stumbled out of the gate — and that’s putting it kindly. The question on my mind was whether the box could get out of the way fast enough and let me get to banging on the Trailhawk’s skid plates.

At least, I hoped that thud was a skid plate.

Through two days and a couple hundred miles of more punishment than any vehicle should be asked to handle, the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk soaked up horrendous heat and pounds of dust to deliver us from one postcard setting to another. With the A/C blasting, ventilated seats prohibiting pervasive, smelly man-ass from staining the cabin (and our souls) and satellite radio piping in Ed Lover, I quickly discovered this is how every explorer should traverse the desert from now on.


I was reminded Jeep offers the Cherokee Trailhawk with a smaller engine – a 2.4-liter four – that I would have liked to try on the trail, but we didn’t drive those. Flogging that engine through dusty roads and up small mountains would have sent me 20 years into the past, diving through the back roads of Montana with my dad in the Bathroom Beige Jeep, which I lovingly dubbed “The Heep.”

For nearly $40,000, the Cherokee should be able to at least meet expectations — which aren’t high for most people — but the Trailhawk exceeded mine. Yes, Jeep Jamboree staff meticulously handled the trails, and the lines over technical areas were clearer than a desert sunrise, but the Cherokee can crawl over seriously tricky stuff with or without help. No, really. It can.

And the Cherokee’s only significant flaw out here wasn’t its 9-speed transmission — off-roading with low-range selected keeps it in low gears all the time, and that’s just fine — but rather its electric power rack.

After the first day, our Cherokee developed a sick front suspension (my best guess was an out-of-whack lower control arm or something, I’m not much of a wrench) that sounded like hell but drove just fine. Absolutely none of the suspension’s trauma came through the steering wheel, which led me to believe we could have completely lost the wheel and never been the wiser. It’s hard to believe the new generation Wrangler could have the same rack, but I sincerely hope not.

2015 Jeep Cherokee Moab

After two days and 14 hours of hard banging, scraping and scrambling up slick rock, we exited the trails and passed a supreme Wrangler Unlimited with an LS3 swap up front, a child seat in the rear and out-of-state plates. The woman driving, who looked to be in her late 50s, stared at our train of foreign journalists driving roughly 20 Cherokees down the red rock like a Labrador retriever stares a ceiling fan.

No one brings a new Cherokee up here, I could read on her face.

Well, they can. And I think that’s the point.

2015 Jeep Cherokee Moab


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43 Comments on “2015 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Meets Moab: A Desert Duel...”

  • avatar

    One of my coworkers is in the market for either one of these or a 200. I want her to have the navigation system, moonroof and AWD with V6 – whichever she chooses.

  • avatar

    “like a Labrador retriever stares a ceiling fan.”

    Or like a boy journo stares at hooters. Except she probably wasn’t rubbing her crotch.

  • avatar

    Did they talk about how great the articulation is while it had one of the rear wheels 18″ off the ground? Jeep released a youtube video that said that exact thing when the Trailhawk was released.

    I’m sure the thing has a capable 4WD system, but this is basically a marketing stunt. It can do Moab in a carefully managed, manufacture-sponsored event… which basically serves as evidence that the Trailhawk purchased by Chad in Accounting wasn’t an impulsive “man, that looks cool with the red tow hooks!” purchase but rather the purchase of a legit offroader. This event proves [sic] that people with zero offroading intentions can buy the Trailhawk without poser shame because it can do Moab.

    Disclosure, I have no problem with the Cherokee Trailhawk. Good for Jeep and good for the people that buy them. The posturing to prove that the vehicle is an amazing offroader is what makes me cynical. There’s nothing wrong with buying a vehicle or trimline just because you like the look.

    • 0 avatar

      This, the article would have been much more honest if it wasn’t done in a press event that laid out the direction of the trip. Those wranglers aren’t decked out for looks, it’s needed to safely get home.

    • 0 avatar

      Spot on Quentin. The rear locker is the ace up the Cherokee’s sleeve, as the articulation is inherently very poor. It’s an interesting engineering exercise to get a sedan based platform to get around as well as it does, but it is still just that: Jeep engineers flexing their design prowess with something that is just not fit for the task.

      This was particularly telling:

      “After the first day, our Cherokee developed a sick front suspension (my best guess was an out-of-whack lower control arm or something, I’m not much of a wrench) that sounded like hell but drove just fine.”

      That’s a single trip, on a manufacturer prepared course. What do you think will happen to something like this crossover based on Dart guts, over continued use in these environs?

