Jeep heritage shines in testing off-road trek
TEETERING on the rocky outcrop edge, even the Man From Snowy River would have been forgiven for being nervous.
Poor navigation would have seen us plummet into dense scrub, with only a few towering gums to slow the journey. Had we gone over the edge, we may have stopped rolling by Christmas.
Yet our trusty stead was a Jeep. Up in the mountains of the Bright Alpine Region of Victoria, the famed off-roader was in its element.
And it wasn't just one Jeep. We sampled a range of models, celebrating all things Jeep with the marque releasing a new Cherokee with a diesel engine, along with some limited-edition Blackhawk editions.
They enter a growing market for the brand. Despite lukewarm sales across the nation in recent months, Jeep will achieve record numbers this year.
Much of that can be attributed to the successful "I bought a Jeep" marketing campaign…but few buyers actually know what their cars can do off the beaten track.
This is the catchphrase which is testimony to model ruggedness. Jeep Trail Rated is a methodology which highlights off-road ability - literally a badge of honour.
Those with the Trail Rated badge have succeeded under the key criteria of traction, ground clearance, manoeuvrability, articulation and water fording. So, in layman's terms, they can drive over, or through, almost anything you want.
Our foray into the bush proved the Jeep heritage is alive and well.
Wading through rivers, attacking steep hills over loose rocks and mud, the models on show were rarely tested.
The new Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk put its best tyre forward, showing an impressive balance of on and off-road ability. It manages to traverse some pretty tough terrain, but can then step onto the bitumen and travel at 110kmh with perfect acumen.
Yet it was the old-school Wrangler that impressed the most. The three-door still feels ultra adept, powering through the most challenging tasks, while still having the ability to rip out the rubber floor mats and be pressure-washed clean or take off the doors.
First launched in May with two petrol engine options (a four-cylinder and a V6), an oil-burner has joined the Cherokee range.
It's one smooth operator, ticking along at highway speeds without a whimper and it pairs well to the nine-speed box. The extra torque compared to the V6 makes the throttle response quick and easy. This was especially evident over some tricky off-road terrain.
Based on the Limited variant, the Yanks haven't adopted diesel engines like the Europeans, so you won't see it in entry-level spec or hardcore Trailhawk, but it comes with some pretty good kit.
Standard gear includes 18-inch aluminium wheels, Alpine nine-speaker stereo with 21cm touch-screen and sat nav, leather trim, push button start, colour TFT digital cluster for the driver and xenon headlights.
Safety, too, has come a long way and the Cherokee is five-star rated.
This variant gets all the boxes ticked, including seven airbags, stability control along with rollover mitigation, radar cruise control, lane departure warning and blind spot monitoring.
Cars have become more than just transport.
Brands are working harder than ever before to snare buyers young, and hang on to them for the long haul - offering vehicles which suit changing lifestyle needs. The Europeans have made this an art form.
Jeep has its own spin on things and has undertaken a long-term lease of Villa Gusto. This stunning intimate accommodation and restaurant in the Victorian High Country will be used by Jeep and its parent company Fiat Chrysler for valued customers and in-house operations.
Privileged Jeep buyers will be able to visit and see the true capabilities of their vehicles.
Anyone seeking bling with a dark edge can go for the Blackhawk special editions (left).
Available on Compass, Patriot, Wrangler and Grand Cherokee, they all feature a shadowy theme, with black badging, seven-slot grille and wheels.
These offerings are all about street appeal and do look pretty damn mean in the metal.
Model: Jeep Cherokee Limited Diesel.
Details: Five-door, four-wheel drive medium-size SUV.
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel generating maximum power of 125kW and peak torque of 350Nm.
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic.
Consumption: 5.8 litres/100km (combined average).
Towing capacity: 2393kg, tow ball rating 239kg.
Bottom line: $49,000.