There was a downpour replete with thunder and lightning. It was angry weather, frightening in intensity and wind speed. I was tempted to plow through the hostile climate, man and machine against nature. But the 8.4-inch Uconnect screen was carrying an emergency weather warning including flood alerts for my driving area.
I laughed at myself. Idiot! This is how so many people wind up being rescued on the evening news, if they are lucky, driving when they should be parked, betting that their four-wheel-drive vehicles are mightier than the Almighty, venturing into water of uncertain depth and flow force because, after all, “I’m driving a Jeep.”
I was driving a Jeep — the 2015 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk 4x4. The Trailhawk is what I call “Jeep Heavy,” equipped with a bona fide off-road-drive system, especially designed to rumble in the rough. In fair weather and on paved roads, I felt invincible in the Trailhawk. Off-road, that is, in limited off-road runs, and in foul weather, I felt daring — that is, stupid.
I thank Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, maker of all things Jeep, for anticipating my self-destructive hubris. The Uconnect screen’s flood warnings were clear, in paraphrased summary: You might want to reconsider driving in this direction. Floodwaters can be deep . . . and swift. You have one heck of a capable sport-utility vehicle, but you seriously might want to reconsider what you are about to do.
I reconsidered and found a parking spot on a Northern Virginia hill I estimated to be safely above flood level. I parked and waited for the storm to pass.
I probably could have continued forward in the midst of the storm without incident. I was in a Jeep Trailhawk 4x4, after all, one of the heaviest of the “Jeep Heavy” class. But pride is a funny thing. It would’ve been a more exciting automotive review to be able to write that I mastered nature’s fury with tough driving in a tough Jeep Trailhawk. But I feared that God might reward my ego with a postmortem headline in The Washington Post: “Columnist Warren Brown swept away in flash flood; authorities looking for body in a Jeep.”
Embarrassing! And I don’t like being embarrassed, especially not in my absence when I’m not around to offer a defense, or, at least, an explanation however implausible.
Besides, the Uconnect emergency information system gave me fair warning. I remembered that joke about a man atop his roof, hopelessly trapped by rapidly rising flood waters. “Oh, God,” he pleaded, “please save me!” To which God responded: “I told you to leave earlier. Why didn’t you listen?”
To which the trapped supplicant replied: “I didn’t think you were serious.”
To which God replied: “Well, do you think I’m serious, now?”
Nope, there would be enough soggy, safer roads, muddy and paved, to examine the Trailhawk’s prowess after the storm. It is a remarkable compact SUV, especially equipped with Fiat Chrysler’s optional 3.2-liter V-6 gasoline engine (271 horsepower, 239 pound-feet of torque).
That engine, linked to a nine-speed — that’s right, nine-speed — automatic transmission, is one of the best available in the compact-SUV class. It pulls with surprising ease and grace and reasonable fuel efficiency, 19 miles per gallon in the city and 26 on the highway.
But if you are looking at the Trailhawk, make sure you are looking at that 3.2-liter V-6. The Jeep Cherokee comes standard with a 2.4-liter in-line four-cylinder gasoline engine (184 horsepower, 171 pound-feet of torque). It is more fuel-efficient than the V-6 (delivering 21 miles per gallon in the city and 28 on the highway). But that four-cylinder engine is a disconcerting wimp in the Trailhawk. Get the V-6.
I enjoyed my time in this one in weather fair and foul. It was a good drive companion on wet and muddy roads. It moved with confidence on high-speed highways. It is a genuine Jeep.
Bottom line: People shopping for a high-quality, neatly styled, compact four-wheel-drive vehicle with genuine off-road capability should consider the Trailhawk, with the V-6 gasoline engine. If fuel economy is a primary concern, take a look at the gasoline-four-cylinder Honda CR-V.
Ride, acceleration and handling: This gets good marks in all three.
Head-turning quotient: It’s controversial. The Trailhawk’s sleek, forward styling offends some Jeep traditionalists. But many folks like the Trailhawk’s stylish body with its slanted narrow front grille and slender, wraparound LED headlamps.
Body style/layout: The Cherokee is a front-engine, compact four-door sport-utility-vehicle with a rear hatch available with front-wheel or four-wheel drive. There are four trim levels — Sport, Latitude, Trailhawk and Limited.
Engines/transmission: It comes standard with a 2.4-liter in-line four-cylinder gasoline engine (184 horsepower, 171 pound-feet of torque). The Trailhawk model used for this column was equipped with an optional 3.2-liter, 24-valve gasoline V-6 with variable valve timing. Both engines come standard with a nine-speed automatic transmission that can be operated manually.
Capacities: Seating is for five people. Cargo capacity is 24.8 cubic feet with all seats in place. The fuel tank holds 15.8 gallons (regular gasoline is fine). The Cherokee can tow up to 4,500 pounds.
Mileage: I averaged 25 miles per gallon in highway driving.
Safety: Standard equipment includes four-wheel disc brakes, ventilated front and solid rear; four-wheel anti-lock brake protection; emergency braking assistance; stability and traction control; post-collision safety system; and side and head air bags.
Recommended advanced electronic safety system: Rear parking assistance, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic monitoring, lane-departure warning, exterior mirrors with turn signals.
Prices: The 2015 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk 4x4 starts at $30,395, with an estimated dealer invoice price of $28,000. Price as tested is $36,869, including $5,479 in options. Estimated dealer’s price as tested is $34,000.