The party has wound down in Reno. Jim and I figured it might be a good idea to head out of town for part of the day, if only to escape everybody loading up their customs and classics to head home. Carson City is only 30 miles south of Reno, so we headed that way to see what we could see. Then we started thinking and talking more about the Grand Cherokee that Jeep supplied for our trip. We know it’s comfortable. How does it handle leaving the tarmac?

I own a 2000 Grand Cherokee that I take camping and sissy offroading (it’s not lifted and the tires are stock size), as well as commuting to work. It’s comfortable and competent anywhere I want to take it. But Jeep’s newest Grand Cherokee puts Jeep’s past successes to shame.

Halfway driving through Carson City, Jim looked online and found an off-road recreation area in the southeast corner of town. Prison Hill sounds inviting, doesn’t it? It is 400 acres of arid Nevada nature split between non-motorized use (pedestrians, bicyclists, equestrians) and motorized use. City roads led right to the informal entrances.

Our timing couldn’t have been better. A man with a white Ford F-150 was out playing fetch with his dog. There was a green mid-90s Ford Explorer parked near a park entrance without anyone near it. That was all the evidence of people we saw.

I wanted to get a baseline for this Jeep’s off-roading capabilities, so I didn’t change anything on the first trail we took. It took only a few seconds to realize that more ground clearance is better. The air suspension can add up to an additional 1.3 inches in Off-Road 1, and another 2.6 inches in Off-Road 2. Just push the Up button once for OR1 and twice for OR2. It’s pretty much idiot proof. And yes, the Down button brings the vehicle down one level each time it’s pressed. Here’s a good view of how much ground clearance it can have:

The Quadra-Trac II 4WD transfer case has high and low ranges, and toggling between them is as easy as stopping, throwing the transmission in neutral, and pushing the button. That isn’t the only off-roading trick the Grand Cherokee has. The previously mentioned Quadra-Lift air suspension and the Selec-Terrain system are as seamless as and even easier to use than switching over the transfer case.

The Selec-Terrain knob can switch between snow, sand, auto, mud, and rock settings. Just pick the one appropriate for your conditions. You bet I picked rock when I put it in 4WD low.

My favorite part of the park we managed to explore was a series of bumps maybe 200-feet long. It was an unusual and delightful sensation, and again, it showed off just how much altitude the air suspension adds when you crank it all the way up:


All the while, the a/c blew cold, the satellite radio didn’t lose its signal (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers is excellent in all driving conditions), and I didn’t hit my head from bouncing around inside the Jeep. The Grand Cherokee wasn’t fazed by anything I put it through, and drove back onto the city streets like it never left them.

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