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We drive Jeep's wildest SRT yet

2012-05-22 07:23

WILDEST CHEROKEE: It's big, it's bad - outrageous, in fact - but perfectly affordable for black (and white) diamonds. Jeep's new Grand Cherokee SRT beats the heck out of German and Brit competition, given its price and 'no extras'.

Author: LES STEPHENSON

 
A perfect launch at Cape Canaveral used to be when the space shuttle went up straight. A perfect car launch is when somebody gives you some seriously powerful wheels, sticks you on a race track with it, and tells you, basically, to go for it.

Happened this week to just 12 of us, motoring guys all, one-day-only special offer, no other guests, and all thanks to Jeep. Jeep? A track (in this case Kyalami)? Yep, because said wheels came in black or silver and had SRT8 stuck on their backsides.

Vehicle specifications.


And a 6.4-litre Chrysler HEMI V8 packing 344kW and 624Nm under the lid at the other end to turn the all-wheel drive. That’s 10% more than the SRT8 4x4 express from the previous Jeep range that went off the market about , oh, a year ago.

BUDGET PROBLEMS

That might not be the kind of power that a space-shuttle taxi had between its needle nose and its exhaust but then Monday’s wheels were at least also American - and badged Jeep Grand Cherokee.

The space shuttle, from what I recall, had budget problems but let’s not go there. Instead, focus on the SRT8 (it stands for Street Racing Technology) and understand that, among tar-strippin’ ubermotors, this is one of the biggest, baddest and fastest of them all yet you’ll get change for a Bar One from R800 000 if you’re lucky (or well-connected) enough to snare one this side of Christmas.

Image gallery.

Chrysler’s looking at selling about 100, maybe 150, a year; if you’re a black (or white) diamond and seeking to impress, then I suggest you move. Er, now... they might prove harder to buy than a gold mine.

Now THAT price is coming in under budget but, unlike the space shuttle, everything in it is of the best and everything, according to Chrysler SA, is included in the price – except, as I found out later in the day, something as mundane as a damn tow hitch.

QUARTER IN 13

You’ll need one, post-purchase, if you want to tow a boat or caravan at 200km/h (for whatever reason) weighing up to two tons. Which I guess the SRT8 will probably be able to do, given that its unhitched top speed is 255km/h.

It also does the quarter-mile sprint in a tad over 13 seconds (tried it, that’s my time, Jeep claims 13, your call) and will reach 100km/h in less than five. Bye-bye every other production 4x4 on the planet.

For the record, the previous Cherokee SRT8 had a 6.1-litre engine and was 36kW and 55Nm down on this new 6.4 which delivers 90% of peak torque from 2800 through to 6000rpm, accounting for the devilish acceleration and straight-line performance.



But anyway, here we were at Kyalami with a neat chicane and a high-speed, cone-demarcated lane-change chucked in just for fun, to be shared by only four SRT8's. The Cherokee sneered at both obstacles (140km/h through the lane-change, try that in your family sedan) but then Pirelli had come to the party by equipping the cars with sets of 295/45 Scorpion Verde tar-only tyres on 20" aluminium rims (no, you do NOT want to buy an SRT8 to go playing off-road) and that meant some serious grip around Gauteng’s once-famous F1 circuit.

Especially with the traction control turned off.

BUT WHO'S IT AIMED AT?

[Talking of which track, the people who now run Kyalami have really let it go to seed (mostly long grass-type seed). Have you guys no feeling for history, no pride in your property, no feeling for your customers (they’re called spectators, in case you’ve forgotten)? Shame on you!]

However, back to the Jeep, and frankly I’m not sure what market this beast is aimed at. If you want a people-carrier, get a normal Grand Cherokee or a Chrysler Voyager – you can even go off-road in the former. Or if you want to play through the Cape’s mountain passes, get a sports car – a Porsche even. Or a motor-cycle.

