Let’s talk DNA; deoxyribonucleic acid. It tells us who we are, what we look like and even how well we are likely to perform. Similarly, understanding automotive DNA helps us understand what a car is all about. You can assume some historical strengths, predict a couple of weak areas and make a rough guesstimate as to what to expect.
The DNA of the beast standing before me, however, is anything but straightforward. Far from following a direct line down from its predecessors, this one seems seriously complicated. Streams of DNA flow into it from multiple sources and telling one from the other isn’t easy unless you sit down and carefully separate the strands. The potpourri of mechanical strains include Jeep, Chrysler, SRT, Mercedes and even Fiat.
But let’s start at the beginning. The mother brand, of course, is Jeep. Born of military hardware, the brand actually came to life on the battlegrounds of WWII, at El Alamein in Africa and on the beaches of Normandy in France, standing shoulder to shoulder with Sherman tanks in almost every theater of war. And Jeep pioneered off-road driving as we know it today. It was the first un-tracked off-road vehicle that could make headway through slush, it premiered the use of four-wheel drive in a car, kickstarted the low-range movement and even, arguably, pioneered the first SUV. The Grand Cherokee is Jeep’s most popular and important product. Both an extremely capable off-roader and a super comfortable SUV rolled into one, it, according to Jeep, is one of the most awarded and celebrated SUVs in the world.
SRT edition of handsome Grand Cherokee gets bespoke nostrils on top of bonnet, flashes of chrome and LED.
The Grand Cherokee SRT, however, isn’t all Jeep. It shares its platform with none other than the Mercedes M-class (now the GLE). Part of a platform and cost sharing deal between Merc and Jeep when the companies were joint at the hip as Daimler-Chrysler back in the early 2000s, Jeep took the M-class shell and customised it for use as a hardcore off-roader. But there’s another Chrysler dimension at work here: SRT or Street and Racing Technology. Familiar to those of you who are into performance cars, these bad boys take Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep vehicles and put out heavily modded versions of the same. The division started out life as tuners for the Dodge Viper’s V10 and today, are the equivalent of M or AMG.
There are plenty more European bits on the SRT as well. It gets ZF’s fabulous eight-speed automatic, the massive 380mm brakes are courtesy Brembo and unlike every other mud-plugging Jeep, the SRT gets a four-wheel-drive system customised for the race track rather than an off-road trail. It also gets launch control, Bilstein’s Adaptive Damping System and even a Track mode where 70 percent of the power is sent to the rear wheels. So clearly, this is anything but your regular Jeep SUV.
No technical exam of this car can be complete without paying homage to the hulk under the bonnet; the 6,400cc Hemi V8. Named after a series of engines that used hemispherical combustion chambers with two valves and centrally located plugs, this modern-day version uses a blend of high-tech and tradition. It still uses pushrods and two big fat valves, for example, but also uses cylinder deactivation to control fuel consumption.
6.4 litres of capacity; pretty mental.
Hitting the starter button causes an explosion of sound, a deep growl and rumble, unlike any heard on a car in our market. Imitators are always looking for that Nascar-like sound, this is the real deal, the sound of real American muscle. There’s none of that loose flatulence, no artificial ‘pop-pop-pop’, and no after effect of excessive chole bhature. This motor has an honest to God, bear-chested growl that can make your blood run cold. The sound is deep, wide and so smooth you imagine the internals of the engine swimming in oil. And unlike the medium-sized turbo motors we’re accustomed to, this one responds nanoseconds after you’ve hit the accelerator. In fact, tap the throttle a little harder than you strictly need to in Sport, use more than a couple of inches of travel, and the SRT just leaps forward like an enraged grizzly bear. It’s not safe in traffic either; if you feel a sneeze coming, make sure you put your right foot on the floor before, else you may find yourself several hundred metres down the road, without a warning. The sheer URGE is just staggering. Did I mention, the motor makes 475hp and pushes out 637Nm of torque.
What gives it the explosive throttle responses are the 6.4 litres of air, ready to be injected with fuel and ignited; no need to wait for an air pump or turbo to fill the pistons. And once you inject the venom and light ‘em up, the saucepan-sized pistons punch as hard as the Hulk, with real weight and shoulder in each throw. Hit the throttle and movement is instant, like there’s a tow truck yanking you forward with its heavy-duty chain. The inertia is just massive. The big pistons provide a large surface area, the crank is heavy enough to give powerlifters hernia and what makes the experience truly memorable is that there’s no fluff or delay; you just flex and fly.
