Trail Blaze

Jeep’s revamped 2017 Grand Cherokee range includes an all-new Trailhawk variant especially prepped for off -roading.

WORDS FRASER STRONACH PICS PHIL COOPER

DRIVEN JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE TRAILHAWK JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE TRAILHAWK drIven 078

Jeep’s revamped 2017 Grand Cherokee range includes an all-new Trailhawk variant especially prepped for off -roading.

AY HELLO to the most off-road orientated Grand Cherokee yet offered in the brand’s fourth (WK2) generation range. It’s called a Trailhawk, a nameplate also used for the offroad- pitched models in the respective Cherokee and Renegade ranges. All Trailhawk models carry a ‘Trail Rated’ badge; although, whether that means they’re rated for the fabled Rubicon Trail in the USA’s Sierra Nevada mountain range isn’t quite certain.

The Trailhawk is the headline act in a revamped 2017 Grand Cherokee range, and it uses both existing hardware from the Grand Cherokee options inventory and some Trailhawk-specific bits. Key features include a fully automatic electronic rear locker and height-adjustable air suspension in a unique Trailhawk ‘tune’, which adds more wheel travel and articulation for off-road use.

The Trailhawk also gets underbody protection, a distinctive front lower fascia complete with two prominent (red) recovery hooks, and all-terrain rubber on bespoke 18-inch alloys that carry a small red image of the original WWII Jeep. If all this detail goes unnoticed, you won’t miss the blacked-out bonnet panels.

WHAT’S NEW FOR 2017?

THE introduction of the Trailhawk headlines the changes to the 2017 Grand Cherokee range, but all models have mechanical revisions and fresh front-end styling – many also have new equipment.

As before, the range starts with a 3.6-litre petrol V6, which gains a new variable valve-lift and valve-timing system that tweaks power from 210kW to 213kW and lowers fuel use by four per cent. There’s a more efficient eight-speed auto for the diesel engine (and 4x2 petrol V6), and electric power steering across the range. The 3.0- litre turbo-diesel V6 remains the default engine across the range, which still includes the ‘hot-rod’ SRT with its potent 344kW 6.4-litre petrol V8.

Interior upgrades include a new touchscreen and a new gear shifter, while an ‘acoustic’ windscreen and side glass brings lower cabin noise levels. New safety equipment includes lane-departure warning, while new convenience features include park assist.

THE TRAILHAWK OFFERS A SHEDLOAD OF 4X4 FOR THE MONEY!

POWERTRAIN AND PERFORMANCE

THE Trailhawk comes with the familiar 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 from Italian diesel specialist VM Motori. It’s mated to an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission, which has received a number of internal upgrades with the model update for improved shift quality and durability.

As before, the engine claims healthy maximums of 184kW and 570Nm, and it delivers on those claims with brisk and lively performance helped along with the relatively close ratios of the slick-shifting eight-speed automatic. From a standing start the Trailhawk will sprint to 100km/h in just over eight seconds – more than handy by 4x4 standards – and offers decisive overtaking performance on the highway.

The engine and revised gearbox runs in a default ‘Eco’ mode, which makes throttle and downshift responses feel a little doughy at times; although, the Eco mode can be cancelled via a dashboard button. Switching it to Sport mode (adjacent button) sharpens the throttle response and creates more aggressive shift protocols from the eight-speed auto.

Even so, the V6 diesel isn’t all that strong just off idle, with maximum torque not on tap until a relatively high (by diesel standards anyway) 2000rpm.

However, there are no complaints with general running refinement and noise level, or the agreeable partnership the V6 has with the smart and intuitive ZF eight-speed auto.

Fuel economy is good, too, with highway figures in the eights and mixed on- and off-road driving in the tens. Combined with a handy fuel capacity of more than 90 litres, this thrifty economy translates to a touring range almost always in excess of 800km.

ON-ROAD RIDE AND HANDLING

THE HIGH benchmark set by the Trailhawk’s powertrain is reflected in its polished on-road dynamics. Thanks to its fully independent suspension and monocoque construction, the Trailhawk has the road feel of a passenger car – and a good one at that. The Grand Cherokee’s platform is shared with the third-generation Mercedes-Benz ML SUV (now called GLE) thanks to Jeep (as part of the Chrysler group) being previously owned by Mercedes-Benz.

Even on its all-terrain rubber, the Trailhawk’s new electric steering is sharp and predictable, while the heightadjustable air suspension provides a compliant ride on all surfaces including potholed bitumen and gravel roads. The Trailhawk is also nicely poised at speed on bumpy back roads, far more so than the likes of Prado and Everest with their live rear axles.

The height-adjustable suspension, which automatically lowers the ride height once you get up to highway speeds, also contributes here in terms of better road holding, less body roll and reduced aerodynamic drag. The lower ride height is also activated – regardless of road speed – if the driver selects Sport mode.

OFF-ROAD

THE height-adjustable suspension plays a huge part in the Trailhawk’s off-road performance. The fact you can jack it up to provide 260mm of clearance puts it, literally, well above competitor vehicles with conventional fixed-height coil-spring suspension. Add the Trailhawk’s automatic selflocking rear diff into the mix, which includes a self-locking and self-proportioning centre diff, and you have off-road performance that’s worthy of a ‘Trail Rated’ badge.

