The 2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk: Beyond Trail Rated
Allpar went to Chrysler’s proving grounds in Chelsea, Michigan — far away from anything else in Michigan — to experience the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk in person. This is a new for 2013, and is not just the usual decal-and-wheel package. Dave Vrabel, the Jeep engineer who guided us, spoke enthusiastically about it as we bounced around the course. (Mr. Vrabel is the Wrangler Program Manager.)
On the one hand, our correspondent, unlike Dave Vrabel, is not an experienced off-roader. Our photos do not do justice to the trail; we shot from the cab, and the depth of the ruts and dips is understated. What’s more, Mr. Vrabel did not baby the Jeep; we bounced around the trail, and crashed down on the skid plates numerous times. He chuckled once and said, “That’s what they’re for.” The Trailhawk, like the Wrangler, Compass, and Patriot, had been in action all day long on the trail, and had no rattles or other signs of trouble. [Read about our tests of the Compass and Patriot.]
Turning it over to Dave Vrabel:
I’ve had 25 Grand Cherokees and my wife drives Wranglers. I think I have the coolest job in the company. Doing the crazy stuff with the Jeep makes up for all those late nights when we’re working on paper. It’s fun to do.
[How do you compare the originals to these?] They’ve all had their little spot in my heart. I’m driving an SRT Grand Cherokee right now, and it’s probably my favorite of all time. My second favorite was the Summit that I had just before that… it’s just a really nice car. It’s perfect for any situation, from taking your mother-in-law to church to taking my daughter to a horse show and hauling a horse trailer. I think my third favorite would probably be the 5.9 Limited.
Trailhawk gets to be the most capable Grand Cherokee ever because of three things. One is the new tires. This is the most aggressive set of tires we’ve put on the Grand Cherokee, Goodyear Silent Armor tires. We’ve got some cool technology with Kevlar built into the sidewalls, and an aggressive tread that’s good with mud and rock and snow.
Jeep always had a lot of traction capability with the Quadra-Drive II, with a rear standard or electronic no-slip differential. It can actually put 100% of the power in one rear wheel.
This is a new off-road course, aptly named for the Trailhawk. The regular course wasn’t enough to really showcase all the extra capability that we added in this Grand Cherokee. It has Quadra-Drive II with the Quadra-Lift air suspension, so I’m going to put it in low range, turn on the hill descent control, and put it into rock mode. That’ll use the air suspension to take it up to almost 11 inches of ground clearance. It's the same sort of ground clearance it has in the Rubicon.
I’m going to put it into second gear and then I don’t even have to touch the third gear. I don’t even have to touch the brake, I’m just going to drive and steer. ... There’s a couple of pieces on the chin spoiler that are removable. I’m not even at the top of the travel. I’m just in Off-Road I because the rocks aren’t that bad here.
We’ve got this tow hook secured to the center of this vehicle like you wouldn’t believe. You can actually use this as a tow hook. And with the traction that we get out of these tires, we can climb a wall with them. A car that looks this good really shouldn’t be able to go where this goes. … right now, I only have two wheels in the air and two wheels on the ground. Other four-wheel-drive systems would get stuck right here because they’d just rev and they wouldn’t be able to power around. This’ll put all the power into that wheel back there and then the power shifts through.
It’s got full skid plate protection underneath and the rock rail… so watch, I can turn around and drop on the side over here just for fun and it… [bang!] Well, it’s just for fun right? It’s amazing the protection that these things offer. Competitors just left part of their body back there.
If people knew where we can take these things, they would be blown away. So we need to just keep showing them. The president of Ford said the new Explorer won’t follow the Grand Cherokee down the Rubicon Trail, but it doesn’t need to. ... but it’s what we do, right? We need to be true to our brand and we need to be true to what our customers are asking for. We’ve been able to do it with nicer interiors, better fuel economy and all that stuff too.
I guarantee an Explorer wouldn’t have made it through. Because we [the company] have one, we’ve played with it. It gets stuck in the first snowstorm, two inches of snow. It’s hilarious.
Our hill descent control works in reverse. Other manufacturers have hill descent control, right? They don’t get it. This is where you need it. Sometimes, you’ve gotten yourself into a mess, that’s when you need it the most. See, it automatically went back into the same gear I had, so we go the same speed. If you touch your brake and then try to go again, feel that traction getting you out. When you touch the brake and the hill descent control and take your foot off the brake, it disengages it. People panic because they don’t think it’s going to work. Then it disengages and you’re barreling down a hill.
We’re always testing it and worrying and playing with it over the weekends. Then we’ll come back and say okay, why don’t we do this? We change it and make it better. People put four-wheel-drive on a vehicle and think it’s an SUV and think they can say it’s as good as a Jeep. They just don’t have any of these fine details worked into their cars. That’s really what helps separate us from the others.
This car has been great. It’s built on a really solid chassis. It’s got isolated front and rear suspension cradles, it’s really quiet. We’re driving down a dirt road in 4-Low with off-road tires and having a conversation and the loudest thing is the fan. That’s a great indication of what this Jeep can do.
The coolest thing is you put it in snow mode, it’s like it’s on rails in snow. It absolutely points wherever you want to go and it takes off and it’s gone. So it’s really, really good.
- 2011-2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee engines
- 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee features and specifications
- 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8
- The Moose Test and Elk Test in Sweden and Germany
- 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee competitive comparisons page.
- Test drive / video
- Jeep Factory • Other Grand Cherokees