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2007 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8

2007 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8

The Good:
– Handsome styling
– Seriously fast
– Decent handling
The Bad:
– Limited off-road ability
– Some cheap cabin plastics
– Rear legroom could be better

For a while now, the Germans have had a monopoly on fast road-hugging 4WDs, with trucks such as the V8-powered BMW X5, the AMG-tuned Mercedes-Benz M-Class and the turbocharged Porsche Cayenne. The Americans were always prime candidates to enter this ring, with their love for big V8 motors and even bigger so-called “sport-utility” vehicles. The most credible American entry is the new Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8, with a big 6.1-litre Hemi V8 under the hood. Of course, if one delves further into company history, one would realise that Jeep is a part of DaimlerChrysler, an outfit more German than they’d like to publicly admit.

The Grand Cherokee is styled sharply, ignoring the doe-eyed headlights of course, and makes a good candidate for a makeover as a hyper-4WD. For the SRT-8, Jeep lowered the suspension and added a low front lip spoiler, massive 20-inch rims and centre-mounted dual exhaust tips to complete the mild makeover. The Grand Cherokee is manageable in size, and the monochromatic body is littered with bits of chrome, though we were more concerned about that lower-than-low front lip spoiler scraping something or the other, which thankfully didn’t happen.

The SRT-8 treatment continues inside, with heavily-bolstered seats both front and back. The seats are of leather with alcantara inserts, and power-adjustable at the front, while the rear one can manually fold down. Seating is limited to five, allowing for good luggage space, though tall loads are limited by a sloping rear window. There is excellent all-round headroom, and front legroom is also excellent. But rear legroom is limited by the thick front seat-backs, so tall people might have issues. There are two exposed cup-holders up front and two hidden ones in the back. There are centre armrests both front and back, with the front one doubling as a storage compartment. All doors have small storage pockets.

The cabin has padding and stitched leather on the door sills, the centre armrest and the top of the gauge cluster, with some soft-touch plastics on the door armrests. The rest of the cabin is comprised of hard plastics, some of which look cheap. Build quality is merely acceptable rather than outstanding, as there are gaps between a few panels, but everything is still solid.

The equipment list includes a power sunroof, power-adjustable pedals and front seats, keyless entry, power windows, electric mirrors, front and side-curtain airbags, tyre pressure monitor, trip computer, cruise control, parking sensors and a proper handbrake. The standard CD/MP3 player is mated to a convenient in-dash CD changer and six good speakers, but we found all radio reception to be full of static. Our tester had a roof-mounted DVD screen for rear passengers, but the DVD player itself was using up central floor space in the back. The a/c is basic and uses simple knobs, but it seemed to be good during a Dubai winter afternoon, with help from front and rear vents. Our tester also had heated seats, which proved useless in Dubai weather. Ergonomic issues included cruise control buttons spread out all over the steering wheel, with audio controls stuck behind the wheel. The hazard button was hidden on top of the steering column, which took a while to find. And the retarded fuel cap is locked with the ignition key, which means that the key had to be used every time we refuelled. There must be easier ways to make stupid people turn off their engines at a petrol station than this nonsense idea.

The 6.1-litre Hemi V8 that serves every American DaimlerChrysler brand is also put to good use here. Weighing in with 420 hp at 6200 rpm and 569 Nm at 4800 rpm, it comes ready to do some serious damage. Turning off the stability control system, we pretty much took off for the moon, hitting 100 kph from standstill in a blistering 5.3 seconds. That’s faster than the Chevy Lumina SS and enough to keep up with the uber-expensive Porsche Cayenne Turbo. The smooth five-speed automatic does its job efficiently in any situation. The tiptronic manual-shift function shifts with a slight delay, but it works well enough, holding gears and shifting by itself only at redline. The engine is fairly smooth, but very slight vibrations can be felt at idle. Fuel economy is expectedly pathetic at 21.7 litres per 100 km, and the trip computer is overly optimistic when it estimates the range based on existing petrol reserves, leaving us running on near-empty at least once in the middle of nowhere.

With a Hemi under the hood, the SRT-8 is obviously a king on the highway. Overtaking power is available at any speed, coming on with a satisfying muffled grunt. The sport-tuned ride is firm, but still pretty compliant, with only mild harshness over deep potholes. There is hardly any wind noise when cruising at 120 kph, but there is some noticeable road noise. Things get very noisy at 150 kph, just like with most other cars. It is perfectly stable at high straight-line speeds. Visibility is also good enough, with decent mirrors and clear rearward view.

Driving it as aggressively as a car, our first thoughts were that it handles like a Toyota Camry, except with tighter body control, which is actually a complement for a 4WD. Body roll quickly disappears as soon as it appears in quick direction changes without wallowing. The power steering is soft for comfortable driving, but never firming up too much at high speeds. Grip was good in tight low-speed turning manoeuvres, with no squeal typical of standard 4WDs. However, while gradually increasing speed during a long sweeping curve, the tyres started complaining earlier than we expected for a sporting all-wheel-drive machine. We took a look at the tyres and realised that, while a stock American-built Jeep SRT-8 is supposed to have wide 255/45 front and really wide 285/45 rear Goodyear tyres, our Austrian-built tester only had relatively thinner 245/45 Pirellis on all four 20-inch five-spoke rims. No doubt the Americans got the better deal, but grip would’ve probably been great with the wider tyres. What worked perfectly were the insanely huge Brembo brakes, which halts the heavy Jeep effortlessly, with help from ABS in emergencies. Pedal feel is good, allowing for accurate braking and easy control in traffic.

But with such solid on-road performance, Jeep ditches its heritage and opts for an all-wheel-drive setup rather than a true four-wheel-drive system. With its low-profile tyres, reduced ground clearance, ground-hugging front bumper and no low-range gearing, it is more of a performance wagon, being the only Grand Cherokee model in the Middle East line-up that is not capable off-road. But it is perfectly capable on gravel trails and light sand. Power being fed primarily to the rear wheels, we pulled off some mild powerslides on sand, even as the all-wheel-drive system kept fighting for traction. This is one fun vehicle indeed.

The Grand Cherokee SRT-8 is a compelling argument against the overpriced excesses of BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche. It would’ve been a true contender if the cabin was put together with nicer materials, but as is, it is on level pegging with the true Germans on pure performance terms. In most cases, that is enough reason to look into one of these machines.

What do you think?

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