Associate online editor Benson Kong recently requisitioned the keys to the Grand Cherokee for a quick off-road adventure in the nearby Santa Ana Mountains, finding himself a trail off state route 74, better known to us locals as the Ortega Highway. The trail was rated according to The Internet and Kong generally agreed, though he said that the trip did have its moments. I'll let him describe it in his own words:

"What started as a decently sized road soon narrowed considerably. Ideal off-road vehicles are supposed to be short, stout, and not too wide -- the last characteristic being particularly useful when you realize that the passenger-side wheels are pretty close to a dropoff. The Grand Cherokee is about 3 inches wider than a Wrangler, but felt okay even as the terrain worsened. There was plenty of gnarled vegetation brushing up against the side mirrors, however.

The trail started off on dirt and small rocks but quickly deteriorated, with larger rocks and big depressions becoming more common. Driving slower than 10 mph had its benefits, allowing me to gingerly maneuver around the sharper-looking objects in my way. Our Jeep doesn't have the most ideal tires for off-road activities, but the factory Michelins and suspension seemed to cope with the varying steepness and changing grip being thrown at it just fine. On a less rocky section going downhill, I got the driver's side front almost fully compressed, which I noticed after I had stopped. Here, the incline angle was great enough where gravity is a noticeable obstacle when attempting to shut the door. On a separate, especially rocky part, it felt like I had the steering wheel nudged left for most of the descent, even as I continued to track mostly straight. There was only one moment where the Jeep was upset to the point where the rear end shifted unexpectedly, but I think I could have corrected that on a second go-around."

Kong also mentioned that he didn't think the terrain was challenging enough to require the use of the Grand Cherokee's low-range four-wheel drive.

Sometime before Kong headed for the hills, Truck Trend online editor Melissa Spiering changed out a taillight bulb that had gone out prematurely. Replacing the taillight bulbs on the Grand Cherokee requires the removal of the taillight and she was concerned about the process, having spent a half-hour changing a bulb on her personal Mini Cooper. It turned out to be a five-minute job that required only a flat-head screwdriver to pop out the setscrews holding the taillight in place.

Despite the addition of 1400 miles and the off-road trip, fuel economy didn't budge an inch from last month's 17.7 mpg and thanks to a retreat in gas prices, the cost of a full tank of 87 unleaded for the Grand Cherokee dropped to a dollar or two north of $80.

Our Cars
Months in service 5
Miles 9215
Average fuel economy 17.7 mpg
Maintenance cost $72.61 - oil change, tire rotation
Normal-wear cost $6.57 - taillight bulb