But if you want to lay tar on the road with authority, turn heads on the highway, do those same mountain passes or just have a thoroughgoing road machine that will go where you point it at pretty much any speed even hauling a horse-box while looking down on everything else – the SRT8 is, as they say, for you.

Chrysler SA’s marketing guru Guy Franken did mention a few competitors (and their much higher prices, by several hundred thousand rands) but it’s bad manners to crow so look them up for yourself. Fact is, the Jeep has priced the SRT8 so competitively that there just isn’t any competition.

TRUMPET EXHAUSTS

And these are just some of the all-in-the price features... you get...

...the most powerful production Jeep yet but it brakes from 100-zero in 35 metres (tried it, true) with Brembo six-pot 380mm discs up front and four-potter 350mm at the rear, comes with an advanced new Bilstein adaptive suspension managed by a new Selec-Track system, has new exhaust plumbing that claims a 13% improvement in highway fuel efficiency and ends in two 10cm trumpet exhausts spaced wide apart to avoid smokin’ that boat you might just be haulin’ and entertains on the road with a new 19-speaker Harman Kardon audio system bragging a 825W output.

For the first time in a Jeep, the transmission has paddle-shifters on the steering column, though they're not much use on the track because you don’t have time to look at the tiny 2,3,4 etc on the fascia and you can’t feel the changes anyway.

More useful on that cold Transvaal morning were the heatable steering wheel and front and rear bum-defrosting leather-upholstered sports seats. Nice and toasty when the air is at five degrees.

THINK ROMAN LEGIONS...

Chrysler says the shell of all new Grand Cherokees is 146% stiffer than their predecessors with 5400 welds in the body and 28% more structural adhesive. Helping to cut road noise are those Pirelli tyres which have offset sipes across their tread to avoid drumming on the road – think Roman legions breaking step to cross the bridges off their time...

The SRT8’s transmission has several modes:

Auto: This provides the most compliant ride and automatically adapts to any road situation using the adaptive suspension tuning.
Sport: Provides enhanced body control for a sporty, fun-to-drive ride on the street.
Tow: Provides a safe reduction in pitch and bounce.
Track: Provides the high-performance, firm, "track-tuned" suspension option to lock down body motion "for the ultimate handling" (Chrysler’s words, but I won’t disagree).
Snow: Handy for Lesotho... provides the most conservative dynamic mode so the Jeep will stay in line in bad winter weather.

The standard Jeep Quadra-Trac on-demand all-wheel-drive transfer case uses input from a variety of sensors to determine wheel slip at the earliest possible moment and take corrective action. The system uses "Throttle Anticipate" to sense quick movement in the throttle at launch and maximises traction before slippage occurs.

If wheelspin is detected the 4x4 system can transfer all available torque to one or other rear wheel; the transfer case also proportions torque between the front and rear axles to maintain the driver’s intended direction.

Also standard are adaptive (radar) cruise control, sunroof, multi-stage air bags, blind-spot monitors, collision warning, hill-start assistance, keyless entry, reversing camera auto headlights and manual sequential gearchanging by the paddles or floor gearshifter, trailer sway control, 17cm colour touchscreen for satnav and media centre, power windows and mirrors, central locking and power steering-wheel and front seats adjustment.

The cars ride 2.5cm lower than the standard Grand Cherokee.

CLUSTER GAUGES

SRT has become almost a distinct brand under the Chrysler umbrella for building, as Franken put it, "the most fearsome and distinctive cars in the world". "After all, we now have Jeeps than can outrun Corvettes. And this SRT8 enjoys a V8 engine, bigger wheels and tyres, improved suspension, a race-inspired interior and a more assertive body design.

"There are five hallmarks of the SRT8 today - its power train, great handling, benchmark braking, high-performance interiors and great looks - and no 'laundry list' of optional extras. What you see here today is what you get - everything is standard."

Even a set of cluster gauges to measure a raft of performance data, on or off-track.

The Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 will be sold with a three-year or 100 000km warranty and three-year or 100 000km maintenance plan.

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