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  • 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee, Renegade Trailhawk & Concept Drives

2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee, Renegade Trailhawk & Concept Drives

Full Immersion into the Jeep Experience

Sep 30, 2016
The word “concept” has a nebulous and fluid meaning in the world of automobiles. It can mean anything from a far-fetched futuristic figment of imagination carved from foam to a preview of what engineers and stylists are thinking of to a thinly veiled disguise of an upcoming production vehicle. It can also mean “this will never go into production, but it’s cool, and we feel like doing it.” The latter is the philosophy that the engineers and designers that Jeep adhere to, as evidenced by its many years of debuting fantastic and desirable “concepts” at the annual Moab Easter Jeep Safari that are often actually driven on the trail.
We recently attended a Jeep event outside of Los Angeles with some of the brand’s recent concepts on display, including the Hellcat-powered Wrangler Trailcat, the Wrangler Shortcut, and 75th Anniversary “Tribute” model. Oh yeah, the full lineup of the refreshed 2017 Grand Cherokee lineup was also present. More on that later.
It was also this author’s first opportunity to take the Renegade off-road. The Fiat-based, Italian-built compact faced intense scrutiny and questioning from its debut about its bona fides of being a “real” Jeep. We can attest that after taking it off road on some moderately challenging trails that it is indeed capable and worthy of the Jeep name, but it requires a different approach to off-roading than its more trail-seasoned siblings.
Photo 2/19   |   012 Jeep Shortcut Concept
Jeep Wrangler Shortcut Concept
The approach and inspiration for the Shortcut is simple and relatable. Inspired by the iconic CJ-5, the Shortcut is a JK Wrangler with 12 inches cut out of its overall length and wheelbase, equipped with 35-inch BFGoodrich tires, front and rear Dana 44s, and a 2-inch lift with Fox shocks. Basically, all the hardware basics any Jeep aficionado would probably do themselves. As a demonstration of the confidence Jeep has in the mechanical soundness of its concepts, it allowed us to take this one-off on the trail. All of the mechanical and electronic systems on the Shortcut worked flawlessly, something that can’t be said of many driveable concepts.
As you would expect, the shortened wheelbase gave the Shortcut a decidedly choppier ride than a standard Wrangler. It also made it extremely maneuverable on the trail. With a short wheelbase and tall ride height, the sensation of driving the Shortcut off-road can be somewhat pucker-inducing for the uninitiated. However, the added articulation with the suspension upgrades gave it superb confidence on the off-road trail. As a fully functional design exercise, we give the Shortcut an enthusiastic thumbs-up. However, for a daily or frequently driven ride, the slightly better ride quality of your run-of-the-mill JK would make a more livable everyday choice.
Photo 9/19   |   2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk Side Profile
Jeep Renegade Trailhawk
While some of the old-school purists see Jeep’s recent growth and expansion of its lineup to be a “sell-out,” the Renegade is proof that a brand can expand its product base while remaining true to its roots. Yes, it’s true the Renegade is based on the Fiat 500 X and is built in the same factory in Melfi, Italy. Its styling, love it or hate it, is in-your-face with deliberate Jeep design cues, from the round headlights to taillights inspired by gas cans. The cynics would say the styling is trying to over-compensate for its car roots.
Styling being subjective, we set aside any judgment on its aesthetics to focus on the off-road driving experience. The Renegade Trailhawk has multiple terrain settings and a virtual “low range” enabled by software voodoo with its nine-speed automatic transmission. The Jeep Active Drive low range enables a 20:1 crawl ratio. While unmatched in the B-segment crossover class, it’s dwarfed by the Cherokee Trailhawk’s 47.8:1 and Wrangler Rubicon’s 73.1:1 ratios. Consequently, off-roading requires much more forceful and deliberate use of the throttle. On a few of the uphill sections of the trail that the Shortcut, Rubicon, and Grand Cherokee Trailhawk effortlessly motored up, we had to go foot-to-the-floor in the Renegade. To its credit, the little Jeep eventually made the grade but not without a lot more groaning noises from the engine and driveline. However, try the same trail in a Honda HR-V or Mazda CX-3 and be prepared for an epic stuck.
The Renegade Trailhawk is capable of far more than probably 95 percent of its owners will ever subject it to. It earns our respect as a legitimate extension of the Jeep brand. However, if real and frequent off-roading is one of your favorite pastimes, we would recommend the excellent Cherokee Trailhawk, the newly reintroduced Grand Cherokee Trailhawk and, of naturally, any of the Wrangler models.
Photo 13/19   |   2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk Front Three Quarter 04 E1458585838780
2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk
The updates to the 2017 Grand Cherokee were the main purpose of the event. However, most of the assembled journalists, yours truly included, were more enamored with getting behind the wheel of the concepts. The 2017 Trailhawk and Summit models get a revised front fascia first seen on the 2016 75th Anniversary model. The SRT model gets a revised front fascia seen in some spyshots featuring a lower horizontal slot, which many saw as a preview of the forthcoming Hellcat-powered Trackhawk model. The Jeep PR staff present would neither confirm nor deny the styling changes on the SRT preview the upcoming über-Jeep, other than saying, “make of it what you will.”
All of the Grand Cherokees at the event other than the SRT were powered by the updated Pentastar 3.6L V-6 engine, which gets a modest bump in horsepower to 295 for 2017 and some extensive internal changes, including an 11.3:1 compression ratio and major changes to its EGR system for improved emissions. The Trailhawk model adds steel rock rails, a specially calibrated version of Jeep’s Quadra-Lift air suspension for improved articulation and suspension travel, and underbody skidplates.
Unlike the Renegade, the Grand’s Quadra-Drive II system has a true geared low range. With the torque multiplication afforded by the low range, the Pentastar provided ample power for tackling the trail. Cost-no-object, we would probably opt for the EcoDiesel 3.0L turbodiesel V-6 for its combination of torque and fuel economy, which is available on the Trailhawk as well as most other non-SRT Grand Cherokee trims. Driven back to back with the Wrangler Rubicon, the Grand handled the trail with a near equal level of confidence and a lot more refinement and comfort. With more than two solid decades of development and refinement, the Grand Cherokee is a legitimate Jeep to its core, and the Trailhawk is the ultimate evolution of the formula. With a starting price of $43,990, we would say the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk represents a tremendous value for an SUV that is a livable, refined daily driver that’s also ready for some legitimate off-road action.
Both the concepts and production models on hand reinforce Jeep’s reputation as being a true-to-its-roots pure SUV brand, nearly unmatched in the world with the possible exception of Land Rover. The key difference being attainability. Sure, Land Rover offers some models starting in the high 30s and low 40s. But that’s the lowest rung on the pricing ladder. Jeep offers plenty of models starting in the $20-40K range, most of them offering outstanding off-road capability right off the showroom floor. For those looking for a more specialized experience, you can option the on-road–oriented SRT up to nearly $80,000 and higher-end Wrangler models approaching $50,000. The breadth of Jeep’s product line offers something for nearly any budget or need, each offering the brand’s unique combination of distinct style and capability.