      Despite that, I actually like the general idea of a more efficient, more comfortable vehicle that still has good clearance and more offroad chops than the typical lame-duck CUV. Up until this point Subaru was the only player in this field IMO (that and the departed Suzuki SX4 and Grand Vitara)

      But my biggest beef with the Cherokee is the lack of space to actually carry things, the cargo space is minuscule for the class. The whole point of buying an SUV for me was to go on trips, carrying people and cargo (camping gear, canoes, dogs, bikes) to enjoy the outdoors off the beaten path. What’s the point of the capability if the utility factor is absent?

      • 0 avatar

        Yep, exactly. I would have considered the Cherokee against our Forester had it been available when we bought. But then I would have rejected it because the Forester’s interior is SO MUCH more spacious.

        With respect to the off-road chops of these things, Moab is missing the point. What they need to be able to do is to get through bumpy Forest Service roads and other unmaintained two-track. They don’t need to climb boulders or dunes or cross deep mud pits. What they need is good ground clearance (8″ or more), reasonably decent approach/departure angles, and an AWD system that doesn’t roll over and die if one wheel has no traction. Right now the Cherokee and the Forester are really the only cars in this size class that qualify, unless you count the far more expensive Audi Q5.

        • 0 avatar

          Subaru has really cut back the capability of their CVT equipped AWD vehicles. It relies on X mode to lock power split from front to rear. This basically puts it in the same category as your FWD biased systems that have a transfer case lock feature (RAV4, some of the Hyundais). Even then, all the systems rely on some sort of ABS for left to right power transfer unless they have a locker. The thing is that most of the ABS systems are pretty darn capable for every day use despite what Subaru’s roller YouTube videos say.

        • 0 avatar

          “… Moab is missing the point. What they need to be able to do is to get through bumpy Forest Service roads and other unmaintained two-track. They don’t need to climb boulders or dunes or cross deep mud pits. What they need is good ground clearance (8″ or more), reasonably decent approach/departure angles, and an AWD system that doesn’t roll over and die if one wheel has no traction.”

          I think Moab actually makes the point for them. They’re saying that if the Cherokee can handle Moab, it can handle pretty much anything the average driver will ever need it to do and more. You get lost on a dirt road or maybe cut off by a landslide/mudslide, the Cherokee may just get you through when some other, lesser vehicle can’t.

    • 0 avatar

      While it’s true that articulation on both Cherokee and Renegade leaves a lot to be desired, it was also my experience that articulation is not the weakest spot of CUVs such as RAV4. The two biggest issues that I encountered consistently was the lack of crawl and the poor ramp angle. Jacking a Renegade up from the factory for the Trailhawk trim helps with the ramp angle, even if it damages its poor articulation even further.

    • 0 avatar

      I think I found a non PR cherokee at mohab video


  • avatar

    Pumping up the Jeep brand to make the whole company more attractive for a take over (i mean merger). It’s worked many times before.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve Biro

      Maybe. Maybe not. But Jeep has done this kind of thing with almost every new model it has introduced over the past 30 years – regardless of owner.

  • avatar

    My experience with all modern Chryslers, and I don’t think this model is any different, has been this: If you get one with the V6+UConnect, its a genuinely nice car (300, 200, Cherokee, etc.). Good feature set, great infotainment, nice powertrain. But its only nice as a new car, and it doesn’t take long before you notice the quality issues, and the squeaks and rattles that are starting way too early. I could do a short-term lease on a Chrysler, but I could never own one.

  • avatar

    Honestly, this should have been done with Renegades, not Cherokees. It would have more impact because of the smaller size.

  • avatar

    It’s sad that Jeep are incapable of building a vehicle with two solid axles, a real locking transfer case, AND an aerodynamic body with a fixed roof. Those demands require nothing more than reworking the existing Wrangler tub. Perhaps “pathetic” is a better description of Jeeps efforts.

    However, the Cherokee (in Trailhawk trim) is not the abomination everyone feared, though it’s longevity and resale have yet to be proven.

    • 0 avatar

      If I could buy a Wrangler Unlimited in true hardtop format, I’d be driving one right now. As it sits the rollbars just eat up way too much interior room, the rear hatch opening is more work than it needs to be, and it isn’t possible to haul heavy things on the roof without a huge external cage-type rack.

      A solid front axle, BOF SUV with a stick shift, man that’d just about the pinnacle of things for me.

