BRAND loyalty. Itís a funny thing, and something countless off-roaders swear by. Theyíll only buy X model because everything else is garbage or Y model because itís what their folks drove, all the while convincing themselves theyíre in on some secret no one else knows about.
The reality is, unless you happen to be the owner of a multi-million-dollar 4x4 manufacturer, brand loyalty is a short-sighted plan thatís never going to give you the best possible package you could own.
When it comes to choosing a 4x4, Paul Nagel prefers to weigh up his options, test drive as many different makes and models as he can, and then make an informed decision on whatís going to work for his needs. Itís a system that has seen him bounce around between various Land Cruisers, high-end German 4x4s and, more recently, behind the tiller of a Jeep Grand Cherokee (JGC) WK2 for one hell of an adventure.
By the time you read this heíll be halfway across the Nullarbor and heading north to the Kimberley, after kicking off a big Aussie lap on Fraser Island. He knew for the long haul heíd need a vehicle that was not only incredibly capable when tourist traps turned to goat tracks, but would also be comfortable enough to live out of for months on end. Enter the Grand Cherokee Overland edition, a wolf in sheepís clothing, with the sedate road-going design of your typical Grand Cherokee, but with a whole heap of offroad goodies like a huge 220A alternator and Jeepís trick Quadra Drive II system that can focus 100 per cent of drive to whatever wheel has grip. There are a few tricks up its sleeve
in the suspension department, too. However, there will be more on that later.
While thereís a heap of trick gear underneath Paulís JGC, the biggest visual changes are almost exclusively Australian gear. The most striking is a complete lack of bullbar up front. Rather than ruin the lines of the Grand Cherokee, Paul fitted a hidden winch mount and Ďpre-runnerí system from the guys at Uneek 4x4 in Victoria. It replaces the lower front valance, giving an improved approach angle as well as guarding vital components. Providing serious armour for the Jeepís squishy bits is a combination of Uneek 4x4 and Mopar bash plates, with a set of beefy 3.2mm-thick Uneek 4x4 rock sliders replacing the oh-so-crunchy plastic sill panels.
As the JGC is a unibody construction the rails are attached to the body with nutserts, so they not only add protection but some muchneeded chassis rigidity for lifting wheels. The rear bar has copped similar treatment with a Uneek 4x4 twin swing-out unit replacing the lower half of the bar, drastically improving the departure angle as well as storing the fullsize spare on the back with a diesel jerry can for increased fuel range. Like most of the kit on Paulís WK2 itís a no-cut unit, so it can be swapped back to stock when the siren song of a new 4x4 calls Paulís name.
The Uneek 4x4 treatment extends up onto the roof with one of its slimline 100mm-tall roof rack systems. The lightweight aluminium offering clocks in at just 25kg; although itís rated to carry 125kg on the move or 250kg when youíre set up at camp, making it perfect for rooftop tents and the like. With that in mind, Paul has given a low-profile Darche unit with a matching Darche Eclipse roll-out awning the nod.
One of the most appealing aspects of the Overland addition is the Quadra-Lift suspension, a trick air-ride system leaps and bounds ahead of most Japanese marque
offerings. Similar to systems in more expensive Range Rovers, the Quadra-Lift suspension uses an array of air springs on each corner, height sensors, and a closed loop compressor and reservoir tank to control the JGCís ride height with a little more than 100mm of adjustability.
It does plenty of boring stuff like lowering for ease of access when parked and auto adjusting to ride height, but more importantly it can raise up to around 70mm higher than stock for off-road use, then lower back down 80mm when Paul hits freeway speeds for better fuel consumption and ride quality. It gives him the best of both worlds, with a capable off-roader that wonít shake him to bits on long stretches of tarmac.
IF YOUíVE been reading 4X4 Australia long enough youíve no doubt come across a few terms that make no sense to anybody who doesnít smell suspiciously of diff oil.
Unibody, monocoque, ladder chassis, body-onframe and space frame. They all refer to the chassis and body layout of a vehicle.
In years gone by a simple body-on-frame design is all you had to consider in the world of 4x4s, and it was more often than not a ladder chassis. As the name sounds, the design was a chassis that looked like a ladder, which would house all the suspension and drivetrain components before a passenger compartment would be bolted on top. Itís as old tech as things get, but does provide a robust platform and excellent load-carrying ability in utes.
With manufacturers constantly trying to keep weight and fuel consumption down, many are starting to eye off unibody designs, where the chassis and body are one and the same rather than two separate components.
Itís a catch-all phrase but one that quickly identifies that at least some part the body will be load bearing, rather than just a box to put people. While the term monocoque occasionally gets thrown around itís not exactly correct, as most 4x4s and cars still rely on bulkheads or sub-frames to take the lionís share of the load rather than just the body shell, making them semi-monocoque. By comparison, a full monocoque 4x4 would lose all structural integrity if you dented a panel.
Space frames are a bastard child of the two, where the body is plonked over the chassis, but the chassis is a 3D design like something youíd find under a drag car. So until McLaren dips its toes into the 4x4 world, these arenít something you should come across.
If youíre planning on lopping the doors or roof off your 4x4, or doing serious fabrication work to it, a separate chassis is a benefit.
However, in a lot of situations the pros of a unibody construction far outweigh the cons.
Because Paulís racking up more kays this year than most of us combined, and doing it across every terrain Australia has to offer, heís binned ideas of a full-blown mud terrain tyre, instead opting for a set of aggressive all terrains with 265/70R17 Goodyear Duratracs.
How are they holding up? Well, youíll need to check back in 12 months to find out.
Jeep fans might pick the wheels as factory JK Rubicon alloy wheels, a more suitable off-road option than the stock 20in alloys originally fitted. These give the JGC some serious cred. To keep the whole lot covered, Paul called on the guys from Uneek 4x4 to install a set of bolt-on flares.
While older Jeeps often ran basic inlinefour or six-cylinder petrol donks, Paulís JGC runs a 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel. In factory form they punch out an impressive 184kW and 570Nm, which is more than enough to propel the wagon down the road, even with a trailer hooked on the back. To make life a little more exciting on his trip, Paul took the oil-squirter to the guys at Horsepower Factory for an ECU re-map. With a stock exhaust unit and a Murchison snorkel on the intake itís now pushing out 200kW and 620Nm. For comparisonís sake, Toyotaís 4.5- litre twin-turbo V8 diesel produces the same power and just 30 more Newton metres.
When you factor in that the JGC tips the scales at almost half a tonne lighter, it makes for a seriously potent package.
Of course, when youíre living off the beaten track for months at a time itís not all about who has the hairiest chest or
biggest tyres. So on that front Paul hasnít held back, either. The biggest upgrade is a full set of drawers occupying the cargo space up the back. Theyíre a set of top-notch units from RV Storage Solutions, although the real boon is the extra storage space underneath freed up by moving the spare out from its normal hidey hole under a false floor and onto the rear bar.
While the Overlandís huge 220A alternator means Paul could power the entire South Australian electrical grid, itís not much use when the engine clicks off for the night. Hence a removable 130Ah deep-cycle unit has been thrown in the back to keep all the electrical goodies running long into the night.
Brand allegiance runs that deep in Australia thereís almost no 4x4 you could build without drawing sniggering comments. However, while the internet is awash with ďhe shoulda bought blah blah blahĒ Paulís kicking back on whatever side of the black stump he sees fit in the perfect vehicle for his needs, and 4x4s donít get much better than that to us.