GERMAN, AMERICAN AND ITALIAN HERITAGE IN LATEST JEEP
The Mercedes-Benz ML 63 AMG is a magnificent machine: the bits you can touch are blingy, it’s beautifully engineered and it barks in a way that only a true high-performance V8 can. It’s also beltingly fast for a big sports utility vehicle (SUV): 0-100km/h in 4.7 seconds.
If there was a type of thorn that could be inserted deep into the steely side panel of the ML 63, it would look like this: the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT. As you might know, it’s the performance flagship of the range: SRT stands for Street & Racing Technology; emphasis on the ampersand.
You might also know that the Grand is distantly related to the ML. The two share a platform, dating from an unhappy nine-year marriage between Daimler and Chrysler (1998-2007). So it’s tempting to compare the two under any circumstances, but simply irresistible when it comes to the SRT and ML 63 AMG versions. The Grand looks awesome, especially with SRT addenda such as a Lone Ranger mask over the headlights and massive 20-inch alloys. It has a pretty good platform underneath, but we’ve already discussed that.
It also has a slick eight-speed gearbox and trick four-wheel drive system. The engine is an old-school affair that will rock your garage on its foundations: a monster 6.4-litre Hemi V8. It’s pretty quick, too: 5.0 seconds to 100km/h.
Granted, the Grand lags behind its German cousin by 0.3sec in that benchmark sprint. But you can surely forgive that: the ML 63 costs $197,900, while the Grand Cherokee SRT8 is $109,990. Add the split five-spoke Spider Monkey wheels ($1250) and Harman Kardon audio/panoramic roof combination ($5300) of our test car and you’re up to $116,540, but that still leaves you $81,360 to buy a nice electric car for commuting. Trust me, it’ll make you feel much better about your monster Jeep.
So to recap: I reckon the Grand Cherokee is an absolute bargain and not in a cheap-and-cheerful way. The fit and finish may not quite be up to premium-German standards, but it’s a long way from the bad old days of Jeep (which is basically anything before this model). The Grand is tightly screwed together, the cabin has plenty of soft-touch plastics and there are touches of genuine luxury, such as the oh-so soft leather upholstery called Laguna Axis.
Granted, the baseball-glove colour and silver stitching of our test car won’t be to all tastes (other colours are available, honest), but we loved it. Bold, bright and very American, just like the car. Except for the bits that are Italian, courtesy of Jeep’s present owner, Fiat. Or German, courtesy of Jeep’s old owner Mercedes-Benz. Other intriguing interior features include a completely digital dashboard that you can configure a number of ways. The front seats are both heated and ventilated.
The UConnect infotainment system runs through a crisp 8.4-inch touch screen and in this model you can even call up an SRT Performance Pages menu, which gives you the ability to see everything from current power and torque to a real-time g-force graphic.
Might be better to keep your eyes on the road, though.
Want to hear a joke? The Grand Cherokee’s 344kW/624Nm 6.4-litre engine features fuel-saver technology, which shuts down four of the eight cylinders under light load to improve economy.
There’s very little reason to ease off the throttle in this car, because there’s an exhilarating rumble under any kind of load that just gets better the harder you push the pedal.
It goes banshee bout 4500rpm and revs willingly past 6000rpm, which is unusual for such a big-capacity V8. Performance brakes are part of the package and good job too.
The official Combined fuel consumption figure of 14.0 litres per 100km is obviously the optimistic — I mean optimum — laboratory result.
Good luck with that. Our test-average of 18.5 litres for an even combination of urban and open-road driving is a bit more realistic. The SRT likes a drink and no clever cylinder technology is going to change that.
It’s a car of olden-days pleasures, but surprisingly sophisticated where it counts. The eight-speed transmission is superb and you can choose between Auto, Snow, Tow, Sport and Track modes for the adaptive suspension. That last setting is unique to the SRT model; you’ll need to select it to activate the launch control. Yes, that’s correct: this two-tonne truck has launch control.
The SRT doesn’t exactly dance through corners, but it is ferociously fast and very stable, thanks to proper hydraulic steering (none of this electric nonsense), the Quadra-Trac active on-demand all-wheel drive, a limited-slip differential at the rear and a massive amount of grip from the 295/45 tyres.
The SRT8 rides amazingly well on regular roads, even on the more aggressive suspension settings.
It also has some high-tech driver-assistance equipment to temper your enthusiasm/acceleration in traffic.
There’s an adaptive cruise control system that will automatically keep you the correct distance from the vehicle in front, forward collision alert in case you approach a vehicle too quickly, blind-spot alert for lane-change time and even rear cross-path detection, which can warn you if another vehicle is approaching from the side as you reverse out of a driveway or parking space.
The Grand Cherokee SRT looks chunky and serves up a sonorous V8 soundtrack. But the really impressive thing about this vehicle is that it feels like so much more than a Grand Cherokee with the volume turned up to 11. The SRT is endowed with a huge amount of power, but there’s also a huge amount of transmission and chassis engineering to support it.
And finally, it’s also one of the few cars on the market that can get to 100km/h in five seconds and also tow three tonnes. (Not at the same time, of course.)