Four-wheel fusion

Combining the versatility of a Jeep with the performance of a sports car, the Grand Cherokee SRT8 has broken the mould in the 4x4 market, just don’t take it off-road. CEO Middle East cruises the beach roads in the supped-up super SUV
By Administrator
Tue 31 Oct 2006 08:00 PM

The world of the four-wheel drive has now gone full circle. In the beginning the only choice was an agricultural Land Rover for those with bigger pockets. The manufacturers have now got in on the act, ending up back at the start, building 4x4s that can’t even get over a kerb. So what’s the point? Most of us never set foot anywhere near the mud or sand. We just want a big car that makes us smile. And if its smiles you’re after a 6.1 litre V8 induced one should do the trick.

The first time you see an SRT8 Grand Cherokee you know immediately that it isn’t a normal vehicle. It’s a low slung, aggressive and terrifying beast, with a huge expanse of bumper with a gaping air intake and two low spotlights. Along the side, the straight lines slope slightly down towards the front, giving the whole car an aggressive stance, and the windows are low, which adds to the sporty feel of the car.

At the back, the SRT8 badge and double, centre-mounted chrome exhausts are enough to scare off any boy racer. The body kit bulges out along the sides and down at ground level the huge section tyres and chunky five-spoke alloys look fantastic, helping the SRT8 to transfer its immense power to the tarmac. Inside the vehicle however, it all starts to go wrong. For a car of this price the materials in the interior are simply not good enough. The acres of plastic across the top of the dash look and feel flimsy, and even the steering wheel is thin and plastic — when aiming for the sports section of the market, small things like steering wheels really make a difference to many buyers.

The protruding handbrake is huge, while the seat controls are almost impossible to reach with the door shut. The seats themselves are excellent, giving huge support when cornering hard and the dials in front of you are clear and easy to read. Under the bonnet lives the SRT8’s amazing HEMI V8 engine — its huge 6.1 litre displacement is really the whole point of the car. The iconic 420 horsepower engine actually sounds rather timid when you first start it up, but once the revs start to rise it really starts to howl.

Up the top of the rev counter, it sounds like thunder — you can accelerate from any speed and the rush of power is instant, thrusting you forward with amazing ease. Top speed is well up in the 200s, but it feels like you can accelerate for as long as you want to.

The gearbox is smooth on the road, but takes slightly too long to engage when stationary. When shifting from reverse to drive, you have to wait an age for the gearbox to sort itself out. The suspension is excellent, but sits low to the ground, making you treat speed humps with more respect than is necessary in a normal four-wheel drive.

Driving the SRT8 is an experience in itself. The acceleration is incredible and the performance will leave you breathless. Throw the big Jeep into a corner and you’ll find it sticks to the road with very high levels of grip.

The body is stiff and has almost no roll in the bends, making for some very adventurous cornering. The one weak point is the brakes, which are wooden for a car of such high performance. Slip the car into tiptronic and it really starts to come alive. It transforms from a very fast 4x4 into a crazy sports car. Huge downshifts and late upshifts on the fat chrome-topped gear selector soon have you driving like a Formula One pilot. This is a car for speed freaks with a burning need for horsepower and high speed. If it wasn’t meant to scare people it wouldn’t look like it does.

The only problem is that it in giving the SRT the performance, Jeep has removed many of the traits regarded as necessary on a great 4x4. Its firm suspension and lack of a low gear make it pretty useless at getting across the sand patch near your villa. Couple this with the low front spoiler and ground hugging body kit and this car is going nowhere near a wadi or the dune infested desert. So why would anyone buy it? Well, it’s not for everyone, and certainly won’t sell in bulk. This is a toy for people who already have an SUV, and probably a sports car as well. If you’re into the ultimate in performance and tuning, and like to be a little different, then this is the car for you.

It’s simply an experiment in what you can achieve when you combine street culture, SUVs and big capacity V8s. If driving the SRT8 is anything to go by, the experiment has been a roaring success.

Verdict: Fantastic performance, street-cred and looks for a four wheel drive. Shame it can’t go off-road and has a poor interior. It all depends on what you need it for really?

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