A Grand Cherokee at the 'Ring? Surely a fish a long way from its water…
Yes, but this is the grandest of Grand Cherokees, the SRT-8. The initials stand for the skunkworks that fettled it, Chrysler's Street and Racing Technology division, and the eight is a nod to its 420bhp Hemi V8 engine. They took the rather dumpy and flaccid Grand Cherokee and transformed it into something rather special. It's the fastest Jeep ever, and probably the meanest looking, too. But the undulating 14-mile German test circuit will provide its sternest test yet. If ever a track exists to mercilessly lay bare a car's dynamic flaws, this is it…
Did it understeer off at the first corner?
You'd have thought so, considering the SRT-8's jumping off point: a cumbersome and wallowy off-roader. But this honed Jeep tackled the ‘Ring with an entertaining degree of verve and tenacity. Sure, it still rolls, pitches and dives, and its high driving position makes you feel like you’re driving a fast-moving skyscraper. Thanks to the heavily revised suspension, though, it has plenty of grip, decent body control and the ride quality is pretty good too, doing a decent job of sponging away all but the worst intrusions.
Hmmm, not bad. And on the straights?
As explosive as you'd expect, with Chrysler's 6.1-litre Hemi V8 under the hood, pumping out 420bhp at 6000rpm and a chunky 420lb ft at 4800rpm. It's a mighty engine that simply shrugs aside the Grand Cherokee's vast 2750kg kerbweight to rocket to 60mph in 5.0sec and on to a 152mph top speed. In-gear go is just ballistic. The gearing is shorter, and drop a cog at cruising speed and dump the throttle and the big Chezza bullets ahead with an almost arrogant disdain. Thankfully, those awesome Brembo brakes smoothly reel in the charging SRT-8. In short, with the power to haul itself out of tight corners and hurtle along the straights, the Daddy Cherokee was more than able to sit on the tail of much faster and more honed machinery.
All this performance comes at a price, right...?
Actually, there's nothing out there that matches the SRT-8's combination of price, dynamics and V8 performance – it could give a Cayenne Turbo S a run for its money. But when the Jeep arrives here in the UK in August 2006, it will be a relatively inexpensive £40,585. That's power for your pound – and £40k cheaper than the flagship Cayenne.
And it looks the part…
Doesn't it just. Chunky body kit, deep tarmac-scraping chin, flared wheelarches, 20-inch wheels, gutter sized twin exhausts poking out from the centre of big rear bumper, piercing foglamps – it all shouts 'Get the hell outta my way, boy. I got me a Hemi and a country to invade.' And you can get a special tow bar kit that works around those exhausts, so hauling along your jet-ski or quad bike at silly speeds will be no problem. Just don't expect to go off-roading in it.
Buyers expecting a plush and beautifully built cabin awash in the softest of leathers and plastics should look elsewhere. Although it comes fully loaded with niceties like sat-nav, heated leather seats and a whopping sound system, the SRT-8's cabin looks very American. Build quality is average, it's a little brash and some of the plastics are hard and shiny.
Oh dear, that doesn't sound good…
Oh come on, some perspective please. Yes, the SRT-8 can rub shoulders with performance rivals like the Cayenne Turbo, the Mercedes ML63 AMG and the upcoming BMW X5, but it's priced at the bottom end of the sports SUV market. It's a lot of metal for the money. Remember, just over £40k won't even get you into a decently specced Cayenne V6. So a bit of hard plastic here and there is not the end of the world, is it? And with only 50 coming to the UK, it may be cheap but it will be exclusive.
The SRT-8 is an SUV with enough performance to take on Porsche, BMW and Mercedes, but it's at least £25k cheaper. Joel Robuchon at Burger King prices. It's bold, powerful, handsome, massively quick - and utterly ridiculous. Does the world really need a 2750kg, 420bhp, 150mph off-roader that returns 17mpg? Of course not. But at this price, why the hell not?