Road test: Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 has elegance and power
YOU know there is a good car parked in the garage when you send the other half on a manufactured mission to find the three-year-old's favourite stuffed toy, knowing full well it is languishing at the bottom of your bag, just so you can quickly ensconce yourself in the driver's seat.
You know there is a good car in the garage when you hide the keys and feign ignorance, when you deliberately forget to buy the milk just so that you can go out to the shops again and when you happily make space for reversing vehicles during the school car park shuffle for once caring not a hoot that you are late.
You know there is a good car in the garage when your husband offers to do the after-school activities drop rather than play golf, when he strokes the sides absently as he brushes past it on the way into the house and when he offers to be the designated driver on a night out.
And so went our week with Jeep's flagship Grand Cherokee SRT8, a week of clandestine activity and very nice surprises.
Chrysler Jeep's forced union with Italian schmoozers Fiat as a result of the crushing effects of the Global Financial Crisis has been good for the Grand Cherokee with the interior of the SRT8 presenting a standard of quality and sophistication which has eluded the American product until now.
There is soft stitched nappa leather wherever you look - on the seats, door trim even the dash. Carbon fibre accents work well to highlight standout features but also help create an aura of quiet elegance in lieu of that American brashness.
The steering is chunky and nicely weighted with the controls most used close to hand.
The surrounds of the instrument binnacle and sat-nav system were a disappointment, their cheap plasticky feel spoiling what is essentially an air of exclusivity.
Seats are generous and comfortable with the back pew benefiting from the "supersize me" mantra which is so prevalent stateside. The boot, too, is properly proportioned with depth and height eclipsing competitors.
On the road
The SRT8 may seem big and bulky but boy can it move. Only the slightest urging is needed for the 6.4-litre V8 to take flight powering from standstill to 100km in five seconds.
It has a great turning circle, is nimble on crowded roads and demonstrates a penchant to run when the way is clear. Steering can sometimes be a bit loose but cornering ability, especially for a vehicle of this bulk, is spot-on with the Grand Cherokee using its wide berth and weight to plant itself firmly.
Some 90% of the torque is available between 2900rpm-6000rpm for improved straight-line performance.
You have the option of five modes - Auto, Sport, Tow and Snow to cover most weather conditions and terrains or Track (if you really want to show off) with the dampening tightening to deliver more performance-driven rides.
There are paddles to manually work your way through the gears but we found both their position and underwhelming negotiation of the
gearboxes slightly irritating. You are best served leaving the SRT8 on auto and allowing it to impress. The Grand Cherokee's off-road performance is somewhat hampered by the low clearance but it remains steady and composed on trails which are moderately challenging.
What do you get?
The inclusions list reads like a celebrity package and has been extended to feature heated steering wheel and seats, nine-speaker stereo system with 40GB hard drive, powered tailgate, radar-assisted cruise control, uConnect navigation system and command centre with Bluetooth connectivity, LED daytime running lights, push-button start and keyless entry, rain-sensing wipers and blind spot monitoring.
The safety package is equally jaw-dropping boasting advanced multi-stage airbags, anti-lock braking system with rough-road detection as well as brake assist, rain brake support, electronic stability control, forward collision warning and reverse camera with parking sensors.
The Fiat Chrysler Group who makes the Jeep is certainly not one to be lost in modesty and says they are looking at the Mercedes Benz ML 63 AMG ($179,400), the BMW X5 M ($183,700) and Porsche Cayenne Turbo (from $222,000) as the SRT8's main competitors.
The SRT8 is a great way to pair a performance-driven SUV with the needs of a family and present it in a package that will appear affordable to the general population.
The five-speed transmission borrowed from Mercedes is a bit dated despite its ability to handle the wide torque range and its eight-speed replacement reputed to be propping up next year's updated model will be a welcome addition.
The SRT8 also sports a performance page in its trip computer which allows you to time yourself in 0-100km sprint and braking tests while displaying the lateral and longitudinal G-forces.
It is a feature that has little real benefit other than being a big boy's toy but does rank highly on the cool scale.
Greenies block your ears and shut your eyes because the SRT8 is a thirsty chap and proud of it.
That throaty treble comes at a price and although manufacturers quote figures of 14.1 litres/100km, ours was not far off 18 litres/100km which may be an acceptable penance for taste of the SUV's treasures.
We like the chunky blunt edges and box nose of the Grand Cherokee SRT8. It makes a welcome change from most other SUVs on the market who all seem to be cut from the same cloth and also accentuates its power and performance.
What matters most
What we liked: Overall package, power and good looks.
What we'd like to see: Better fuel consumption and availability.
Warranty and servicing: The Grand Cherokee is backed by a three year/100,000km warranty with service intervals at 12 months/10,000km.
Model: Jeep Cherokee SRT8.
Details: Five-door four-wheel drive performance SUV.
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Engine: 6.4-litre petrol V8 generating maximum power of 344kW @ 6000rpm and peak torque of 624Nm @ 2900-6000rpm.
Consumption: 14.1 litres/100km (combined average).
Bottom line: $76,000.