Getting Dirty and Going Fast With Jeep’s 2017 Lineup

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Jeep’s roster of models continues to expand at a brisk pace. These days, your Jeep-flavored options have a pretty vast scope, with the company offering everything from the utilitarian simplicity of the Wrangler to the 475-horsepower street missile that is the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT – one of the few production vehicles in existence that can be simultaneously optioned with six-piston Brembo brakes and a dual rear-seat Blu-ray player.

And that’s to say nothing of the wild – yet wholly drivable – concepts that Jeep showcased earlier this year for the Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah, which celebrated both the event’s 50th anniversary as well as the 75th anniversary of the Jeep brand itself.

Along with the Jeep Wrangler Trailcat concept and FC 150 , the company also brought along the Crew Chief 715 concept. A nod to the Kaiser M715, this four-door sports a four-inch lift kit, Dana 60 axles, and 3.6-liter V6 with a five-speed automatic transmission. Jeep envisions this concept as "the type of vehicle the base commander would drive."

Earlier this fall, Jeep collected their portfolio of vehicles at a hillside ranch in Malibu, California to showcase what the company has been up to, and to offer journalists a chance to put their latest offerings through their paces on-road and off. It’s not everyday someone hands you the keys to a 707 horsepower Jeep Wrangler concept and says “have at it,” so you’d better believe we made haste.

Grand Cherokee Trailhawk

While the event gave us a chance to familiarize ourselves with just about every piece of hardware in Jeep’s current arsenal, it was particularly notable due to the fact that it gave us our first stint at the helm of the all-new Grand Cherokee Trailhawk.

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While the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk might not look dramatically different from a typical mall-going Grand Cherokee, there’s some pretty serious hardware underneath the assuming skin that helps this Jeep dispatch inhospitable terrain with ease.

Although it’s not the first time the Trailhawk moniker has graced a Grand Cherokee model, the strategy this time around differs substantially from the model we saw a few years in the previous generation Grand Cherokee. Last time around, the package saw its fair share of criticism for not amounting to much more than visual upgrades and more substantial tires.

Suffice it to say that Jeep has taken a more earnest approach to outfitting the Grand Cherokee for off-roading duty with this new iteration of the off-road package. While the visuals stick fairly close to the more pedestrian versions of the SUV, it’s what’s underneath that counts here.

At its core, the Trailhawk package consists of a specially tuned version of Jeep’s Quadra-Lift air suspension that’s been dialed in for additional suspension travel and articulation, Quadra-Drive II four-wheel-drive system, electronic rear limited slip differential, Goodyear all-terrain tires with Kevlar reinforcement, and the Selec-Terrain off-road system, which includes hill ascent and descent functionality.

While our test vehicle was outfitted with the standard 3.6-liter, 295 horsepower V6, the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 is also available, as is a 3.0-liter EcoDiesel that outputs 240 horsepower and a hearty 420 pound-feet of torque. An eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters is equipped as standard, regardless of the powerplant it is hooked to.

The Trailhawk’s ground clearance is identical to other Grand Cherokees equipped with the air suspension system at 10.8 inches, and it offers a standard approach angle of 29.8 degrees, while a 36.1-degree approach angle is achievable if you raise the front fascia when off-road driving.

On the visual front, the Trailhawk is distinguished from other Grand Cherokee models with an anti-glare hood decal, red tow hooks, unique 18-inch and optional 20-inch wheels, grey mirror caps and requisite badging.

The aesthetic continues into the interior, which also opts for functionality over bling. Red stitching, Alcantara-trimmed sport seats, and gunmetal accents serve as the core elements that set the Trailhawk apart from the rest of the Grand Cherokee models.

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Heading out on the low-speed trail that Jeep had set up for off-road evaluations, we were struck by how sophisticated the Trailhawk’s traction and stability control systems are now. Hill ascent and descent functionality allow the vehicle to maintain a pre-determined speed, bringing the first hints of autonomous driving to the realm of off-roading.

A tap of the steering wheel-mounted shifts paddles allows the driver to increase or decrease the Jeep’s speed, which in turn allows the vehicle’s software to take over throttle and braking duties entirely. In turn, the driver can simply focus on steering the Trailhawk where it needs to go.

