There’s absolutely no doubt the revised 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee is a watershed moment for the brand in Australia.
Resounding success as recently as 2014 on the back of sharp pricing and compelling inclusions, followed by the subsequent fall from grace in the form of recalls, service issues, parts availability and changes in the dollar – it's been an eventful few years for Jeep in Australia, that's for sure.
As you’ve seen from our numerous news stories, FCA has taken active and decisive steps to mend that rift between buyer and manufacturer, so there’s no point harping on that point here.
This facelifted Grand Cherokee is the first mechanical step in the next phase of the legendary brand’s journey. It’s some of that legend Jeep will bank on as part of the rebuilding process, too. The first non-vehicular step was the implementation of the brand's new 'There And Back' warranty program.
I’m no marketing guru – as you’ll no doubt sense from the comment I’m about to make – but I reckon Jeep should change its tag line from ‘Don’t Hold Back’ to ‘From the Sublime to the Ridiculous’.
That certainly rings true, following our launch drive in New Zealand at least, where we hammered the bellowing SRT on the black sands of Karioitahi Beach and Pukekohe Raceway after challenging the capable Trailhawk off-road in the hills surrounding the pristine beaches.
It’s no coincidence either, along with a raft of other proactive tactics, Jeep wants everyone to know the Grand Cherokee can tackle any task, and satisfy the needs of a broad scope of buyers. Around town, off-road or flat-out, there’s a Grand Cherokee model to suit your needs, according to the brand. And the broad spread of model grades certainly supports that claim.
Let us be the judge of that, though, after spending some time with the Grand Cherokee bookends.
I recently drove the revised Trailhawk model for our road trip story from San Antonio to Dallas, and it’s that model I sample first on Auckland’s roads at what is our local launch.
Any Jeep wearing a Trailhawk badge (and a 'Trail Rated' one for that matter) must be capable off-road, but the Trailhawk can easily double as a family runaround if you need a dual-purpose off-roader. Its manners are composed on-road, and the added off-road hardware has in no way detracted from the way it behaves on the sealed stuff.
The Trailhawk soaks up nasty surfaces with the ease and composure we’d like to see from every SUV, especially those making the lofty claim to premium status. The suspension is adept at ironing out any ruts and bumps and it does so without ever feeling over damped or spongey.
The steering doesn’t have the razor sharp precision of a sports car, but it doesn’t need it, given what the Trailhawk needs to be able to tackle off-road.
When you do head for the hills, the Trailhawk has both the hardware, and the smarts to make light work of even the most demanding terrain. Our test track doesn’t just feature steep drop-offs and wheel articulation challenges, it’s also slick – equal parts dewy grass and ice-rink-like wet clay.
Select low range, lift the suspension to its highest setting for increased ground clearance and point the Trailhawk where you want to go.
I’m a fan of just how smooth the Grand Cherokee works in low range, specifically. Unlike some 4WDs, which have a tendency to lurch and shoot forward awkwardly in low range, the Grand Cherokee is incredibly smooth. Whether you’re on and off the throttle or it's shifting gears, your forward progress is never anything other than gentle. It makes for easy and safe progress no matter how tough the terrain, and it means occupants inside the cabin are always comfortable, too.
Unless you decide to mash the throttle to get to the top of a particularly slippery incline, that is. Then, the otherwise smooth diesel engine exhibits its heavy mid-range kick, which makes short work of any incline.
Once you’ve assessed the trail, there’s no awards for feathering the throttle. ‘Keeping the boot in’ is the name of the game to ensure no loss of momentum. Clever electronics come into play here - given we’re running road tyres at road pressure - and you’ll still have to try pretty hard to get into any trouble in a Grand Cherokee, such is its off-road prowess.
The 3.0-litre turbo-diesel has the chops to deliver off-road, thanks to 184kW at 3600rpm and 570Nm at 2000rpm.
If you’re a less confident off-roader, you’ll absolutely love Jeep’s Hill Descent Control, which you activate initially via a console-mounted switch and then control via the paddle-shifters. You can set the speed as low as 1km/h and on a particularly long and extremely steep descent, there wasn’t even the barest hint of a slipping tyre.
Even if you’re experienced in these conditions, it’s a safe alternative to modulating the brake and throttle as you would have in the old days. I still prefer to be in control of the situation myself, if I’m honest, but it’s very hard to mount a case against technology like this that works as well as it does.
The hard-packed black sand of Karioitahi Beach provides the perfect platform to crank the SRT out on a surface other than sealed bitumen and sample the outer reaches of its monster Hemi engine.
Until the ballistic Trackhawk arrives, the SRT is the halo model in the Grand Cherokee range and if thunderous engine notes are your preference, look no further.
The 6.4-litre V8 cranks out 344kW at 6250rpm and 624Nm at 4100rpm. A full launch-control start will see it motor from 0-100km/h in just 4.5 seconds. It's a performance SUV in every respect.
Move away from the hard-packed sand into the more powdery, thick stuff, and the Hemi’s low-down grunt coupled with a willingness to rev, ensures it hammers through sand that would stymie the progress of many off-roaders.
The ease with which the Trailhawk powers through sand makes a compelling case for torque-laden engines off-road, and the coupling of engine and gearbox is near perfect.
Once you’ve had enough of acting like a loon and leave the beach, the SRT continues apace on-road. You’ll rarely need (or want) to explore the outer reaches of the rev range on public roads, but the whack to the back of your head when you mash the throttle off the mark is hard to fathom in a weighty 4WD.
The SRT is very much of the recent movement of 4WDs that can be driven more like cars than trucks. Sweeping country roads are enjoyable, the steering is feelsome, the brakes fade resistant and the suspension neatly tuned to deliver sealed road fun.
The safe confines of a racetrack really are the only way to properly explore the landscape beyond seven-tenths. It might seem strange to launch a 4WD on track, but such is the ability of the heavyweight SRT, it's the only safe place to do so.
The engine continues to surprise with the way it effortlessly winds its way out to redline, and the steering retains a meaty feel, perfect for fast-paced track driving. Sure, you feel the transfer of weight, and the SRT will squat hard when you test launch-control, but for a road-going, large SUV, its ballistic track ability is impressive.
While it does transfer the weight from front to rear under hard cornering, you can slice through twisty sections of track remarkably quickly, and it's all evidence of how well balanced and settled the SRT's chassis really is. One thing's for sure, you're never left thinking the SRT isn't fast or powerful enough. Cue the imminent emergence of the Trackhawk...
Jeep Australia needs this revised Grand Cherokee to succeed in Australia and claw back some of the ground it has lost since 2014. Contrary to the theme on places like social media, Jeeps weren't ‘breaking down on the side of the road all over the place’.
Rather, the service experience wasn’t what it needed to be and access to spare parts wasn’t anywhere near as efficient as it should have been. I’ve spoken to plenty of Jeep owners who say ‘we understand that all manufacturers have recalls, and we know things go wrong, we’d just like them to be fixed efficiently'. Fair enough, too.
On the evidence we’ve seen after two days driving both the Trailhawk and SRT across a wide variety of terrain and conditions, there’s no doubt the 2017 Grand Cherokee is a capable, large 4WD. It's priced cleverly and offers a solid array of model grades. We’re now keenly waiting on the feedback of Jeep customers to make sure the brand’s trajectory keeps heading in the right direction.