The Jeep Grand Cherokee is expected on our shores any day now, but can it really rival the Germans?
‘SRT’ (Street & Racing Technology) is to Chrysler what ‘AMG’ is to Mercedes and ‘M’ is to BMW. And, before you scoff, bear in mind that SRT was originally conceived to develop the venomous Viper, which is today a properly modern supercar despite the fact that it’s powered by an engine from a freight train – an 8.4 litre V10! Or is that why it is a proper supercar in the first place? Anyway, that’s a debate for another time. What we have here is the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8.
Our first experience with SRT came when we tested the Dodge Challenger (another Chrysler brand) SRT8 at the Dubai Autodrome for our 6th anniversary test last year. The Challenger proved that it not only looks fantastic, but is also quite adept at putting all its 470 horses to the ground.
The Grand Cherokee that we have here, believe it or not, has the same 6.4 litre HEMI V8 that was under the hood of the Challenger – HEMI, of course, points to Chryslers famous muscle car motors where the top of the combustion chamber is hemispherical in shape. Despite that, the one thing that let the Challenger down last year was a clumsy 5-speed automatic gearbox. The Jeep, though, is now fitted with ZF’s 8-speed transmission – which, for me, is one of the best gearboxes in existence today. Eight-speed gearbox or not though, the question is – can the Jeep’s chassis really handle 470 galloping horses?
After all, the last Cherokee I drove – over a decade ago now – struggled to stay in the same lane as you drove down the highway. Granted that particular car was quite tired even then. Not to mention the fact that American cars have come on in leaps and bounds since. After all, there’s nothing like the threat of obsolescence to whip you into shape – in this case with a little help from the Italians, as Chrysler is now majority owned by Fiat.
Fiat ownership means that we’ll see Jeep vehicles on our shores pretty soon, and that’s a good thing. And, more importantly, these vehicles really are all-new and cutting edge – which is even better. This Grand Cherokee, on the inside, is completely unrecognizable from typical American cars of just a few years ago. The biggest advancement made by Chrysler in the past few years has really been in the form and quality of its cabins. The cabin of the recently refreshed Grand Cherokee is now second to none – all the way from its switchgear and carbon fiber trim to its panoramic sunroof.
Let’s get back to the question at hand though – what of those 470 horses? Well, the truth is that they’re corralled surprisingly well by this 2.3 tonne behemoth. Of course, the Jeep is helped in this quest by 295/45 20-inch Pirelli tyres at all four corners. But that’s the least of it. It has independent front and rear suspension, which, in this case, features Bilstein adaptive dampers as well. Stopping power comes courtesy of massive Brembo brakes with six-pot calipers in front and four-pots at the back. And while they work really well, you do get a sense of just what they’re up against when you brake for a sharp corner after a long straight. There’s an initial moment when the weight of this Jeep reveals itself, before being subdued by the combo of Brembo and Bilstein.
Once you get hard on the anchors, you’re encouraged by just how well they do their job. So much so that you’re tempted to truly throw this SRT badged Jeep into the fast approaching bend. You’re further egged on by the extremely well bolstered seats and thick-rimmed, three-spoke, flat-bottomed steering wheel. So, you throw caution to the wind, hold your breath, and turn. Lo and behold, the Jeep does just as it’s told, and there’s simply no body-roll to speak of. As you gain confidence, you discover that the limits of this car are simply incredible.
Naturally, with a 6.4 litre HEMI under the hood, propulsion is never a concern. In fact, the massive screen in the center console even has a program that tells you just how much torque (out of 630Nm) and power you’re using at any given point in time. Even under hard acceleration, in normal conditions, I found myself using just about half of the available 470 horsepower. Naturally, with gadgets like these you find yourself playing adolescent games such as trying to access full power. I never did – at least not while I was looking at the screen anyway! Just for the record, it accelerates to 100km/h in under 5 seconds.
There’s another screen in the center of the instrument cluster, and that can even be programmed to show you a G-meter if you so desire. At first, you don’t quite understand the sense of all this race-derived gimmickry. But then you go find your favorite mountain road, and it all begins to make sense. Perhaps, the best part of this level of performance from a Jeep is the look on the face of Porsche drivers when they simply can’t keep up with you!
Problems? Well, the brake pedal is a little soft. And, while the steering is quick and precise, it’s not very communicative – you simply don’t know when physics is going to take over and spit this SUV off the road. It never does, there’s enough safety tech to ensure that much. There’s also plenty of safety tech that you can use at normal speeds as well. There are tyre pressure monitors and a rear camera. There’s adaptive cruise control with collision control. On the convenience front, it has all the in-car connectivity that you’d expect, as well as a power tailgate and remote start.
In India, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever see the SRT Cherokee. But we will get a very capable 3.0 litre common-rail diesel developing 240 horsepower. Now, it may not make anywhere near 500 horses, but it will be far more economical and also quite capable off-road as well – which has been a Jeep hallmark since 1941.
As for SRT – well, let’s just say that they know a thing or two about making a vehicle perform. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that I actually preferred the SRT8 powered Cherokee over the Challenger. Blasphemous perhaps, but true nonetheless – until I try a Challenger with either a manual or the ZF 8-speed gearbox that is.
But the lingering question is – will Jeep be able to take the premium manufacturers head-on in the Indian market? And while the answer to that depends a great deal on sales and service, on the product front the answer is a resounding yes. These are truly distinctive machines with a lot of presence, as always. Except now they come with cutting edge underpinnings and world-class levels of quality as well.
Also read: Jeep finally announces its India plans