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11 June 2012

Jeep Thrills: Off-roading made more fun with the Grand Cherokee and Rubicon

Words and photos by Jose Carlo Roberto R. Sapera
I must admit, driving off-road makes me somewhat jittery. There's always that fear of tipping over or crashing into solid rock. That's why most of the time, I take the passenger seat instead and just go on for the ride. But last month, I had to sum up the courage to get back on the driver's seat of a 4x4 when CATS Motors Inc., the official importer and distributor of the Jeep brand in the country, brought us to the slopes of Tanay, Rizal to experience the all-new Grand Cherokee and Rubicon on the rough stuff.
Early that morning, we arrived at Pranjetto Hills where we were briefed by no other than Beeboy Bargas of Land Craft 4x4 on the day's specially laid-out track and the pertinent features of the vehicles we about to wrestle. 
After Beeboy's short spiel, I wasted no time and jumped behind the wheel of a brand-spanking-new 3.0L Common Rail Diesel (CRD) Grand Cherokee that’s said to have 241 horsepower with 500 Nm of torque under the hood. A quick jaunt on the main road confirmed that the Grand Cherokee diesel is indeed tenacious, not to mention its quick-responding five-speed auto box that made overtaking on provincial thoroughfares a breeze. But we're not here to blast through flat paved roads. So a few kilometers in, we veered off the tarmac and went off road to put this Jeep through its paces.
Underneath the Grand Cherokee's tough exterior is an even tougher chassis that's built to go beyond the limits. And with a quick flip of its Selec-Terrain System, ride height and drivetrain settings are automatically altered to suit the trail ahead. I switched to the “Rocks” setting for the rocky and bumpy trail that stood before us. This option splits the torque 50/50 between the front wheels and lifts the vehicle's height by a few inches to help clear obstacles. 
For a large luxury SUV, the Grand Cherokee astonishingly felt right at home on the rough as it does on the road. It made crawling over bumps and ruts look easy, which gave me the confidence I needed to conquer the unfamiliar terrain. And thankfully, I didn't lose my lunch even on the steepest descents thanks to the Hill Descent feature that automatically slows the vehicle down while going downhill. Given my insecurities with off road driving, I took the “slowly but surely” approach. But after just a few minutes behind the wheel of the Grand Cherokee, I realized just how exciting playing in the mud could be.
Next up was Jeep Rubicon 3.8L SMPI. Compared with the Grand Cherokee, this Jeep is somewhat harder to drive given its size and weight. Still, I stepped up to the challenge and drove this monster on the track.
With 199 horsepower and 315 Nm of torque to play with, the Rubicon had no trouble powering over steep hills and large boulders. It comes with features such as the Electronic Sway Bar Disconnect to increase articulation on uneven ground and help you get out of sticky situations. You should also find the Hill Decent Control and Hill Start Assist control helpful when going up or down terrain. It absolutely destroyed everything that stood in its way.
The new 2.8L CRD variant of the Rubicon also made its debut on the hills of Tanay. The thought of getting to play with 200 horses and 460 Nm of torque in the dirt filled me up to my neck with excitement, but there were just too many people waiting in line for a test drive. 
By the day's end, I realized that sitting behind the wheel of a 4x4 is far more exciting than being a spectator. Both the Grand Cherokee and Rubicon did exceed our expectations when it comes to off-roadability. And with its long list of features and aids, the off-roading experience is now made much safer and a lot more enjoyable for city guys like me. 
With the Jeep’s extensive 75 years of rich off-road experience, it's no wonder that there’s more fun beyond the concrete jungle and asphalt roads.   
For more information about the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Rubicon, visit any of Jeeps' authorized dealers in EDSA Greenhills, Pasong Tamo Extension, Makati City, and Alabang or log on to