FOR A fleeting moment, the windscreen is filled with nothing but crystal-blue Nevada sky. Then, in just a few body lengths navigated few body lengths navigated at about 2km/h, it’s filled with nothing but rocks as we stare into a plunging abyss leading down to the desert floor. The angle of the cliff seems ridiculously steep, but our spotter dude waves us forward. As we inch down, seatbelts cutting hard into our chests, we feel the right-rear corner part contact with terra firma, and the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk cocks its hind leg high in the air like a dog at a fire hydrant.
Its ability to navigate this sort of terrain is testament to the Trailhawk package, which, along with extra underbody protection, brings crucial additional ground clearance and increased axle articulation. As we finally thump softly back onto level ground, it’s impossible not to feel a grudging admiration for any vehicle capable of cruising so quietly on the highway to get us here, then able to turn so dexterous on a section of rugged desert wilderness that really should not tolerate anything short of a jacked-up rock-hopper.
You could question, as I do, why anyone would really need this level of off-road ability, but clearly there’s a market for it, and Jeep’s go-anywhere brand values mean it’s happy to deliver.
We won’t bore you with specific increases in ramp-over and departure angles, but what is most relevant are the changes to the air suspension. Maximum ride height is a hefty 63mm higher, and when elevated to the maximum of its three positions sees the Trailhawk sitting comfortably above the regular Grand Cherokee models.
In practice it sees you eyeing rocky escarpments and washaways thinking, “Hmm, probably not” when the Trailhawk is actually going, “Yep, no problem”.
Even if you do misjudge its ultimate off-road capabilities, the side-rail cladding and four steel underbody protection plates allow you to make a dignified, if graunching, retreat.
Exactly how much these offroad upgrades impact the on-road behaviour compared to the regular Grand Cherokee is difficult to quantify, as our drive didn’t allow much by way of dynamic bitumen-based driving. We’d say a little, but not enough to concern most prospective buyers.
The important stuff – a compliant low-speed and highway ride, well-muted tyre noise and acceptably alert steering – all carry over without worrying degradation. Besides, no-one drives the doorhandles off a full-size 4x4. Come to think of it, possibly no-one shoves them nose-first into brutal, rocky, snotsville canyons in the desert, either. But presumably it’s nice to know you can.
A bit less on-road precision; a heavy beast; rear-seat packaging Supreme off-road ability; unstressed on-road manners; equipment Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk 2988cc V6 (60°), dohc, 24v, TD 179kW @ 3600rpm 569Nm @ 2000rpm 8-speed automatic 2393kg 8.9sec (estimated) 7.7L/100km $75,000 (estimated) March
Crucial to Trailhawk’s go-anywhere ethos is its new 265/60R18 Goodyear All-Terrain Adventure rubber, seemingly grenadeproof boots with kevlarreinforced sidewalls. We watched as other vehicles in our group descended the ultra-steep trail and boggled as the front-left copped the full weight of the Trailhawk – all 2.4 tonnes of it – with barely any detectable sidewall distortion.