We were told the only way the Trailhawk was going to make it up a challenging muddy slope was to gun it hard and keep our foot in it until we reached the top. Challenge accepted, like we needed an excuse to pin the pedal, and though the Trailhawk bucked and jumped over the gnarly undulating path, it made it up all right, our noggin brushing the headlining as we rocketed upwards on a bucking bronco ride. And you’ll have to take our word for it as the camera wasn’t there to record the antics.
Equally impressive however were the Trailhawk’s feats at ultra-low speeds, the hill descent mode inching us down a wet, grassy slope that you would have struggled to walk down without ending up on your backside. The Trailhawk gains Kevlar-reinforced Goodyears for off-road work and special 18-inch alloys. Jeep’s Quadra-Drive II 4x4 system makes the grade and is updated for use here, along with a locking limited-slip rear diff and the Quadra-Lift air suspension which offers more articulation and wheel travel.
You also ramp the ride height right up to 260mm on its highest setting. If you manage to get yourself stuck, it has three recovery hooks, they’ve added full underbody protection and there’s extra engine cooling in anticipation of increased work in low range, slow moving situations. The Trailhawk is Trail Rated, confirmed by its red-hued badging. The articulation is plentiful and when it does run out the traction control makes sure hanging wheels waste none of the drive torque, the system re-routing it to the ones with purchase to pull you up and over the obstacle in front.
The 3.0-litre V6 diesel makes 184kW and 550Nm and this is put to good use by the eight-speed auto in low range, the torque ever present. Using the Trailhawk’s off-road auto mode, the system sorted itself for the task at hand, the throttle pedal dulled to help control the flow of torque over bumpy trails and with the off-road cruise control set our speed down the descents was easily controlled by tapping on the shift paddles.
It’s a well capable off roader this, but at $94,990, it’s a lot of expensive metal for smashing your way through the rough stuff. It’s comfortable though, long travel air springs seeing to that, and well padded leather appointed seats with extra bolstering help keep you in place. There’s the well equipped infotainment system too, which can relay off-road drama like how far you’re leaning, as well as performing all the usual multimedia and navigation functions.
Other niceties include heat seaters for all, a smart key, configurable display panel, powered tailgate and parking sensors at both ends, along with a camera. Some upgrades to the Grand Cherokee range include a more conventional and therefore easier-to-use gear shifter in the cabin, while the look is subtly changed via a new grille and headlights. The new look was first seen on last year’s 75th anniversary models.
Also receiving a few visual updates is the mighty SRT version of the Grand Cherokee. The thundering Hemi-powered range topper provided us a unique experience of driving along the beach and venturing around the sand dunes in the morning before heading to Pukekohe for a blast around the track in the afternoon.
There aren’t many vehicles in which you can do that. And with the bumpy nature of Pukekohe, we were glad of the extra suspension travel as some of those bumps are fierce. Despite its size, the SRT proved good fun with plenty of grip and surprising stability for a hefty high-rider, even if it does struggle with the quick weight transfers through the kink down the old back straight. The day’s outings highlight an SUV’s versatility though, and show why they are so popular.
But before rushing out to nab the SRT, best wait until Jeep has the most powerful SUV in the world on sale with the mighty Trackhawk, all 527kW and 847Nm of it, confirmed for sale here soon.