Jeep is a brand that is legendary when it comes to four-wheel drive, off-road capable vehicles. In fact, it is so legendary, that it has almost become a generic name for off-road SUVs. I’ve always been a big fan of the Jeep Wrangler and here was an opportunity to check it out in its natural habitat. Also see: Jeep Wrangler and Cherokee launch and updates
I was invited to Camp Jeep in Gurgaon by Fiat Chrysler India in early December 2016 to sample the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the Wrangler Unlimited on an off-road trail that was chalked out at Rose Valley in the Aravallis. This trail included fairly mild (by Jeep standards) sandy trails, some climbs and descents, some banking angles and an uphill rocky trail. It also had an artificially set up rumble strip section and stairs to climb. All this is really easy work for either of the Jeeps we were driving – the Wrangler Unlimited and the Grand Cherokee.
While we were waiting for the drive on the trail to start, I got some time to check out the Jeep Cherokee SRT – the bling SUV equipped with a mammoth 6.4 litre V8 HEMI naturally-aspirated petrol engine that puts out 470 bhp of power and 624 Nm of torque with an 8-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive.
This vehicle is more of a track monster than an off-roader. It’s the kind of vehicle you would drive flat out on the salt-flats or in the desert. It’s also the kind of vehicle you would show up at a 5-star hotel in or perhaps at a red-carpet event.
Everything about the Cherokee SRT feels classy. It’s got a fantastic infotainment system that helps you customise a plethora of things from the driving modes to the kind of ambient temperature you want in the room. And when you are on track, it pulls up every kind of gauge you would need to check out the performance this beast is putting out.
The interiors are done up in plush leather with individual LCD screens for rear seat passengers. It just feels very premium. We didn’t get to drive this one though – but we did start it up to hear the mammoth 6.4 litre V8 engine rumble away. It has a very deep engine note, but not as loud as you would expect it would be.
Then came the time to head out on the trail – first in the Grand Cherokee Summit. This is powered by a V6 3-litre diesel engine that puts out 240 bhp of power and 570 Nm of torque with an 8-speed transmission and four-wheel drive, with multiple modes for different types of terrain. It gets paddle shifts and dual zone climate control, but is not as well equipped as some SUVs that are way lower in price. Yet it gets the job done. We took the SUV out for a spin on a rather short and tame course. The instructor first drove and demonstrated its ability to climb up and down stairs (something most 4x4 SUVs can do – but it has a certain wow factor for those who haven’t experienced this before). We then headed to the trail, where we managed to sample its driving modes for sand, rock and hill descent. With hill descent engaged, the Cherokee operates the brakes automatically and it can crawl down almost inch by inch on any angle of descent. That’s really a boon out on the trail. In rock mode, it just clambers up the rocky trail at very slow speeds, without you needing to feed too much throttle. The obstacles look really easy from behind the wheel of the Cherokee. I must commend the vehicle’s suspension for ironing out all the bumps from the terrain below. Ride quality is amazing with the Cherokee.
Next it was our turn to try out the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. You know, in life, there are those moments when you get behind the wheel of a vehicle and just know it is tailor-made for you. This was one of those moments. I felt completely at home in the Wrangler Unlimited (hoping that I can win a lottery someday to buy one!). The Wrangler Unlimited is powered by a 2.8 litre, four-cylinder diesel engine that puts out 197 bhp of power and 460 Nm of torque. It comes mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission and Command Trac 4WD system – which has 2WD, 4WD high and 4WD Low range. It has open differentials front and rear and is completely old-school in its build with solid axles front and rear. It is a versatile vehicle that can be used as an open top off-roader or a soft-top or a hard-top. All these are built into the vehicle and takes a few turns of a few knobs to transform from one to the other.
The grunt from this old-schooler is awesome. It is meant to devour any sort of terrain. It’s the original Jeep! Climbing up a sandy incline, one can just let go of the throttle and it holds its position as is, till you are ready to go again. In 4WD-low it can just clamber up the rocks with ease, and is very sure footed. However, I did find its ability to crawl down slopes rather too fast for comfort. It should have been slower. That said, banking angles and ruts are dismissed with ease. It is as rugged as they come. With two short spins of the trail, we headed back to main camp. The experience was rather tame and has left me wanting more. These vehicles are hugely capable, and despite the high pricing owing to the Indian government’s tax structure, they are among the best off-road capable SUVs one can get. You know the best part? Every Jeep product coming out will have a 4x4 variant. So says Kevin Flynn, President and MD of Fiat Chrysler India, the company that owns the Jeep brand. And there are two more relatively more affordable Jeeps coming soon - the Compass and a smaller one based on the Renegade. See this short interview with Kevin Flynn: