Gina Baksa heads to the North Yorkshire Moors for exciting off-road action with Renegade, Wrangler and Cherokee Jeeps
Freedom. Fun. Adventure. Never has a brand embodied these values as much as Jeep. The iconic SUV pioneer celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and what better location to test the 4×4 legend than with an off-road ramble across the North York Moors national park.
From the first Willys Jeep in 1941 to today’s luxury Grand Cherokee SUV, Jeep has consistently captured the imagination of the public and its owners. For me, the Willy will be forever synonymous with the Seventies TV show M*A*S*H. From 1945 onwards, Willys took its four-wheel drive vehicle to the public with its CJ (Civilian Jeep) versions, making these the first mass-produced 4×4 civilian vehicles.
We’re outside the Feversham Arms Hotel in beautiful Helmsley after a fabulous overnight stay (breakfasts are superb). Suitably fortified with coffee and a full English, I’m ready to test Jeep’s 75th-anniversary special editions: Renegade, Wrangler, Cherokee and Grand Cherokee across challenging Yorkshire terrain.
Choosing a funky red Renegade with co-driver Brian, this is my first time in a Jeep and I’m impressed by the solid build and comfortable ride. The 2.0-litre, 140hp 9-speed automatic engine is a smooth operator chomping at the bit. And I love the height advantage of an SUV – better all-round visibility and a greater feeling of safety. It’s raining heavily but the wipers are efficient, the cabin is warm – thank you heated seats – the controls easily at hand and the sound system superb. Black cloth seats with tangerine accent stitching and a sexy leather-wrapped steering wheel add to the aesthetic comfort. I want a Renegade.
Available in petrol and diesel, with colour options of black, grey, white and Jungle green, the Renegade 75th editions are gorgeously vibrant. Key features include the Anniversary edition badge, bronze accents on the iconic 7-grille and My Sky removable roof panels. The instrument cluster has an easy-to-view 7-inch display and I especially appreciate the lane departure warning triangles on the wing mirrors. Particularly useful on country lanes, as well as motorways.
Leaving Helmsley we drive – in misty drizzle – to Kirkymoorside then to Pickering, turning north over the North York Moors past Fylingdales to enigmatic Whitby (a must-visit for Dracula fans) and our final destination, the offroad track just above beautiful Robin Hood’s Bay.
Here, the North Sea is boisterous and it’s blowing a gale. We are ankle deep in mud. It’s freezing. Perfect testing ground for the gutsy Renegade, which negotiates the steep curves and climbs with ease. This is my first off-roading session and I’m loving it. Slithers of sunlight attempt to pierce an overcast grey sky that ends in the perfect English downpour. Thankfully Jeep’s 75th-anniversary pop-up showroom provides welcome coffee and shelter from the elements.
Jeep Renegade was crowned top 4×4 of 2016 by 4×4 Magazine, who announced that the ‘Renegade is one of the most significant 4×4 vehicles to be produced in the last five years’. I’m inclined to agree. But it was time to leap from the entry model to Jeep’s luxury SUV, the gorgeous Grand Cherokee. Making our way over the curves and slopes is easy in this monster. I cruise slowly to the edge of what feels like a 100-ft cliff. Seconds earlier I could see the North Sea. Now all I can see is sky (the car is at a 45-degree angle) and I hear the friendly marshall explain that all I need to do is: “Lock the gears into drive. Point the wheel forward, then take your foot off”.
Off? You mean no brakes? Yup. No brakes.
Sweaty-palmed, I’m still more excited than nervous. Let go? Control is more my thing but I don’t have time to think as we slide forward. Over the edge in to a 40-foot drop. It’s terrifying and exhilarating. Incredibly, the Grand Cherokee knows her way and comes to a gentle stop at the bottom. Breathless – we go round again.
We enjoyed a few more spins and slides before leaving Robin Hoods Bay, heading south to Ingleby Greenhow and into the forest where we waited our turn to ascend the challenging hillside steps (aka boulders) of Rudland Rigg in the North York Moors national park.
To my amazement, the Grand Cherokee tackles these huge rocks head on. We’re driving straight over them thanks to the Lift system. This raises the vehicle to a max ground clearance of 280mm – a full 60mm higher than the normal ride. It can also lower 40mm for easy entry, exit and loading. The Selec-Terrain traction control system boasts Auto, Snow, Sand, Mud and Rock modes, handy for those days when school runs and supermarket car parks become a little tiresome and you fancy a more adventurous road less travelled.
The 75th Anniversary Grand Cherokee edition includes Quadra-Lift air suspension, the Selec-Terrain System and 20-inch bronze-finish wheels. It’s in a class of its own and my excitement in the Renegade is a distant memory. I’ve realised I prefer luxury and comfort – especially when the engagement is this powerful. The difference – as well as a few grand in price – between the entry level Renegade and the Grand Cherokee is remarkable. Masterfully built, the Grand Cherokee offers superb luxury in the cockpit and is one of the most popular SUVs on the market. Most owners won’t be taking it offroad but if you get the chance, find somewhere wild and wuthering to test this elegant beast.
The Cherokee’s throaty 3.0-litre engine takes everything in its stride thanks to its 4×4 system with additional traction capability. On road the acceleration, road-holding and sheer comfort is superb. Offroad the Grand Cherokee makes mincemeat of even the harshest terrain. New headlamps and a bold new fascia give it a tough yet sexy look, while the heated steering wheel and heated leather seats were very welcome on the windswept Yorkshire moors.
On our descent, we sped along narrow lanes, curious sheep, gates to open – and close – and beautiful rolling fields, hedgerows and woodland. Sublime.
We return to the Feversham Arms in Helmsley for lunch: muddy, wet and exhilarated. What an incredibly life-affirming morning. In the words of Damien Dally, head of brand for Jeep UK: “In our 75th year, a landmark moment, it seems fitting that we’ve demonstrated that our vehicles really do go anywhere and can do anything by creating the world’s first pop-up dealership which you can only get to in a 4×4.”
I couldn’t agree with him more. The distinction with the Jeep brand is simple: you don’t drive it, you live it.
Jeep – Where and How?
Feversham Arms Hotel & Verbena Spa
1 High Street, Helmsley, North Yorkshire, YO62 5AG
T: +44 (0) 1439 770 766
Yorkshire 4×4 Treks