Go hard or go home

The Advertiser - Motoring - - FIRST DRIVE - CRAIG DUFF

GEN­DER rarely ap­plies to cars but the Jeep Grand Chero­kee Trail­hawk has to be a boy. There’s no other ex­pla­na­tion for its in­sis­tence on cock­ing a leg ev­ery time it — or its pi­lot — gets ex­cited when travers­ing ex­treme of­froad en­vi­ron­ments.

The Jeep is mark­ing its turf, in this case ev­i­denced by black smears of rub­ber en­crusted on the rock. It is an im­pres­sive party trick and one very few cars can match.

And that, at its most ba­sic, sums up the Grand Chero­kee’s ap­peal. It is big, spa­cious fam­ily trans­port that trun­dles over bitumen with rea­son­able com­po­sure dur­ing the week, then takes on rocks and axledeep sand as week­end sport.

When it ar­rives lo­cally about March, the Trail­hawk will be the most off-road ori­ented vari­ant in a six-ver­sion range. The Jeep phi­los­o­phy is to have a Trail­hawk ver­sion on ev­ery model ex­cept the Wran­gler, the Ru­bi­con badge de­not­ing of­froad prow­ess.

Put that down to the 270mm of sus­pen­sion travel, Kevlar­rein­forced tyres and a 4WD setup that fuses the car’s phys­i­cal ca­pa­bil­i­ties with ad­vanced al­go­rithms for ne­go­ti­at­ing sand, rock, mud and snow.

Ameni­ties run to adap­tive cruise con­trol, pow­ered tail­gate and 8.4-inch in­fo­tain­ment dis­play with unique screens show­ing wheel ar­tic­u­la­tion, sus­pen­sion height and driv­ing modes. Jeep has also made a re­vers­ing cam­era stan­dard for the 2017 model year Trail­hawk.

Fiat Chrysler Aus­tralia has yet to an­nounce pric­ing and the 3.0-litre turbo diesel is the only mill con­firmed for Aus­tralia. Cars­guide an­tic­i­pates the 3.6litre petrol will be an op­tion.

Based on the ex­ist­ing price dif­fer­ences, ex­pect to pay about $75,000 for the diesel and $68,000 for the petrol.

Fiat Chrysler de­sign head Mark Allen de­scribes the Trail­hawk, visu­ally iden­ti­fied by a set of red re­cov­ery hooks and the dele­tion of chrome high­lights, as the most ver­sa­tile of the Grand Chero­kees.

“Ev­ery Jeep has to be of­froad ca­pa­ble but the Trail­hawk ex­tends those ca­pa­bil­i­ties,” Allen says. “If you’re not us­ing your tow hooks you’re not go­ing hard enough.”

ON/OFF THE ROAD

The Mo­jave Desert is a sur­real environment of wind-sculpted sand­stone and “struth-I’mstuck” sand. It’s just the lo­ca­tion for a day run in the Trail­hawk, where you’re tee­ter­ing on two wheels one mo­ment and axledeep in dunes the next.

Dual-pur­pose ve­hi­cles are usu­ally com­pro­mised to some ex­tent and the Trail­hawk can’t es­cape that fate dur­ing the high­way drive from Las Ve­gas.

Kevlar-belted tyres aren’t the grip­pi­est road rub­ber and steer­ing feed­back is vague even by big SUV stan­dards, which doesn’t en­cour­age spir­ited driv­ing. The sus­pen­sion, how­ever, tol­er­ates de­cent cor­ner pace with­out mas­sive body roll, so the pas­sen­gers have lit­tle cause for com­plaint.

The deeply bol­stered front seats (from the V8-pow­ered SRT) are as com­fort­able as they look and pro­vide great back and thigh sup­port on any sur­face.

The petrol en­gine was the only one avail­able on the launch. On only a few oc­ca­sions — such as try­ing to main­tain mo­men­tum through 50cmdeep dry sand — would the diesel’s ex­tra grunt (185kW/ 570Nm) have been ap­pre­ci­ated.

It takes only a short run from the rock-crawl­ing course to the sand track to ap­pre­ci­ate how the lit­tle SelecTer­rain driv­ing mode knob di­als up the right in­puts for the con­di­tions.

With the mode still set to rock the Trail­hawk in­sists on push­ing wide on a climb­ing left­hand turn on a dune. Flick the knob to sand and the un­der­steer morphs into pre­ci­sion as the Jeep ploughs through the soft stuff, with­out drop­ping tyre pres­sures or lock­ing diffs.

The rock course high­lights the value of the hill as­cent and de­scent con­trol. The pad­dleshifters ad­just speed in 1km/h in­cre­ments, help­ing to elim­i­nate the in­evitable surges when the driver is try­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously to brace the right foot and tap the throt­tle. It takes some of the stress out of ne­go­ti­at­ing ob­sta­cles where con­tact tends to bend me­tal.

That doesn’t ap­ply to the un­der­car­riage, where Jeep has fixed four me­tal skid plates to pro­tect crit­i­cal com­po­nents if driv­ers scrape over an ob­sta­cle. The re­mov­able front bumper fas­cia opens the ap­proach an­gle from 30 de­grees to 36.

VER­DICT

A good thing done bet­ter, the Grand Chero­kee Trail­hawk is a com­fort­able fam­ily car ca­pa­ble of go­ing off-road on week­ends … as­sum­ing the com­pany fixes its qual­ity con­trol is­sues.

AT A GLANCE JEEP CHERO­KEE GRAND TRAIL­HAWK

PRICE

From $68,000 (est)

WAR­RANTY

3 years/100,000km

SER­VICE IN­TER­VALS

6 months/12,000km

SAFETY

5 stars, 7 airbags

EN­GINE 3.6-litre V6, 210kW/347Nm

TRANS­MIS­SION 8-speed auto; 4WD

THIRST 10.4L/100km DI­MEN­SIONS 4828mm (L), 1943mm (W), 1802mm (H), 2915mm (WB) WEIGHT 2307kg TOW­ING 2800kg

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