However, all of this comes with a caveat. Despite being

JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE TRAILHAWK

ENGINE: V6 turbo-diesel CAPACITY: 2982cc POWER: 184kW @ 4000rpm TORQUE: 570Nm @ 2000rpm GEARBOX: eight-speed automatic 4X4 SYSTEM: dual-range full-time CRAWL RATIO: 44.2:1 CONSTRUCTION: monocoque FRONT SUSPENSION: independent/air springs REAR SUSPENSION: independent/air springs TYRE/WHEEL SPEC: 265/60R18 Goodyear Wranglers KERB WEIGHT: 2300kg (approx.)

GVM: 2949kg PAYLOAD: 650kg: (approx.)

TOWING CAPACITY: 3500kg SEATING CAPACITY: five FUEL TANK CAPACITY: 93.5 litres ADR FUEL CLAIM: N/A ON-TEST CONSUMPTION: 10.6L/100km TOURING RANGE*: 832km *Based on test consumption and 50km ‘safety margin’.


able to lift (or lower) some 85mm, the Grand Cherokee’s suspension doesn’t have the wheel travel of the fully independently sprung Discovery or Range Rover Sport, let alone a live-axle vehicle.

Jacked right up, the Trailhawk’s ride becomes harsh and sometimes noisy as the suspension tops out due to the limited droop travel it has when extended. On gnarly tracks, the Trailhawk also readily lifts wheels and is ‘dramatic’ in situations where something like a Prado, with its much longer suspension travel, is far more composed.

Thankfully, the Trailhawk can be jacked up in two stages for off-road use, initially from the default 205mm to 233mm (comparable with the Prado), and then up to 260mm at max lift. At the first off-road setting, the ride, although not plush, is still pretty good and is all you need for most trail and beach driving. The system automatically holds the selected higher height up to a decent speed – 40km/h for the highest (260mm) setting and up to 80km/h for the 233mm setting; although, the driver can override this manually.

Like all Grand Cherokees, the Trailhawk comes with Selec-Terrain to allow the driver to set the chassis and drivetrain electronics for different conditions such as Sand, Snow, Mud and Rocks, or just leave it in Auto mode.

Selecting low range also changes the chassis and drivetrain settings, most noticeably tightening the rear locker.

The Trailhawk comes with no fewer than five steel underbody plates to protect vitals like the engine, transfer case and fuel tank, but it could do with rock rails to protect the vulnerable-looking rear bumper. There are also no recovery hooks at the rear, which seems at odds with the set-up at the front. The location of the engine air-intake behind the bonnet lip is also something to be aware of before getting too adventurous with water crossings, even if the air-filter box is big, tall and drained.

CABIN, EQUIPMENT AND SAFETY

GIVEN the Trailhawk sits near the top of the Grand Cherokee model range, it’s no surprise that it comes loaded with kit – even the base-model Laredo (including the budget 4x2) features keyless entry and start, electric seat adjustment, dual-zone climate, a reversing camera, seven airbags, and a five-star ANCAP safety rating.

The Trailhawk then adds sat-nav, bespoke premium leather seats with suede inserts, driver’s memory settings, heating and cooling for the seats (including heated second row), a heated steering wheel, and a power tailgate.

The seat and steering wheel heaters have an auto-on function in cold weather, so they start warming up the instant you switch on the ignition.

As ever with the Grand Cherokee, the cabin is nicely detailed, comfortable and roomy, and by not squeezing in a third row it benefits in terms of rear-seat and luggage space. Not so good is the tight driver’s footwell that’s further crowded by the foot-operated parking brake. Older buyers may also lament the lack of a CD player.

PRACTICALITIES

AS mentioned, the Trailhawk comes with all-terrain rubber, specifically 265/60R18 Goodyear Wranglers. This size is used by the Prado and Hilux (among others), which is a bonus, but the large front brakes mean that 17s can’t be fitted to open up the tyre choice further.

There’s also a problem with the spare, as it’s not a match for the road wheel/tyre combination. It’s a narrower 245/65R18 road tyre on a steel rim that – unusually – for a space saver has a higher speed rating (H or 210km/h) than the T-rated (190km/h) all-terrains and is not distance restricted like others are.

The good news here is that the spare-wheel well in the cargo bay is just deep enough for a 265/60R18, even if it’s a bit of squeeze to close the spare-wheel cover.

HAWK AYE!

AS WITH all Grand Cherokees, the Trailhawk offers a shedload of 4x4 for the money and a broad spectrum of on- and off-road capability. That spectrum of capability may be skewed more towards the on-road side of things than offroad, but it’s nevertheless impressive. However, where the Trailhawk does miss out off-road is more through its comfort rather than its capability.

Those who don’t wish to pay the $74K (plus on-roads) for the Trailhawk, but still want an off-road-capable Grand Cherokee, can save a packet by opting for the Laredo and adding the off-road options pack, which includes air suspension, rear locker, underbody protection and all-terrain tyres. That way you get most of what the Trailhawk offers and only miss out on luxury and convenience features.