WHAT IS IT?
The most off-road capable variant of Jeep’s full-size 4x4 SUV.
WHY WE’RE DRIVING IT
Trailhawk adds extra underbody protection, increased ride height, additional axle articulation and ultra-tough rubber to (theoretically) take you places where a regular Grand Cherokee may struggle, so we drove it over some brutal terrain in the Nevada desert to see just how capable it is.
Jeep has managed to give theTrailhawk remarkable mountain goat ability without ruining its on-road drivability. If you find terrain that can’t be navigated in this model, chances are you should not be there in the first place.
PLUS: Supreme off-road ability; unstressed on-road manners; equipment; value
MINUS: A bit less on-road precision; a heavy beast in suburbia; rear-seat packaging
THE WHEELS REVIEW
FOR a fleeting moment, the windscreen is filled with nothing but crystal blue Nevada sky. Then, in just a few body lengths navigated at about 2km/h, it’s filled with nothing but rocks as we stare into a plunging abyss leading down to the desert floor. The angle of the cliff seems ridiculously steep — impossible to navigate on foot without ropes and bravery — but our spotter dude waves us forward. As we inch down, the seatbelts cutting hard into our chests, we feel the right rear corner part contact with terra firma, and the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk cocks its hind leg high into the air like a dog at a fire hydrant.
Its ability to navigate this sort of terrain is testament to the Trailhawk package, which, along with extra underbody protection, brings crucial additional ground clearance and increased axle articulation. As we finally thump softy back onto level ground, it’s impossible not to feel a grudging admiration for any vehicle capable of cruising so quietly and easily on the highway to get us here, then able to turn so dexterous and determined on a section of desert wilderness that really should not tolerate anything short of a jacked-up rock-hopper.
You could question, as I do, why anyone would really need this level of off-road ability — what the hell are you trying to escape from? — but clearly there’s a market for it and Jeep’s rugged brand values mean it’s happy to deliver.
We won’t bore you with specific increases in ramp-over and departure angles — save that for the campfire experts — but what is most relevant are the changes to the air suspension. Ride height is a hefty 63mm higher, and when elevated to its maximum of three positions, the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk sits comfortably above the regular Grand Cherokee models. In practice it allows you to eye rocky escarpments and wash-aways and think, “Hmm, probably not”, when the Trailhawk is actually going, “Yep, no problem”. Even if you do misjudge its ultimate off-road capabilities, the side-rail protection and four additional steel underbody protection plates allow you to make a dignified, if graunching, retreat.
Also crucial to Trailhawk’s go-anyway ethos is the new rubber; seemingly grenade-proof boots from Goodyear featuring Kevlar-reinforced sidewalls. We watched as others in our group descended the ultra-steep trail and boggled as the front-left copped the full weight of the Trailhawk — all 2.4 tonnes of it — with barely any detectable sidewall distortion.
Exactly how much these off-road upgrades impact the on-road behaviour compared to the regular Jeep Grand Cherokee is difficult to quantify, as our drive didn’t allow much dynamic bitumen-based driving. We’d take an educated shot and say, a little, but not enough to concern most prospective buyers. The important stuff — a compliant low- and highway-speed ride, well-muffled tyre noise and acceptably alert steering — all carry over without worrying degradation. No-one drives the door handles off a full-size 4x4 anyway. Come to think of it, possibly no-one shoves them nose-first into brutal rocky, snotsville canyons in the desert either, but presumably it’s nice to know you can.
Model: Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk
Engine: 2988cc V6 (60 degree), dohc, 24v, turbo diesel
Max power: 179kW @ 3600rpm
Max torque: 569Nm @ 2000rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 8.9sec (estimated)
Fuel consumption: 7.7L/100km
Price: $75,000 (estimated)
On sale: First quarter 2017