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Easter Jeep Safari Concepts

Back in March, Jeep trotted out a number of new concept vehicles to showcase in Moab, Utah at the 50th annual Easter Jeep Safari. Fortunately for us, a number of these concepts also made their way to Malibu for the event, including the now-legendary Jeep Wrangler Trailcat.

As the name implies, this is an off-road focused Wrangler that gets its powerplant from sister company Dodge and their Challenger and Charger SRT Hellcat models.

That’s right folks, the 707 horsepower, 6.2-liter supercharged V8 that’s been terrorizing streets and racetracks across the country for the past two years has managed to find its way into the engine bay of a Wrangler.

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While the Trailcat concept isn’t headed to production any time soon, it won’t be the only Jeep to ever get the Hellcat power plant. A supercharged version of the Grand Cherokee SRT is expected to officially debut year next year, and unlike the Trailcat, it’s headed to Jeep’s assembly line.

One glance at the Trailcat and it’s obvious that the modifications go well beyond the power train. Jeep engineers also made some significant changes to the platform itself, chopping the windshield by two inches and extending the wheelbase to 108 inches to provide room for the new hardware bits.

Power is sent to all four corners through a six-speed manual transmission out to a pair of Dana 60 axles, while the suspension gets significant upgrades by way of Fox shocks and Eibach springs which improve wheel articulation and provide more body clearance for the Trailcat’s massive BFGoodrich 40-inch tires.

Jeep also brought out its 75th Anniversary "Salute" Wrangler concept (left), a no-nonsense tribute to original 1941 Willys. The FC 150 (right) also garnered its fair share of attention as well. It consists of a 1960 Jeep Forward Control body on a 2005 Wrangler chassis and is motivated by a 4.0-liter V6 mated to a three-speed automatic transmission. It rolls on 17-inch wheels with 33-inch BF-Goodrich Mud-Terrain T/A KM2 tires.

While the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk leverages sophisticated software to bolster its off-road capability, the Trailcat keeps it old-school. This monster’s trail prowess is purely mechanical, with its locking differentials sending the Hemi’s massive torque to chunky mud terrain tires, while the trick suspension ensures that each wheel keeps contact with the ground regardless of how off-kilter the trail gets. Behind the wheel, it didn’t take long to discover that a dab of the throttle was all it took get this Wrangler up the trail with a serious sense of authority.

Going SRT

The Trailcat isn’t the only Jeep model to borrow generously from Dodge’s SRT parts bin. Taking a decidedly different approach to the Grand Cherokee formula than the rest of the GC lineup, the Grand Cherokee SRT is designed to offer drivers a surprising amount of on-road performance prowess while also coddling them in luxury.

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With 475 horsepower on tap and the grunt sent to all four corners via a quick-shifting eight-speed automatic, this Grand Cherokee is capable of hitting 60 mph from a standstill in well under five seconds.

Powered by FCA’s naturally aspirated 6.4-liter V8, here making 475 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque, the SRT-flavored Jeep SUV’s authoritative pull, buttoned-down suspension, all-wheel drive grip, swank interior appointments and high seating position offer a very convincing “king of the road” vibe to would-be owners.

This model brings with it a few subtle tweaks for the Grand Cherokee SRT, including a more aggressive front fascia that’s highlighted by three additional air intakes positioned just above the bumper, along with a new leather interior package.

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What’s Next

Jeep shows no signs of resting on their laurels. One of the worst-kept secrets in the high-performance realm for the past several years has been the development of a Hellcat-powered Grand Cherokee, which is expected to debut early next year.

Along with that supercharged SUV, the Wrangler is expected to see some significant changes for the 2018 model year, including new aluminum bodywork, a heavily revised front clip, beefier fender flares, an optional turbo four-cylinder “Hurricane” engine making around 300 horsepower, and a revamped interior.

While we’ll have to wait and see how Jeep’s upcoming product strategy shapes up in the coming months, one thing that’s already clear from this model showcase is that the brand is undoubtedly firing on all cylinders right now.

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About the author

Bradley Iger

Lover of noisy cars, noisy music, and noisy bulldogs, Brad can often be found flogging something expensive along the twisting tarmac of the Angeles Forest.
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