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Jeep Range 2014 review


Many dream of the tough stuff - the trail-rated Wrangler, Cherokee and Grand Cherokee tackle it. 

High expectations are a big part of Jeep ownership. The US-based SUV brand defines off-road toughness in terms of the hits its vehicles will take and the terrain they can traverse.

That legacy originates from the Willy's Jeep, which formed the backbone of the US infantry's mobilised assault during World War II.

The Jeep name and signature seven-slot grille are not without historic irony. The grille is a modification of the vertical staves fitted to versions produced under licence by Ford during the war. After the war, Ford unsuccessfully sued Willy's for the Jeep name and then in 2001 Daimler (Jeep's then owner) sued GM for the Hummer's use of a similar grille design.

Fast forward to 2014 and Jeep regards its 'trail-rated" models as direct descendants of that original go-anywhere Willy's.

Trail-rated refers to the vehicle's ability to manoeuvre, articulate (keep wheels on the ground), maintain traction, maintain ground clearance and achieve water crossings.

All of the above criteria are able to be objectively assessed in the design phase as well as in real-world testing.

Today, every Wrangler sold in Australia achieves this standard, along with a host of Grand Cherokees and the top-spec Cherokee Trailhawk.

The appeal lies in the fact that many people dream of doing it tough, even if they only tough it out over a sandy track.

To prove the point, Jeep Australia took a selection of thus-rated tough-mobiles on a Victorian alpine jaunt that involved rock-stepped trails, clay-covered descents and enough water to keep the windscreen wipers working.

Wrangler Overland

The Wrangler remains the most authentic - though far from the most popular - Jeep. Its panels can still be removed and the windscreen dropped to provide a Willy's-style silhouette, though there are now three and five-door options.

Harking back to the hard-working military vehicle of WWII are the ladder-frame construction and live axles - for now, anyway, given there's talk of an alloy unibody chassis for the next generation.

The downside to Wrangler ownership lies in the above. Its unsurpassed rough-road riding comes at the cost of passenger comfort. The suspension is designed to move the wheels - and the occupants along with it - as it traverses logs, drop-offs and underbody-crushing obstacles.

Watch the Wrangler Overland in action here

Grand Cherokee Overland 

The absence of occupant consideration is a trait that has been engineered out of the more modern Grand Cherokee and its smaller Cherokee sibling.

As recent arrivals on the 4WD scene, both vehicles have a more benevolent approach to keeping those aboard intact over major obstacles. That consideration extends to the cabin refinement - unlike the Wrangler, you can't take a hose to these interiors to clean them out.

Touchscreens and soft-feel plastics are the norm here. Flashy buttons on the centre console activate not just the software, including advanced hill-descent control, but also the hardware, such as low-range all-paw drive.

The Grand Cherokee owes its basic structure to the Mercedes-Benz ML, courtesy of the previous combination of the two companies. The four-wheel drive, however, is Jeep's unique property, giving this otherwise street-friendly SUV a bush-bashing capacity that rivals the Wrangler.

The regular $67,000 Overland can be upgraded to a trail rating for just $650, which adds protection for the fuel tank, front suspension, transfer case and underbody while trimming the wheel size from 20 to 18 inches.

Watch the Grand Cherokee Overland in action here

Cherokee Trailhawk

Opt for a mid-sized SUV and the Cherokee Trailhawk costs $47,500. It is so far removed from the donor Alfa Romeo Guilietta that most passengers will refuse to believe it.

The smaller price comes with a scaled-down interior but no compromise to the vehicle's ability to traverse some of the worst trails we could find through the Mt Buffalo National Park.

Watch the Cherokee Trailhawk in action here

VERDICT 

Most people will be content to dream but for those who want to live it, the trail-rated Jeep range delivers a drive that doesn't differentiate between extremes of on and off-road behaviour. The Wrangler is the least refined of the group in terms of bitumen behaviour but can't be bested when the going gets tough.Ultimately it comes down to your needs, finances and how many people you need to fit but all trails track back to the Jeep.