We review the 2017 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon and Grand Cherokee SRT to see why Jeep has become the king of track and trail
The Jeep brand continues to climb higher and higher in the market. 2016 saw the highest sales for the brand ever as they reached over 900,000 units in the United States. From that high ground, they look down on other popular brands like Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, and Subaru. The iconic brand even sells more than the combined totals for Fiat, Chrysler, and Dodge. The growth of the truck market has certainly helped, but the quality of range in the Jeep products remains a crucial factor in their success.
We decided to spend some time at opposite ends of the Jeep spectrum to see where the brand has come from its rough and rugged military origins. At one end, we leave the pavement and experience the trail-blazing prowess of the 2017 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon Hard Rock. On the other side, we strap in and take control of the 475 horsepower 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT. Will Jeep be able to maintain the classic brand image with the pressures of carrying the FCA group as a more mainstream automaker?
2017 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon Hard Rock
If you are looking for a nice and subtle automobile it may be best to avoid the Hypergreen painted Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon. Our model was equipped with the special edition Hard Rock trim which added features like the black soft top, 17-inch black aluminum wheels, off-road rock rails, and a steel front bumper. The Wrangler Hard Rock is the ultimate package for anyone looking for a “no-sacrifices” Jeep experience. The latest JK Wrangler is powered by the 3.0L V6 engine that produces 285 horsepower and is good for several miles per gallon. I say “several” because the Jeep Wrangler is notorious for poor gas mileage and managed around 16 MPG in our mixed driving. Thankfully, the next generation 2019 JL Wrangler will be equipped with a diesel powertrain that could see closer to 25 miles per gallon.
On the road, the Wrangler rides as tall as it looks with quite a bit of sway in the suspension. In most cases, it is not a problem but banked turns at highway speeds can have you wondering if the steering wheel is connected to the front tires. Off the road, it more than makes up for its shortcomings. The Wrangler is by far the best factory vehicle we have ever driven over rough terrain and effortlessly powers through mud, over rocks, and across snow covered fields without hesitation. Our BF Goodrich Mud-Terrain T/A tires clawed away at the earth as we made our way over some snowy trails near the Tehachapi mountains. The interior also provides great comfort levels to help insulate the driver from the “Great Outdoors.” The bright green Wrangler rumbled along, over the worst that California weather could muster, while we enjoyed the heated leather seats. The noise level is certainly higher with the soft-top roof but it really wasn’t a major distraction on the highway and the top can easily fold into the rear. The Jeep Wrangler Hard Rock is the perfect adventure vehicle and speaks to a growing culture of buyers that seek to enjoy the experiences of life. Jeep has sold over 1 million units in the US of the current JK Wrangler and will likely keep that momentum with the new JL model.
2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT
Let’s be clear, a sport utility vehicle never truly needs 475 horsepower or a 6.4L Hemi V8 engine. That really doesn’t matter though because the latest Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT flies in the face of what is generally acceptable. While the Wrangler speaks to the crowd that wants to take their adventure anywhere, the Grand Cherokee SRT speaks to those who want to set the cruise control to 100MPH and blast to Vegas for the weekend, loaded with several close friends and all their luggage. The rich brown Laguna Leather interior is one of the nicest in any American vehicle and is a far cry from the Jeep brand of the past.
The 8.4″ Uconnect screen displays performance data and lets you dial in your preferred level of SRT tomfoolery. If you want the maximum power, a hard gear shift that resembles gunfire, but a comfortable suspension setting – the Grand Cherokee SRT can deliver that for you. Although, the term “comfortable” hardly describes even the softest suspension tuning mode.
With everything dialed up to “hey cops, look at me!” mode, the Grand Cherokee will launch from 0-60mph in less than 5 seconds. With all four wheels gripping the earth, your body is pushed deep into the leather seats. The SRT may not have Hellcat power just yet, a 707hp Trackhawk will be on sale late this year, but the noise and off-the-line pull are enough to put a grin on any passenger’s face.
The Future : 2017 Jeep Compass
Both the iconic Wrangler and the ostentatious Grand Cherokee SRT help build the Jeep brand persona in the US. While more mainstream brands like Toyota or Chevrolet try to be all things to all people, Jeep speaks to Jeep people. But in order to build the brand, you have to continue to create more loyal fans.
The two models we tested range from $45-70k and simply won’t appeal to younger buyers looking to begin their Jeep journey. This is where new models like the all-new 2017 Jeep Compass will continue the brand momentum. We recently had the chance to briefly experience the new Compass and the Jeep spirit is still present.
The new Compass may not have the off-road capability of the Wrangler or the performance of the SRT, but it delivers to an entry level buyer that is looking for something different. The vehicle design and trim options give affordable ways for customers to get off the beaten path and seek out the experiences in life. This is a large improvement over the outgoing Compass model, which simply made buyers question their life choices.
Ultimately, Jeep is on top because they understand the spirit of the brand and how to translate that into new product. Jeep purists may weep at brand dilution through an expanded product line, but young Jeep buyers eventually show up out on the trail in a Wrangler. With the current progression, they will also get to enjoy a much better Wrangler experience than past adventure seekers.