Text: Iñigo Roces / Photos: Iñigo Roces | posted August 12, 2011 10:43
The Jeep Thrill
Having survived all sorts of environments from its tour of duty in World War II, it's no surprise that the Jeep (or GP as it was originally called) saw continued private use during the years after the war. One Maurice Wilks even acknowledged it as the inspiration for his own creation, the Land Rover Defender. Over the years, Willy's Overland (the company that built the GP) eventually evolved to become the Jeep brand we know today, while its line of models grew to offer as sparse or as luxurious a 4x4 as one wanted.
In spite of the decades of evolution, the Jeep brand still hasn't strayed far from its rugged roots and to prove that, CATS Motors invited members of the media to the Landcraft Adventures closed off-road track in Angeles Pampanga to sample their latest Jeep models in celebration of its 70th Anniversary.
Entitled the Jeep Thrill, the event featured special 70th Anniversary editions of the Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited, the Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland and the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. Thrill being a part of the title meant that participants would get to experience off-road the rough and tumble Jeep way.
To see just what kinds of terrain a Jeep can face, the experience would take all the cars through two segments. The first utilized a high speed rally cross track, composed of loose and muddy soil, where a gymkhana-like course was laid out. It included sweeping turns, a chicane, wide loops and a figure eight obstacle spread across dirt trails turned muddy by the day's rain.
The second segment involved traversing through more extreme off-road situations. The cars were to drive up and down slopes as steep 50 degrees, encounter dips and holes that would leave as little as two wheels touching the ground, and wade through water trenches, a watering hole and a creek. Each and every one of the vehicles could be used for the trails, proving that there was no soft-roader within the stable.
The first vehicle to go through the test was the Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited. Imbued with a 3.6 liter engine and full-time four-wheel drive, it handled the rally cross section with ease. Over in the more extreme section, just a simple press of a button engaged 4WD Low. This shifted the transmission to a slower but more tractable gear which delivers drive to all four wheels with less differential slip. This allowed it to handle steep climbs and very uneven terrain with hardly any complaint. Even inexperienced off-roaders could rest easy as electronic systems like hill descent control err on the more cautious side. When left on, it will stop the vehicle right in the middle of a descent, especially on slopes steeper than 35 degrees, waiting for the driver to step on the throttle and allow it to proceed. Traction control would also activate by itself, quickly reducing wheel spin and preventing the vehicle from digging itself into a grave if the driver happened to floor the throttle while it was stuck. Even with all these aids, instructors riding shotgun were there to frequently remind us to take it easy.
The next vehicle to tackle the course was the Grand Cherokee Overland. Equipped with a 5.7 Hemi V8, this variant featured several more alluring extras. One interesting feature was the Quadra-Lift Air Suspension that allowed the vehicle to electronically raise its height a few inches more than the standard Cherokee. It also made for a more comfortable ride over many of the obstacles. The increase in power from the much larger engine was nonetheless easily controlled by the onboard traction and hill-descent control systems. It also made climbing steep slopes much easier than in the Cherokee Limited. With so much power on tap, all it took was a blip to surmount them.
The last vehicle to go through the track was the Wrangler Unlimited 70th Anniversary. Marking the brand's 70th year, it's just like a Wrangler with a lot of exclusive cosmetic extras. Despite this, it still bears all the prerequisites for hard-core off-roading like body on frame construction, rigid axles in the front and back, 4WD Low and Lock capabilities as well as the new electronic sway bar-disconnecting feature. Despite being the most hard-core of the bunch, the Wrangler was, by far, surprisingly the quietest in the trail. Hardly any thump or shudder was heard in the cabin even through the most extreme obstacles in the track, not that the other Cherokees weren't quite quiet and comfortable already. Only a clumsy second shifter made it difficult to engage 4 High and 4 Low. That taken care of, the Wrangler drove like it was made for the terrain, returning the most grip and confidence among the three and tackling whatever the course threw at it with the most ease. It may have been the most spartan of the trio but was certainly the most enjoyable off-road, reminding many in attendance why Jeep has achieved such a status when it comes to off-road.
As the rest of the drivers had their turns at the cars, the rain continued to pour. Yet contrary to what many would expect, the event continued on, even as the trails were made far more slippery and difficult by the torrential downpour. There couldn't be any better way to prove that Jeeps can go anywhere and don't ever back down from a challenge.