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 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!
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