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2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk earns its 'Trail Rated' badge (pictures)

The 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk brings true 4x4 off-road capability to a class dominated by soft-roaders.

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Antuan Goodwin
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1 of 27 Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The 2014 Jeep Cherokee drew a lot of criticism for its design when we first drove it late last year.

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2 of 27 Antuan Goodwin/CNET

However, after spending more time with the Trail Rated Cherokee Trailhawk trim level, we don't really care what it looks like.

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3 of 27 Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The Trailhawk brings true off-road capability to this class, starting with upgrades to the suspension and wheel and tire combo.

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The front and rear bumpers have been tweaked to grant the Cherokee improved approach and departure angles.

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"Trail Rated 4x4" badges remind you that this Cherokee is ready to go off of the beaten path.

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Under the hood, you'll find a 183 horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine.

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The Trailhawk is equipped with the top-tier Active Drive Lock 4x4 system, which features a low range mode and a locking rear differential.

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Additionally, the Selec-Speed and Selec-Terrain systems add computer-aided control to the Cherokee's bag of tricks.

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On the road, the Cherokee is able to disconnect its rear axle to reduce drive-train drag in high-grip situations.

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The rear axle can be instantly and automatically engaged when the road gets rough.

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The Cherokee rides a little rough over dirt, but never felt like it was out of its element during our off-raod testing.

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12 of 27 Antuan Goodwin/CNET

With the Selec-Terrain's Rock program, Selec-Speed's brake control, and the 4x4 system locked up in low-range, I was able to keep moving even with a wheel raised 18-inch in the air.

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More articulation would be nice -- an adaptive suspension would be nicer -- but the Trailhawk's suspension was remarkably good for easy to moderately difficult trails.

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Inside, our example featured Nappa Leather seats with red contrast trim.

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Both seats were heated, but the passenger's seat featured this cool little smuggler's compartment.

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In the center of the dashboard, you'll find the 8.4-inch Uconnect navigation system.

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This system can be equipped with the Chrysler Group's Uconnect Access 3G data connection and telematics.

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Standard digital inputs include two USB ports, an SD card slot, and Bluetooth for audio streaming.

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Around the interior and exterior, you'll find many hidden Easter eggs, such as this Wiley's Jeep silhouette at the base of the windshield.

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The optional motorized rear hatch opens and closes at the touch of a button.

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The rear cargo area is spacious.

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Dropping the rear seats opens up even more space for bulky items.

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This metal hoop removes, but we're not really sure why.

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Steering wheel controls are logically laid out. Not equipped here is the optional automatic Parallel and Perpendicular Park Assist system.

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Instrumentation consists of a pair of large gauges that flank a 7-inch information display.

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To find a vehicle in this weight class that can compete with the Cherokee Trailhawk on the trail, you'll have to look to the Range Rover Evoque, a vehicle that can easily cost twice as much.

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We were impressed with the Jeep's off-road performance, but noted the Trailhawk's slight compromises to on-road driving. However, non-Trailhawk models are a bit easier to live on a commute.

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