“This thing is too pretty for this,” I thought to myself. It was pre-dawn, and I’d snuck out of home to go muck about in a well-kept secret trail nestled not far from downtown Toronto. My burnt-orange chariot glistened in the early morning light, the matte black lump on the bonnet adding intrigue to the purposeful lines of the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk. Red tow hooks protrude from under the front and rear bars, open ended so you can sling a looped snatch-strap over them. I wouldn’t be using those today even if I did get stuck. Why? Because I’d decided to go out four-wheel-driving alone.

Rule one of the four-wheel–driving guide book: Don’t go alone. Thankfully I have already had experience with the extreme capabilities of the Trailhawk and was full of confidence in its abilities. On this morning we’d only be tackling the moderate stuff – getting a feel for the automatic speed control and the ground clearance as well as the ride over rougher ground. Besides, I was walking distance from a major highway if anything did go wrong. As long as my fail didn’t involve paraplegia or shattered limbs I’d be fine. This thing has airbags, right?

But honestly, it’s near on impossible to do anything too wrong in the Cherokee. The suite of electronic and mechanical upgrades make it a steadfast solider over pretty much any terrain. I’ve personally run now over thick mud, deep ruts, narrow creek beds, hard rock, gravel, dirt, ice, and snow and never once had the Cherokee hint at getting stuck. In properly confidence-sapping conditions I just set the crawl control and let the Cherokee creep forward at its own pace, keeping my clumsy feet well clear of the pedals and providing only gentle guidance through the steering wheel.

In terms of rock crawling, this little trail was not as intense as the one we sampled on the Jeep Cherokee first drive event back in 2013 so I had no qualms about that. What I was interested in was how this rode over rough terrain when the nut behind the wheel decided to go all wide-open-throttle on it – a test I’d not been able to conduct under the watchful eyes of the Jeep media handlers.

The Trailhawk skipped over the narrower ruts and absorbed the wider ones with ease, crashing through little mud banks with no perceptible loss of traction; there was obviously a lot of sliding and understeering, but the little Cherokee never felt like it was going to submarine or get stuck. When one particularly deep rut caught me unawares there was a loud scraping noise from the underside, but when I got out for a quick “oh crap how much will this cost me?” inspection I discovered the bash plates were barely marked. Walking back to the top of the peak I’d careened into with my undercarriage I found it had been whittled down. The Jeep it seems, is happy to reshape its environment.

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