New Cherokee touts serious speed
02:44 PM PST on Friday, January 19, 2007
By TOM VOELK / Special contributor to NWCN.com
Jeep. Itís the first word for rugged off-road performance. But look at this Grand Cherokee a little more carefully. The trailer hitch is gone and replaced with center-mounted tailpipes. It hugs the ground rather than trying to clear it. And if youíre thinking about boulder hopping with 20-inch wheels and low-profile performance tires, think again.
This Cherokee hugs the ground rather than trying to clear it.
No, this Jeep the Grand Cherokee SRT8, does not want to play in the mud. It wants to run on the race track.
With 0-60 times at under 5 seconds, the GC SRT8 is the fastest vehicle this brand has ever produced. Heck, itís even quicker than a BMW X5 and Porsche Cayenne Turbo. And, starting at around 41 large, itís significantly cheaper.
Does the world really need a hot rod Jeep? Thatís debatable, but I have to admit this sizzling sport ute is much fun to drive. Itís like Ben and Jerryís Chubby Hubby ice cream -- rich, chunky and indulgent.
The true aura of the SRT8s exterior design does not transfer through to a small streaming video. In person, this particular Grand Cherokee has a menacing sneer to that attracts a lot of looks. It rides an inch lower than standard GCs, looks like two. Men in particular do double takes as they pass by it on the highway. It gets a fair amount of attention from law enforcement that tote radar guns, too.
Here are the go-fast parts: under the hood is no ordinary Hemi, itís THE Hemi. This 6.1-liter monster produces 420 horsepower, 420 lb-ft. of torque and a deep wicked growl that can only signal fun times ahead. The tranny is a 5-speed upgraded to handle the power. The Auto Stick feature allows drivers to select gears for themselves.
A unique all-wheel drive system puts the ambition of that Hemi to the pavement. Again, itís not for off-roading but this system should be handy in nasty weather conditions. In normal driving conditions, only 5 percent to 10 percent of the torque is directed to the front wheels, but much of the torque can be directed forward when additional traction or stability is called for. The suspension is re-tuned for surprisingly capable cornering.
Thereís some new trim, a 180 mph speedometer and some very nicely bolstered seats.
Admittedly, at first it feels a little odd approaching a hard corner at sports car speed in a Grand Cherokee. The SRT8 is up to the task though. Thereís plenty of driving fun here with good feedback from the wheel. Even without sophisticated adjustable suspension settings, this Jeep keeps the passengers moderately comfortable. True enthusiasts will be disappointed electronic stability control canít be disabled.
This rig accelerates rapidly and effortlessly. Performance like this could quickly get out of hand. Fortunately, terrific Brembo brakes are there to keep things reigned in. Describing them to a friend, he asked me to demonstrate. As the seatbelts grabbed him while we rapidly decelerated, he managed just one word: ďOuch!Ē
Inside the Grand Cherokee interior doesnít change much. Sure thereís some new trim, a 180 mph speedometer, and some very nicely bolstered seats. In the end though, it remains a little on the stark side with plastics that look a little out of place on a vehicle that stickers for just over 46,000 as tested.
The optional Bluetooth hands-fee phone connection is handy and highly recommended. So is the nav system, but, inputting a new address is slow and tedious. Entering data is done with a scroll wheel and ďenterĒ button. Itís a situation where a touch screen would come in really handy
The rear seat holds three across with modest leg room. At least the folks in back get some easily accessible entertainment. The DVD player is mounted in back of the center console so the little ones can reach it on their own. A plastic cover will keep Slurpees out of the disc slot.
Moving to the cargo area, be careful when loading or unloading. The unique tailpipes of the SRT-8 get pretty toasty and they happen to be mounted right where folks normally stand to load things. Thereís a reversible floor panel that becomes a place for muddy stuff if you donít want to get the cargo carpet messed up.
The angled back window cuts into trunk room. A score of nine packs in the toilet paper test is one shy of average.
Other gripes are rear seat cup holders that will get stepped on, there are no transmission paddle shifters for a steering wheel that doesnít telescope (though the pedals adjust).
Finally, itís, ahem, really easy to damage the low front end. I apparently hit one of those parking lot curbs and did a decent amount of damage to the front spoiler. So let me take this opportunity to apologize to the nice folks at Daimler Chrysler who didnít make me pay for my carelessness.
As you might expect, Iím seeing 13 miles to the gallon. What? You were expecting a Prius? There are other SRT8 models, including the Chrysler 300 plus Dodge Charger and Magnum. Looking for a performance vehicle with all-wheel drive that can haul cargo and arse?
The Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 will surprise everyone, including BMW and Porsche.