Fiat recently paid the outstanding dowry needed to complete its marriage to Chrysler. This marks an interesting new chapter. Observers are undoubtedly keen to see what happens after the honeymoon period. And whether Jeep, Chrysler and Dodge offerings eschew their national characteristics for a more Eurocentric persona. Fiat wears the pants in this relationship after all.
One hopes things are not changed too drastically. Models like this brutish Grand Cherokee SRT are a glorious eight-cylinder eulogy to the Muscle Car Movement. The motoring landscape would certainly be quieter – and more dull – in their absence. For 2014 Jeep rolled-out a host of tweaks for its top-selling SUV.
A gear for every cylinder
Ditching the old unit with its quintet of cogs, the SRT adopted an eight-speed automatic transmission. The merits to this are welcomed. Shifts are less palpable when cruising about town. All that signals an upshift is a slight change in engine note.
And more importantly – since this is a performance beast – the new gearbox is more compliant under heavy driving. Those steering-mounted paddles are responsive when you need some instant momentum. And the shifting habits are adjusted according to the mode, of which there are five: Track, Sport, Auto, Snow and Tow.
There is an economy mode too. As far as we could tell, all it did was illuminate a switch on the fascia. This is still a thirsty American brawler and you’re delusional if you believe there’s a chance you might quell its drinking tendencies.
Especially with that tempting Launch button to the left of the shifter. It has an image of the Christmas tree lights you find at a drag strip. And it beckons you to use it. Keep the wheel straight, hold down the brake, floor the power pedal and you’re off. Over five runs on an empty stretch of road, our personal best was 5.9 seconds.
Keep it straight
The fidgety steering does not implore the driver to really attack twisty stuff with confidence. It seems nervous and easily swayed by the bumps and ridges on the tarmac.
But the Jeep can take bends in its stride. It stays flat with a resolve that defies its hefty size. This is all due to the overly-firm suspension set-up. And on poorer road surfaces you could describe it as harsh. Driving over a speed-bump is best done delicately. Especially with your hot morning coffee in the cup-holder.
The SRT is certainly happiest on smooth freeways. Life is rather good here. Fellow road users desist with the fast-lane hogging when they see it approaching. Adaptive cruise control ensures you slow down for those who do not.
Comfortable lounge-like chairs are an SRT hallmark. These are heated and ventilated with chunky bolsters and excellent lateral support. Even rear passengers get heating and air-conditioning for their backsides.
SRT is for value
At R879 990 you might not describe it as cheap. But in relation to its competitors, the Jeep is a greater value proposition.
They have thrown in every toy you would want in a high-performance, premium SUV. From a navigation system, to those talented chairs, voice control, a massive sunroof, a reverse camera and an intelligent cruise control system. Plus you get heaps of charisma and a rumbling theme tune that induces a priceless grin.
Jeep also recently made a six-year/100 000-kilometre maintenance plan standard on their Grand Cherokee models. As a fully-loaded, thrilling and (relatively) well-priced package, this is hard to beat.
The Technical Stuff:
Model: 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT
Price: R879 990
Engine: 6.4-litre V8 normally-aspirated
Power and Torque: 344kW and 624Nm
Fuel Consumption: 15l/100km (Achieved)
Test Mileage: 550 kilometres
Praises: Brilliant sound, plenty of toys, improved quality, badass persona.
Gripes: Harsh over poor surfaces, fidgety steering, some scratchy plastics.