FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE THERE’S nothing like playing to your strengths to reap results. For proof, take a look at AC/DC, McDonald’s, or even Ikea.
For Jeep, that strength is SUVs of the type with true off-road ability. And the Grand Cherokee is at the heart of the brand, a heart that has been torn recently courtesy of a dramatic local sales tumble.
Enter the MY17 Grand Cherokee, a facelift aimed at reinvigorating a brand with some crucial newcomers around the corner (Compass, Wrangler and Wagoneer to name but a few).
The DNA – most of the look, even – is unchanged, right down to the chunky stance and oldgen Mercedes platform beneath, although a fresh face featuring the signature seven-slot grille adds sleekness to the bluff front end.
But it’s the addition of the Trailhawk variant that does much of the heavy lifting for MY17.
Morphing the leather-lined luxury of the $62,500 Limited with the air suspension and Quadra- Drive 4x4 system of the $80,000 Overland, the $74,000 Trailhawk is aimed at those planning on adventure, right down to its Kevlar-reinforced tyres.
The Trailhawk design cues amount to bush bling; black trim replacing shiny chrome, red stitching inside, red tow hooks and matte stickers on the bonnet.
The sizeable tiller attached to the new electric power steering system needs lots of twirling. It guides the nose nicely into large radius bends but lacks a little precision for making mid-corner adjustments or sharp inputs, and is has inconsistent weighting at the limit when understeer sets in.
Despite the additional puncture resistance, the 265/60R18 Goodyears grip respectably, albeit with slightly lower limits than other Grand Cherokees.
The familiar and hearty 3.0-litre VM Motori-sourced diesel V6 has some lag before unleashing a useful 570Nm torrent, which is more than enough to shift the wagon’s 2340kg. The intuitive eight-speed ZF adds to the Trailhawk’s talents on the move, with an emphasis on the midrange rather than the 184kW peak.
It’s all about subtle tweaks inside; a more conventional gear selector replaces the stubby electric return-to-centre handle, while the 8.4-inch Uconnect screen now has more apps, including ‘off-road pages’, each providing details on drivetrain and suspension behaviour, depending on the scenario.
Seating remains strictly for five.
So the Trailhawk is aimed at a specific niche and isn’t for those who rarely leave the suburbs. But the latest Grand Cherokee does suggest that sticking to your roots should pay off.
Those aiming more for race track than dirt trail can choose the updated SRT, essentially a reborn Night Edition from 2016. At its heart is a sonorous 344kW/624Nm 6.4-litre Hemi V8 that hauls it from 0-100km/h in 4.9sec.
A brief track session reinforced that it’s more than most would expect from an SUV, but without the sure-footed on-limit feel of something more low-slung.
Serious off-road ability; competent on road; diesel torque; slick auto Diesel’s turbo lag; foot-operated park brake; slow electric steering