Trail Rated: The 2020 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Elite

Updated: Nov 12, 2020

The 2020 Jeep Cherokee Elite is a mid-sized, five-passenger SUV with four-wheel drive. But most importantly, it has a badge right below the A-pillar.

That's Jeep's "Trail Rated" badge. The thing that separates "real" Jeeps from its smaller, less-capable, urban vehicles (Renegade, Compass). To be "Trail Rated", a Jeep model must meet standards for traction, water fording, maneuverability, articulation and ground clearance. Testing happens in several places, none more famous than the Rubicon Trail in the Sierra Nevada of Northern California.

Rubicon Trail map (courtesy Google Maps)

The Rubicon Trail is 22 miles long and takes you from the end of the road on the west side of the Sierra to the west shore of Lake Tahoe---a trip that's four times longer on pavement, but still a LOT quicker. Off-roaders on the Rubicon Trail usually take a weekend, sometimes longer. I've never done it, and probably never will. As Clint Eastwood said, "A man's gotta know his limitations", and my spatial issues and coordination could be better. But my colleague in Western Automotive Journalists here in Northern California, Emme Hall, who works for C/NET's Roadshow, lives for this kind of stuff, and did a great video of what it's like to drive the Rubicon Trail in a stock Jeep Wrangler:

I live only 71 miles from the Loon Lake trailhead for the Rubicon, and had hoped to at least park next to a trailhead sign and give the Cherokee Trailhawk the right setting, but early-fall wildfires had the road closed five miles early, so I settled for as close as I could get, along Ice House Road near the south fork of the Rubicon River.

Under the hood is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine packing 270 horsepower. That's enough to get the Cherokee Trailhawk up to 60 miles per hour from a standing start in 6.7 seconds. It's mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission . EPA fuel economy estimates are 20 miles per gallon in the city and 26 on the highway.

The suspension has been retuned for better on-road ride comfort, and the cargo area has been reworked to provide an additional four cubic feet of cargo space.

The base price of the 2020 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Elite is $34,505. The window sticker is at the end of this review so you can see for yourself, but among the standard equipment highlights are hill descent control, all-speed traction control, electronic roll mitigation, and blind-spot/crosspath detection.

Our tester also had nearly $10,000 in extra-cost options. Again, I'll refer you to the window sticker at the end of this review. With $1,495 destination charge, the as-tested price for the 2020 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Elite comes to $45,425.

While that's a big gap between starting and ending prices, the 2020 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Elite is a serious off-road machine that is also a very comfortable place to do your daily driving. It more than justifies its price tag.

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