The Jeep Grand Cherokee is the perfect match for Mkhuze – while not the flashiest or most obvious, both manage to get under your skin
Pictures: Stephen Smith and Supplied
Mkhuze Game Reserve is one of those places that gets under your skin, slowly slipping its tentacles into your subconscious until it bewilderingly but firmly has a spot at the top of your ‘favourite game reserves’ list. This despite spending most of its time in the shadow of the more illustrious Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, and lying at the end of a rough and rocky track.
While 95 per cent of the trip from Durban to Mkhuze is on tar roads, it’s the last few kays of rocky track that make it more suitable for a Jeep Grand Cherokee than a sedan. But once you’re in the reserve (most of) the roads turn to tar and are navigable in just about anything with four wheels. But the added benefit of an SUV, as all you faithful Kruger Parkers will know, is that the added height lets you see over the grass and into the bushes behind, where the more exciting critters lurk.
The Grand Cherokee perfectly fits the role of family holiday vehicle, no matter the final destination. Despite having all the luxuries of a modern SUV, it still manages to retain a fair degree of macho 4×4 ability. A permanent 4×4 system is standard on all models, with a low-range transfer case, although the Overland models get the added benefit of a limited-slip differential for truly outstanding off-road traction. Jeep’s excellent Selec-Terrain traction-management system with five driving programmes has been refined for the 2014 Grand Cherokee and makes off-road driving almost foolproof under most conditions.
Another standard feature is the Quadra-Lift air suspension that allows the vehicle to rise and lower according to the situation. On the open highway the vehicle will lower to 207mm for better aerodynamics and therefore fuel economy. For off-road driving you can raise the suspension to 254mm, or even 280mm (which is the go-to setting for low-speed game watching). One downside of this highest suspension setting, though, is that it can make a horrible banging noise over bumps. Don’t worry – you’re not damaging the vehicle.
Interior space and comfort are another two boxes that the Grand Cherokee ticks very successfully. It isn’t available as a seven-seater, but the five seats present are generous in size and comfort, and the luggage area is similarly cavernous.
As you’d expect, the standard kit in each Grand Cherokee is all-encompassing. One new feature on the 2014 vehicle is a significantly upgraded infotainment system complete with an 8.4” touchscreen. While you don’t need much entertainment when you’re driving around a game reserve like Mkhuze, where the birds and cicadas are your soundtrack, it is handy to be able to connect your iPod via Bluetooth and play the call of a Narina Trogon in an effort to lure it from its place of refuge.
The vehicle we were testing was fitted with the 3-litre turbodiesel V6 engine, and I would venture to say that this is the only one I could personally consider. With 179kW and 550Nm is has all the grunt necessary for any towing or overtaking manoeuvre, but still returns sensible fuel consumption figures of around 9ℓ/100km. For those of you with a passion for petrol, and there are many, there is a choice between a 3,6-litre V6 (210kW/347Nm) or a 5,7-litre V8 (259kW/520Nm) engine, or even the 6,4-litre V8 (344kW/624Nm) in the SRT8. All of them make use of an eight-speed automatic gearbox, with steering-mounted paddle shifters.
Mkhuze has many points in its favour, from the beautiful landscape and pans to the magical guided Fig Tree Walk, but one of the primary attractions for me is the peace and quiet. Here there are no Kruger-like crowds, and the only time you have to mingle is in the hides, from where a motley collection of souls points long lenses at unsuspecting birds and animals.
In many ways the Grand Cherokee is a great match for Mkhuze – it’s great for holidays, and also manages to slip its way to the top of your list despite not being the flashiest, most obvious option. As an all-rounder it’s hard to beat.
For R671 000 you can have the 3.6L V6 Limited, but the vehicle we would choose would be the R768 000 3.0L CRD Limited. All models come with a 3-year/100 000km warranty and a 6-year/100 000km maintenance plan.