x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Chrysler Grand Voyager a surprise on Dubai Autodrome's race track

Steven McCombe gets to grips with Chrysler, Dodge and Ram's range of on- and off-road cars at Dubai track day.

So you've been asked to a race track day at Dubai Autodrome by Chrysler Group and you're thinking, "I can't wait to get a hold of the new Dodge Challenger and Charger, with their SRT8 high-performance engines - I'm going to tear the place up".

It doesn't take long to muster the response that, yes, you'd be prepared to come along and, yes, you would be intrigued to see what the company has achieved post-apocalyptic bankruptcy-bailout disaster.

You venture to the 'Drome in the desert and head out to the pit lane with bated breath. Then, your jaw drops. But not necessarily in a good way. Before you is not the retro-styled Challenger or the muscle-bound Charger - no, before you is a long seven-seater minivan that goes by the name of Chrysler Grand Voyager. I would be surprised to find this thing in the car park, never mind on the track but there it is, in all its long, ungainly glory.

The Grand Voyager wasn't designed to be swung into corners, but such is the confidence exuded by Chrysler these days that it wasn't fearful of allowing a group of hacks to do just that.

And, believe it or not, it handled well for such an awkward-looking machine, with less understeer than you'd expect and good traction through tight bends.

Despite being designed for comforting unruly children with space to romp and DVD players for long journeys, the minivan, with its 3.6L Pentastar V6 engine producing 288hp and 353Nm of twist, is capable of upping its game and hitting acceptable speeds on track.

In the two laps I drove it around the Club Circuit, it just about kept pace with other, more powerful vehicles, so it can hold its head high. But as much as it was fun, thankfully, the minivan wasn't the full story of the day.

In addition, there was indeed a selection of the aforementioned ridiculously powerful SRT8 Challengers and Chargers to try out at the event Chrysler aptly named Power Drive.

The 6.4L, 470hp SRT8 engines are new to the region but replace 6.1L versions elsewhere, producing 68Nm more torque and upping horsepower by 45. It meant the Challenger and Charger were reaching 100kph on the straight in less than five seconds; serious power-to-cost ratio there.

However, the one Chrysler seems most excited about launching here is its Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8. As it whizzes past the Autodrome pit lane you could be forgiven for thinking a high-performance sports car was on track, such is the powerful growl emanating from under its bonnet. A luxury, family sized SUV with the power of a sports car? No wonder they think it will be a success here.

"I don't want to be too cocky, but our biggest problem with the Cherokee SRT8 will be getting a big enough slice of the production units from Detroit," said Chrysler's MD, Jack Rodencal.

Among others on track were a Chrysler 300C, a Ram 1500, a Dodge Durango and a Dodge Charger Pursuit car, which is being offered to police in the UAE, after already being adopted by forces in Kuwait, Bahrain, Lebanon and Oman. Elsewhere, Chrysler also had two Fiat 500s to race around a slalom track; embracing its blossoming partnership with its parent company.

And there was also the chance to test out the hill descent functions on the group's SUVs. Honestly, being told not to brake while descending a near-vertical drop as the car takes care of matters is a hair-raising experience, but one that leaves you commending Chrysler's expertise.

The Grand Voyager retails at Dh149,900, the SUV range starts with the Jeep Cherokee at Dh124,900, rising to Dh259,900 for the Grand Cherokee SRT8.