Trail boss

Reckon the Wran­gler is the only ‘proper’ 4WD in the cur­rent Jeep line-up? You ob­vi­ously haven’t driven a Grand Chero­kee Trail­hawk off-road.


OK, it ’s not Utah’s Ru­bi­con Trail. But the out­wardly gen­tly tucks and folds of grass and scrub-cov­ered sand dunes be­hind Kar­i­oitahi Beach’s Cast­away Re­sort hide some sur­pris­ingly gnarly lit tle steps, climbs, drop- offs and oth­er­wise bumper and/ or un­der­car­riage- grab­bing du­vets. In the­ory the old-school, body- on­chas­sis LWB Wran­gler that was with us should have been the pre­ferred mode of trans­port the day a group of the coun­try’s mo­tor not­ers was there to sam­ple Jeep’s lat­est NZ of­fer­ings. With its distinc­tive, square- rigged sil­hou­ette it cer­tainly looked the part. Yet wher­ever it went, so too did the Trail­hawk ver­sion of the com­pany’s medium/ large ca­pac­ity SUV. The Grand Chero­kee. Plenty, more re­cently, of course, has been writ­ten about Bri­tish ri­val

Land Rover’s sleek, stream­lined new Dis­cov­ery. Yet – par­tic­u­larly now it comes in a Trail­hawk ver­sion – the Grand Chero­kee is equally as ca­pa­ble.

Range of pos­si­bil­i­ties

Now one of five dif­fer­ent mod­els in the lo­cal Grand Chero­kee line ( Laredo, Ltd, Trail­hawk, Over­land and SRT) avail­able here, the 184kW/ 550Nm 3.0 litre tur­bod­iesel-pow­ered Trail­hawk, which has an RRP of $ 94,990, sits slap- bang in the mid­dle of the line- up and is pitched at the buyer who is def­i­nitely in­ter­ested in head­ing off the beaten track. Though it takes a keen eye to ini­tially pick out the signs ( the matt- black paint in­serts on the bon­net, red tow hooks and Ru­bi­con Trail- earned ‘ Trail- rated’ badges are the key give­aways) the Trail­hawk comes ‘ loaded for bear.’ While its easy – not to men­tion con­sid­er­ably cheaper – to con­tem­plate buy­ing a Wran­gler if you want to mix a lit tle off-piste week­end and sum­mer hol­i­day ad­ven­ture with your daily driv­ing chores, in Trail­hawk-spec the Grand Chero­kee ( T-GC) has the goods to match it. Sure, the thought of pulling loose a front or rear bumper at the base of a greasy drop, or slip­ping off a goolly ( West Coast word for a large, smooth rock in a fast­flow­ing river) and crunch­ing a chas­sis rail or sill, is go­ing to be enough to put most own­ers off ven­tur­ing too far off road in close to $ 100K’s worth of leather­trimmed fam­ily SUV. The odd Grand Chero­kee turns up on down-coun­try Tala­longs though, and I’m sure more will as the word gets around about just how ca­pa­ble the Trail­hawk ver­sion is. At Cast­aways we got to try out all the many and var­ied op­tions un­der the watch­ful eye of 4WD trainer Colin Bur­den.

First step

First step was an in­crease in ride height ( by over 50mm) us­ing Jeep’s push-but­ton Quadra-Lift air sus­pen­sion sys­tem. We then played around with the ( Sand, Snow, Mud and Auto) grip modes which you can pick and choose from us­ing a sim­ple ro­tary dial, be­fore a ’stop’n drop into 4WD Low ( an­other push but­ton op­er­a­tion). As well as the ride height rais­ing and low­er­ing func­tion, the top- of-the- line Quadra- Drive 11 4WD sys­tem Jeep fits to the Trail­hawk GC ( T- GC) you also get an Elec­tronic Lim­ited Slip Dif­fer­en­tial ( E- LSD) which you se­lect on the ro­tary dial) and Selec- Speed Con­trol with Hill As­cent Con­trol. The lat­ter is ef­fec­tively a crawler ‘gear’ which takes over the job of edg­ing you up and back down again any slope ( within rea­son!) you aim your T- GC at. You are still in con­trol, to a point, in that you can vary the ‘crawl’ speed up or down ( in one km/ h in­cre­ments no less) us­ing the ‘ flappy pad­dles’ at­tached to the steer­ing wheel. But be­lieve me, it would take a very skilled and/ or vastly ex­pe­ri­enced right foot to find the grip the ‘sys­tem’ does, par­tic­u­larly where you have dif­fer­ent lev­els of trac­tion ( as we did on one slope) in the left and right wheel ruts. All on 18- inch al­loys shod with Goodyear Ad­ven­ture A/ T t yres run­ning road ( read 32 psi) t yre pres­sures!

Beg­gars be­lief

What a T- GC could achieve, in terms of where you could take one here in New Zealand, with a set of af­ter­mar­ket M/ Ts run­ning lower pres­sures re­ally beg­gars be­lief. Par­tic­u­larly when you fac­tor in the four sep­a­rate skid plates un­der­neath, and clever pack­ag­ing around the bumpers front and rear which sees an ap­proach an­gle of 29.8 de­grees and a de­par­ture one of 22.8 de­grees. In­side, Trail­hawk mod­els fea­ture a mix of com­fort­able, sup­port­ive black leather and suede sports seats, a gun- metal fin­ish on all painted in­te­rior parts and red ac­cent stitch­ing on the seats, doors and con­sole. An 8.4- inch Ucon­nect touch screen is stan­dard and comes com­plete – get this! – with scrol­lable ‘pages’ show­ing not only the 4x4 and Selec-Ter­rain modes you are in, but also func­tions such as sus­pen­sion height and wheel ar­tic­u­la­tion.

Peach of a pow­er­plant

No men­tion of any of the GCs so equipped would be com­plete, ei­ther, without a word or t wo – fan­tas­tic re­sponse, bestin-class, etc – about the creamy-smooth and com­mend­ably quiet turbo- diesel en­gine ( se­ri­ously, it re­ally is a peach of a pow­er­plant on and off the road) and match­ing eight-speed ZF au­to­matic trans­mis­sion. I also ap­pre­ci­ated the height AND reach-ad­justable( and now elec­tri­callyas­sisted) steer­ing wheel and sys­tem. And yes, once you have been cold enough of a win­ter’s morn­ing to ap­pre­ci­ate both a heated seat AND steer­ing wheel, be­lieve me, you will find it hard go­ing back to a car not so thought­fully ( lav­ishly?) ap­pointed! While there’s no get­ting away from its size, foot­print and con­sid­er­able heft ( you’re talk­ing three tonnes when you fac­tor in even a 60kg driver) the T- GC has a deft, sporty sort of per­son­al­ity which only adds to its ‘on- pa­per’ ap­peal. The only thing I didn’t re­ally like about it, in fact, was the foot- op­er­ated ‘ hand brake.’ But that is more a per­sonal thing. What im­pressed me most about the T- GC was the level of off- road ca­pa­bil­ity in a uni­body. Mean­ing that if you do have the ware withal a new Dis­cov­ery is by no means your only op­tion.

Test­ing the speed-ad­justable crawl func­tion. Story by Ross Mackay. Pho­tos by Jeep and Ed­ward Rowe.

Ed­i­tor Ross MacKay casts away in the Jeep Grand Chero­kee Trail­hawk NZ4WD

Real-time view of drive-sys­tem on dash touch­screen

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