      • 0 avatar

        Similar for me. As oil started creeping into the $50-$60 dollar range 10 years ago, I hoped Jeep would build an aerodynamic hardtop version of the Wrangler so I could afford to drive my Jeep to the mountains.

        It would only need to make 24-25mpg on the highway. 24mpg is 40% better fuel economy than my Wrangler TJ and 15% better than JKU.

        I’m not bothered by the rollcage though. It’s a nice thing to have when you’re in the Mountain West.

      • 0 avatar

        Personally, I despise the idea of a non-removable roof on the Wrangler. I bought my ’08 with both tops and after the first winter with it on, I never put the hardtop BACK on. She’s still wearing the original soft top with vinyl windows after surviving now 6 winters and 7 hot summers wearing nothing but the canvas overhead. The vinyl windows finally need replacing, but not due to scratches; rather, goose poo is remarkably acidic and has actually etched several spots in the rear panel.

        • 0 avatar

          I’ve yet to hear of a manufacturer that doesn’t build cars for people who don’t want them.

          Manufacturers usually build cars for people who want them, and the excitement was palpable when Jeep announced a new Cherokee. Jeeple assumed would be similar to the old XJ or some sort of vehicle based on the Wrangler platform.

          Needless to say, Jeep used its core customer to build hype, though Jeep had no plans to deliver. That is the story, not that you don’t want a car they don’t make.

    • 0 avatar

      They’re capable of it.

      They just don’t.

      Who’d buy it?

      (Wrangler buyers? A whole lot of them want *an Iconic Wrangler*, and that means convertible shaped like a brick.

      The people who actually bought the new Cherokee? All ten of them that would care about rock crawling or extreme offroading.

      The people who wanted some Modernized Old School Cherokee But Refuse To Consider A Wrangler Or THe New Cherokee? Ain’t enough of those to matter, compared to the money-printing license that is the new Cherokee.

      Might as well ask “why doesn’t Toyota sell the Real F-Series LandCruiser Here”, because the answer’s the same: No money in it.)

  • avatar

    Full Disclosure: I leased one of these for my wife a few months ago.

    I echo those who have concerns about long term reliability with these rigs, but as my lease ends before factory warranty, I must confess to liking the thing a lot more than anticipated. U Connect, a huge sunroof and even reasonable feel given the A/T tires, it gets a surprising amount of love from my wife’s friends, at least. I also think the Jeep brand sits in a great mind-space, not lux or regular.

    My wife wanted ‘zombie-apocalypse’ level ability. Anyone know where in Moab one goes to test that?

  • avatar

    The Cherokee is not something I’d buy, for a few reasons. But I’m proud of Jeep for building it. Instead of capitalizing on high ground-clearance and the trademark seven-slat grille, the company actually engineered this vehicle to be…well…a proper Jeep, within the constraints of its platform. No, it’s not nearly as capable as the Wrangler or even the Grand Cherokee, but it’s the Jeep of compact FWD crossovers.

  • avatar

    Is there any reason to believe that there are cars that can’t drive up Hell’s Revenge?

  • avatar

    I would say that this experiment was a success. They had to do SOMETHING to dispel the image of a too-pretty-to-be-a-real-Jeep SUV that went against the whole Jeep reason for being. (Sorry, I don’t speak the French.) Now, no one needs to feel embarrassed about looking at or even buying one of these. And if they buy one, they need not fear going offroad with the family onboard.

  • avatar

    > After the first day, our Cherokee developed a sick front suspension (my best guess was an out-of-whack lower control arm or something, I’m not much of a wrench) that sounded like hell but drove just fine.

    As a former XJ owner, this makes me sad. It had its faults, but the suspension and drive train seemed pretty indestructable, believe me I tried a few times.

  • avatar

    It seems some here don’t understand–or don’t WANT to understand–what the new Cherokee has done for Jeep. It hasn’t cannibalized sales of other models, it has become a viable model of its own that is, despite most arguments, capable as a 4×4, even if it doesn’t have solid axles. It’s certainly no worse than its closest competition, the Rovers, at roughly half the price.

  • avatar

    And how are those chunky AT tires on the road, where the women who buy these will spend 97% of their time?

    The red tow hooks need to go, if I had to get a Trailhawk trim, I’d repaint them to match body color.

    And $40,000 is hella expensive for something this small.
    And most of these will NOT be sold with V6 anyway, come on!

    • 0 avatar

      They’re fine. Profile of tires makes driving in Northeast a pleasure after our winter the roads resemble lunar landscapes.

      It’s a shocking competent on-roader, and a better handler than any truck based vehicle out there…

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