Go hard or go home

If you’re not us­ing the Trail­hawk’s tow hooks to get out of trou­ble, Jeep says, you’re not try­ing

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - First Drive - CRAIG DUFF [email protected]

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 — some Land Rovers might make it this far down the trail but the own­ers will be in hys­ter­ics.

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

The Trail­hawk is — or will be when it ar­rives lo­cally about March — the most off-road ori­ented vari­ant in a six-ver­sion model range. The Jeep phi­los­o­phy is to have a Trail­hawk ver­sion on ev­ery model ex­cept the Wran­gler, where the Ru­bi­con badge de­notes its off-road 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.

In­te­rior ameni­ties ex­tend 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 con­firm pric­ing but says the Trail­hawk diesel will sit be­tween the $69,000 Lim­ited and the $79,000 Over­land. The 3.0-litre turbo diesel is the only mill con­firmed for Aus­tralia, though Cars­guide ex­pects the 3.6-litre petrol to be an op­tion.

Based on the ex­ist­ing price dif­fer­ences, ex­pect to pay about $75,000 for the diesel. The petrol ver­sion is likely to be about $68,000, be­tween the equiv­a­lent Lim­ited at $62,000 and Over­land at $72,000.

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. “It caters for a par­tic­u­lar type of owner: with the Trail­hawk if you’re not us­ing your tow hooks you’re not go­ing hard enough.”


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 (bor­rowed from the V8pow­ered 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 dur­ing the Trail­hawk launch and there were only a few oc­ca­sions — such as try­ing to main­tain mo­men­tum while ham­mer­ing through 50cm-deep dry sand — where the diesel’s ex­tra grunt (185kW/570Nm) would 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 in­sisted on push­ing wide on a climb­ing left hand turn through 20cm of sand. Flick the knob to sand and the un­der­steer morphs into pre­ci­sion as the Jeep ploughs through the soft stuff, with­out any need to change tyre pres­sures or lock 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 the de­fault pick as a com­fort­able fam­ily car ca­pa­ble of go­ing off on the week­ends … as­sum­ing the com­pany fixes its qual­ity con­trol is­sues.

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