Go hard or go home
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.
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
From $68,000 (est)
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