It’s the end of an era, with turbo chargers replacing cubic centimeters. Big engine V8’s are slowly disappearing in favour of smaller 6cylinders, and in some cases 4cylinder turbocharged engines. The unhealthy cheeseburger is making way for sweet chicken bok choy
Thankfully the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 is all cheeseburger and very little bok choy. Powering this stomping SUV is a brand new 6.4litre V8 Hemi engine, delivering 344kW and 624NM of torque. Yes it also tries very hard to keep “green” by switching off 4 cylinders out of the 8 at certain highway speeds, hopefully bringing fuel consumption down from gulping to sipping. But who gives a fishersman’s fuck about fuel consumption when you buy a performance SUV.
Let’s put some things into perspective. An SUV was traditionally made to provide Utility and Sports in one vehicle. Off-road and city, comfortable yet go-anywhere ability. Manufacturers in the form of BMW X6M, X5M, ML63AMG and the Porsche Cayenne Turbo are all fulfilling (or creating) the need for performance versions of their SUV’s. Here’s the problem – it goes against sheer physics. Go fast and you need to keep things light, centre of gravity low, and aerodynamics slick. The Jeep SRT8 weighs over 2.3tons, is about as square as a Lego block and stands 1.7m tall. Defying what should be performance motoring.
BMW, Merc and Porsche have unlocked the secret to performance SUV’s, the Cayenne and X5M in particular have been lauded for their superb on-road dynamics and “car-like” handling, even though they are shaped nothing like one. To overcome these “handicaps” the Jeep places a lot of shove in the front, and have stiffened the new Grand Cherokee by 146%. Up 36kW and 55NM from the 6.1Litre in the previous generation SRT8, the new unit defies physics to propel it 0-100km/h in around 5seconds. The best I could muster up on the reef (understandably it would be faster at the coast) was 5.2seconds (thanks to the handy 0-100km/h stop watch in dash). Perspective – that matches Audi S5, BMW 135i, whips Golf R and is 0.2seconds off the brand new ML63AMG.
Mated to a 5speed automatic, the SRT8 is no slouch. There is no lag at all getting power to the wheels and in gear acceleration in gear is astonishing. Replacing the Selec-Trac off-road bias, there’s now 3 main modes -Track, Sport & Snow. Track and Sport sends more power to the rear wheels, which is where it’s needed. You’re going to struggle to break traction in the Jeep, 21inch rubber doing a good job off the line. Where slight breaks in traction occur is sending the bohemouth around the corners, where the weight really plays against it.
But before that, let me tell you about that sweet sound. Nothing quite gives me a semi like the sound of 6.4litres of HEMI engine working full bore. Your favourite band playing live in your lounge, has nothing on the sound emitting from the SRT8. They really have made sure the aural stimulation is part of the experience. I’m making such a big deal about this because in 2 of the turbocharged competitors you’ll miss this sound. It’s old school horses versus new school turbo, and the horses win hands down when it comes to the sound. It’s between this and the kitten killing AMG engine note, but the sweet burble of an American V8 cannot be matched. This said, you’ll scare fellow road-goers with the noise and embarrass quite a few hot coupes in the process.
It’s quite a short rev range, max torque coming in from 2800-6000RPM, and in Manual mode (paddles on heated steering wheel) the changes can be very abrupt (reminds me of the previous gen M5 SMG). I found leaving the gearbox in Auto for 0-100km/h runs worked best. This all said, it is unfortunately the slowest of the competitors 0-100km/h, and doesn’t up them on the handling front either.
Sheer physics count against any performance SUV, so there’s a lot of electronic and mechanic trickery needed to overcome what mother-nature deems natural. The Jeep unfortunately still very much feels like a big SUV. The X5 and Cayenne better ensconce the driver, provide better handling and feel more “car-like”. Change direction at speed and you are very aware you’re still in a big hunk of a vehicle, and it’s not as agile or dynamic as the BMW, Merc or Porsche. That said, it’s no roly-poly mess. Ride is firm but not uncomfortable, quiet at highway speeds and push through the twisties at illegal speeds and it rewards with confidence inspiring grip.
The interior and exterior have been given the SRT8 once-over. In my opinion the exterior is a bit “over-styled”, with nostrils in the bonnet, LED running lamps, new aerodynamic bumper, plastic side sills, massive rims and restyled rear bumper with MASSIVE 12cm exhausts that could fit 2 potatoes. The interior picks up where the Grand Cherokee I tested earlier this year left off, with everything you’d expect standard and more. The SRT8 ads an SRT8 steering wheel, Nappa & Saude seats, radar-cruise control with collision warning & Blind-Sport monitoring (Both of which were of the better systems I’ve tested), SRT8 stitched logos, carbon fibre accents, and an 850Watt 19speaker sound system (amazeballz). It’s that little bit off the Germans in terms of quality interior but light years ahead of the previous generation Jeep, so very little to fault. Braking is taken care of by Brembo (6-piston front, 4-piston rear calipers) performance disc brakes, which easily bring the hulk to standstill, quick to grab, but confidence inspiring.
It’s a phenomenal experience, loads of fun and testament to engineering prowess from the Chrysler Group in the best SRT8 yet. That said, fuel consumption is abysmal (my 27litres/100km), handling isn’t on par of the competitors when pushing hard, and that on-board computer in-binnacle is still something that looks like it belongs in DOS.
The SRT8 demands attention in person, much more so than the X5M, and sounds the best of the lot. Playing it’s final TRUMP card, cost, at R799 000 all in. In some cases literally half the price of the competition ((ML – R1.38M, X5M – R1.32, Cayenne T – R1.6m).
I would happily sacrifice 0.3seconds of 0-100km/h and some on-road handling for the R 500K saving and the old school era of V8’s. That’s a BMW 135i if you really want to spend it all.