Car manufacturers will tell you how they strive to cater to a youthful market; it's their greatest desire. Younger customers have more time to become faithful to their brand and buy more of their cars. Bentley, for example, boasts how it has lowered its brand's average age of ownership dramatically since the launch of the Continental series. They had to. Their clientele was in grave danger of dying out.
For me, though, the Jeep Grand Cherokee has always been something for the older punter. The smell of cabbage signals its presence next to you at the lights. It's more lumbering than the whippersnapping Cherokee and has far less of the child-rearing, Ikea-shopping, Generation Nextness of the seven-seat Commander. With all due respect to what has been for years a very good car, it's commendably old.
So what would you get if Jeep crossed an SUV for the more mature driver with a hot-diggety, highly tuned engine more befitting of a boy racer's dragster? Simple. You would have the Grand Cherokee SRT8: the senior screamer. With twin exhaust pipes at the back, an improbably low front apron, SRT8 motifs all round and super-scanty wheel trim embraced by 20-inch low-profile tyres, it does everything in its power to look menacing. It succeeds.
Inside, the leather sports seats, emblazoned with SRT8 logos, and standard Grand Cherokee interior adapted with chrome and carbon-fibre effects on the fascia and sports dials (once again with SRT8 screaming out, in case your memory was fading) give a real sporting feel to the large, wide cabin. But even more than the ubiquitous SRT8 logo, the engine announces this model's purpose. A whopping 6.1 litres of V8 Hemi power screams into action in an aural ever-presence that would be deafening to younger drivers without the benefit of the volume dial of a hearing aid.
Everybody seems to have a comment to make when they witness the SRT8, and most opinions stem from the sound. It is classic Americana, exuding the throaty V8 babble that is peculiar to high-performance muscle cars from across the pond. This engine is an absolute animal, capable of propelling the SRT8 to 100kph in less than five seconds?or approximately 38 metres, if you prefer it that way. This means it's quicker than the more subdued-looking Porsche Cayenne Turbo and BMW X5. Engineered by SRT, Chrysler Group's in-house high-performance specialists, it is the first such vehicle with full-time four-wheel drive, which has been achieved by creating a new transfer case, a derivative of the classic Jeep unit that has the ability to output the searing 419hp and 569Nm of torque available. The power is sent through a special torque converter to an SRT-upgraded, five-speed automatic transmission that provides noticeably split-second shifts.
The chassis set-up employs SRT-tuned dampers, sway bars and tailored spring rates and suspension bushings, and the ride height has been lowered by 2.5cm compared with the standard Grand Cherokee. Combined with the sports tyres, these specifications give the hard, drumming feeling of a roadster, which comes across as highly unusual in the context of such a big car. And in spite of its dimensions, the chassis allows for excellent cornering at pace, even if at low speeds the back feels very light and can be rather waggly on occasion.
This is one of a few drawbacks to the SRT8. After all, it might outperform the great Teutons of its size, but its home is Detroit, and they like to do things differently in Michigan. For instance, the Germanic build quality is not there, though, in fairness, neither is the price tag. And as one has come to expect from the Jeep-Chrysler-Dodge family, the interior just doesn't have the feeling of luxury (in spite of a pretty comprehensive equipment list), nor does it have the attention to materials that comes with a premium manufacturer.
The brake pedal is too far ahead of the accelerator to be wholly comfortable, although to its credit, the model does come with power adjustable pedals down below. And the cruise control comes care of a dangly bit coming off the steering wheel, instead of the excellent wheel-mounted controls available on other Jeeps. But the real issue in my mind is the question of whether this is the right car for the job. True, it's spacious and the HEMI performs admirably, but does the Grand Cherokee's manner and aura really suit the SRT8 treatment? In fact, is this really true to the Jeep ethos?
While it's unlikely that you would take the Cayenne off the road, it's damn near impossible to do so with the SRT8, especially given a combination of lowered bodywork and driver in his dotage. It seems that Jeep is moving away from its time-honoured mission to go anywhere -just look at the Compass for further evidence - and this Grand Cherokee doesn't really fit the mould. Saying that, though, it's a lot of fun, even if it's only for the black-top. firstname.lastname@example.org