I head out of town, and on the way out, tend to pull the engine hard. It’s only natural. Performance is seriously strong and the SRT is hurled down the road with plenty of energy. Performance, however, is not nearly as strong as the BMW X5M or, for that matter, the Range Rover Sport SVR but that’s only in relative terms. What I soon discover is that the SRT has the unique ability to entertain by making use of the incredibly strong midrange. It’s loads more fun and almost as quick. The trick is to actually be lazy and allow the gearbox to shift up to a higher gear. All you have to do then, when the opportunity presents itself, is hit the gas and use all that bottom-end urge that’s lying coiled under the bonnet like a giant Anaconda. It may not be in the right gear, but power just comes flooding in, SLAAAAM. Effortless punch from just about any engine speed, wow, like never before, truly something else. It’s what all good ‘street’ tunes need, according to American tuners. Finally, I get it. American muscle; yeah, this is it. And all on regular pump gas; 91 octane.
Soon, I’m driving like a hooligan (and grinning like an ape). From rest, I normally whack the throttle open, using a lot of the travel on the pedal. This generates so much violence, most passengers just hold their breath or curse: over and over again. The instant g just throws us back in the seat. But then I don’t keep the throttle pinned; I just allow the torque to do all the heavy lifting. It’s so much more fun. The top-end isn’t as strong, but the mid-range helps it hit 100 in 5.8 seconds, plenty quick for a 2.3 tonne, full-fat SUV.
Also very impressive at speed is stability. The SRT uses a very different setup from a regular Grand Cherokee – it’s much lower slung and uses plenty of camber. And this allows it to have generous amounts of grip. It does roll around a bit in Auto and there’s a bit of roll in Sport too, but you also have a healthy amount of grip. The mode to use if you really want to throw the car around (yes, you can) is Track; where the dampers become as stiff as rocks and 70 percent of the torque is sent to the rear wheels. The ESP is also partially switched off in this mode and this makes the SRT quite pointy and fun, the car pivoting around the front axle quite naturally as you drive it harder and harder. The biggest surprise is just how much fun it is; the brakes are nice and crisp, the nose is keen to turn and grip levels are decent. And you do really enjoy adding power on the exit out of corners.
Track mode, though, is so stiff it causes the SRT to hop over any less-than-perfect roads. And Sport is quite similar too. Auto, which is the comfort setting, is quite good as it manages to round off most sharp bumps well. There’s enough compliance to allow you to make the most of the conditions and deploy all the power. And it will even switch to Eco mode if it finds you ambling; which is sure to save you a bit.
On the inside, the SRT is extremely comfortable. The big leather thrones have a wide seat base, massive shoulder and thigh support, and the quality of the leather seats is fantastic. And there’s plenty of equipment here too; everything you expect on a luxury SUV. You get a great audio system, a large central touchscreen, screens for both passengers in the rear that can be hidden smartly, and you even get cooled and heated seats for the driver and passenger. Quality levels, in fact, are more executive car than luxury car, with mid-size cars having many similarly built bits on the inside, and that takes some of the sheen off.
Interiors are very comfortable, equipment levels are impressive and the leather-covered dash looks and feels great; but the quality of plastics isn’t up to luxury car levels.
What potential suitors can look forward to is a true-blue performance SUV that is likely to come at an estimated price of around Rs 1.18 crore; a big step down on the X5M and Range Rover Sport SVR that cost Rs 1.57 crore and Rs 2.03 crore, respectively. It may not quite have the agility of the BMW and interior quality is clearly down on this pair, but you do get that monster of a naturally aspirated V8, loads and loads of attitude and high levels of comfort. And, of course, it’s a Jeep, so you can expect it to be really good off-road; it even has a mode selector for various terrain. Yes, the Jeep Grand Cherokee isn’t for everyone and it has some shortcomings you need to ignore if you buy it, but it also has something the competition is sorely lacking in; loads and loads of character. And that’s something that’s getting more and more difficult to get a hold of today.