Today, Chrysler’s Jim Morrison told an audience of automotive reporters that he had taken a Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk over the full Rubicon Trail, without winching or towing.
According to ex-AMC people interviewed by Allpar, crossing the Rubicon was the primary test for a Jeep before the “Trail Rated” system was applied.
While there are different levels of Trail Rating, there is just one for the Rubicon: being able to take the full trail without being towed or winched. The Jeep JJ prototype, an off-road vehicle based on the Plymouth Reliant platform (which presumably would have gone up against Suzuki Samurai), was reportedly rejected because it had to be winched in some spots.
According to Mr. Morrison, the KL Cherokee can “go toe to toe with the Cherokees of the 1980s. … it’s incredible what it can do.” Part of the reason is the ability to put all available torque onto a single wheel in front or back.
Mr. Morrison also mentioned that the tow hooks, painted red, could handle 1.5 times the gross vehicle weight; buyers “will use the tow hooks to pull the [Cherokee’s] competitors out of the snow.” As with Wrangler, there are two in front and one in rear, because the rear hook can be angled to be available from both sides of the vehicle; having just one saves weight and money.
According to Mr. Morrison, they wanted to call the new vehicle “Cherokee” from the start, but given resistance from XJ fans, they knew that meant beefing up the car’s off-road capability; the XJ Cherokee is still common on the trail. The original Jeep Cherokee was a revolutionary vehicle, providing good enough on-road manners and utility that most buyers never took it off-road; yet it also had excellent trail capabilities even in stock form.
The current KL Cherokee is generally seen as being far superior to the XJ on-road, with car-like manners, cornering, acceleration, and fuel economy. It does have some shortfalls off-road versus the XJ: the Trailhawk is the only version of the new Cherokee designed for off-road use (one key issue being skid plates, which do not appear to be available on any lesser version), ground clearance is somewhat lower, suspension travel is not as generous, and there are no easy modifications to increase ground clearance or suspension travel. Jeep mainly compensated for these issues by using advanced traction systems.
Chrysler has run some videos about the Rubicon passage, but may be talking it up more now that Cherokees are arriving at dealerships.