Meet Jekyll & Hyde: we thrash Jeep's new Grand Cherokee duo
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We ease over the crest and come to a stop at an absolute bastard of a hill.
The lush grass stops well below the summit, replaced from there on with dirt. "Rutted" would be an understatement. Holes in the track are plentiful, deep enough to swallow a child or three.
This all sounds very do-or-die, very theatrical. But the simple point is this; Driven has already road tested the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk I'm sitting in, so I know it is capable of climbing pretty much anything.
So with no fear (and a hungry little smirk), I plant the throttle pedal and point the Trailhawk roughly where the track appears to go. For about 10 seconds all we can see is sky, our vital organs bouncing around inside our rib cages. But before my passenger and I knew it we were poised atop the hill — rewarded with a prime view of Karioitahi's beautiful mountainous vista.
You would think that in today's world, where just about every marque makes an SUV, Jeep might struggle. After all; why go to the butcher for your beef when the supermarket is more convenient?
But it's not the case. Jeep sold more vehicles last year here than did a host of other manufacturers, including fellow dirt-bashers Land Rover.
It's because Jeep are still viewed as masters of the off-roader -- something illustrated by the ease with which our group of pressers had been able to conquer mountains during their recent Australasian event showcasing the new Grand Cherokee Trailhawk and SRT.
The day started at Karioitahi, sampling the Trailhawk up in the hills, then doing juvenile things with a fleet of muscly red SRTs on the beach.
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The hills were primed to showcase the potent off-road tech that lingers underneath the Trailhawk's cavernous leather-bound cabin. The Quadra-Drive II four-wheel-drive system gives five modes to play with: rock, mud, sand, snow, and auto. Hill Ascent and Descent are also in the package, giving more reassurance on the truly steep stuff.
Quadra-lift air suspension is another key element, allowing drivers to increase their ride height by up to 270mm, while also helping the Jeep contort and articulate over challenging terrain like a pro. The 550Nm turbo-diesel V6 under the bonnet provides a healthy amount of torque -- certainly enough for us tackling these intricate trails.
In a way, the SRT feels a little like the sibling who listened less in class, and got a tattoo without asking Mum and Dad. It certainly looks that way parked up next to the Trailhawk.
Mature 18-inch wheels on one side are juxtaposed against thinly spoked 20-inch wheels on the other. All around the SRT wears a thick aggressive body kit; punctuated by a gaping mouth and bigger guards.
In this sense, it's easy to write off the SRT as being more "Ponsonby Tractor" than off-roader. But you'd be surprised. According to some of the Jeep representatives, it'll give the Trailhawk a run for its money in the proper hands-on stuff.
But beaches and hilly trails aren't where you get the most out of an SRT. For that, we journeyed to Pukekohe Park -- a location where we could truly unleash the 344kW lurking inside it's naturally aspirated 6.4-litre HEMI V8.
As weird as it sounds, the track chops of the SRT do matter. It takes on the Porsche Cayenne Turbo, Jaguar F-Pace, and Audi SQ7 at a fraction of the cost; SRT pricing starting at $114,990 ($20,000 more than the Trailhawk).
Power surges through the SRT in a sea of thunderous noise (quicker still if you've got launch control engaged). Peak torque, 624Nm, comes at 4100rpm before hitting a 6250rpm redline. Although, power has never been a problem.
Handling is the interesting bit. Turn in comes with enthusiasm, but dab the throttle mid-corner and the SRT washes wide every time. This places it behind the eight ball compared to its German and English rivals — all of which corner as though they're on rails. But it hardly kills the fun. Stay patient and on your toes, and it's a simple enough issue to remedy.
The dominant point is that in the Grand Cherokee, Jeep has released a range of vehicles that can more or less tackle anything. From steep inclines to race tracks, and all of the B roads and motorways in between, the new Grand Cherokee range's marketing bark is backed up by genuine bite.