BWAAAAAAAAAAARGH bellows the huge 6.4-litre HEMI V8, raging at startled passers-by from behind a familiar seven-slot Jeep grille. Heads turn, lattes are dropped, small children start to cry.
It’s understandable – this Grand Cherokee SRT8 has an engine and exhaust note that tends to divert attention. It’s rich, aggressive, hard-edged. It says “I’ve got 470bhp and I’m not afraid to use it”. It’s a sound that people instinctively search for the source of, and then the SRT8’s visuals take over to keep them looking.
Whatever you think of the brash styling, there’s no doubt that this, the most hardcore of Grand Cherokees, stands out. With 20-inch shiny alloys, a deep dish front bumper and bulging wheel arches it’s as subtle as a brick through a window, especially in the gorgeous deep red hue in which our test car is attired. At the back end there’s a roof spoiler and two trumpet-like tailpipes gaping from the underside, spitting dark intent at pedestrians. Understated it ain’t.
Inside, the quality of the interior is slightly disappointing for the $68,000 price tag and when compared against performance SUVs from Jeep’s German rivals. The plastics aren’t quite as solid as they could be and the buttons and switchgear feel barely damped. But it’s an improvement on Jeep’s plasticky cabins of old; there are swathes of soft leather on the seats, which are encouragingly supportive and hug-some, and nothing feels like it’s about to fall off. The carbon fibre trim is nice too, adding to the sporty feel.
Any lingering concerns about the interior evaporate when the start button is pressed. That massive V8 bursts into life and settles into a potent growl. A click of the gear lever into D sets the massive 20-inch alloys a-rolling. Around town, the GC is remarkably docile. The throttle response isn’t snappy, and the steering is light.
This takes a slight edge off the experience when things get more spirited, but it makes sense: 90% of people buying this car won’t be throwing it into apexes, they’ll be taking it to the shops or cruising the boulevards late at night. That said, handling isn’t too bad. The steering needs more feel and could do with being more direct to make you forget that you’re lumbering around in an SUV, but there’s a decent amount of grip and balance, with body roll well kept in check. Enormous red-calipered brakes behind the alloys scrub off speed with aplomb.
A twisty dial next to the gear lever lets you fiddle with the car’s settings – put it in Track mode (Track mode! In an SUV!) and it’ll relax the electronic reigns and sharpen up the throttle somewhat, as well as stiffening the adaptive dampers. At the end of the day, the SRT8’s weight prevents any serious asphalt heroics, but it will bring a smile to the face.
Handling is surprisingly good then, but the big attraction here is the engine and the acceleration it brings. Jeep claims the V8 will power the big chief to 100kph in just 4.8s, and on to 257kph. This despite it weighing 2336kg. It’ll seriously shift, and when it does the occupants are squeezed back into the chunky seats, unable to do anything other than hang on and listen to that tectonic aural accompaniment.
The Grand Cherokee SRT8, as its name suggests, is more warrior-like in its approach to performance than a more precision machine. It doesn’t have the refinement and quick reflexes of the likes of Mercedes’ ML63 AMG or the BMW X5 M. What it does have however, beyond any of its rivals, is character, romance and simultaneous brutality. It has a street-racing attitude; ballistic straight-line speed and headline-grabbing statistics that back up the menacing looks and spectacular soundtrack. It won’t keep up with a sports car through the bends, but if you want to look good at the lights before burning away in a cloud of awesome, then it’s well worth checking out.