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Jeep's Grand Cherokee adds extra spice

AAP logoAAP 18/12/2016 Peter Atkinson

Take one large SUV and stir in a liberal quantity of SRT. About 6.4 litres of it, to be precise.

Give it a good mix, and allow it to percolate for a while.

What does it make? Well, that's the recipe for a whole lot of fun - in the form of the wildest Jeep ever built - the Grand Cherokee SRT Night Edition.

Those ingredients? Well, let me explain.

The SUV part you surely know about. And the Grand Cherokee is an SUV that needs very little introduction.

The the SRT part? That's Chrysler/Jeep's go-fast brand - Street and Racing Technology. An acronym that, to be honest, probably has no logical connection to rugged vehicles like the much-loved Grand Cherokee.

The 6.4 litres? That's the size of the stonking V8 engine that transforms a normally civilised, sophisticated family-sized urban off-roader into one of the most wicked machines we've driven recently.

This SRT Night Edition is a limited release of the high-performance Jeep aimed at pumping some additional sales momentum into a model reaching its middle age.

Not that there's anything vaguely thick around the middle about this beast.

It will crack the speed limit in less than five seconds, which slots it into elite territory - compliments of its gaudy 344 kilowatts of power and 624Nm of torque.

The SRT brand has become a familiar part of the Chrysler/Jeep family, with a similarly potent version of the Chrysler 300C developing quite a cult following Down Under. But the Night Edition adds a new twist.

Jeep calls it "stealth styling" - and it extends to a darkened appearance including black roof, lustrous satin black 20-inch wheels plus black grille, front fascia and window surrounds. Inside there's upgraded leather upholstry, dual-pane sunroof and premium Harmon Kardon audio.

Only 120 of these units will make it to Australia - giving it a rather exclusive edge. Ours came in a shadowy shade of cherry red which complemented the black trim nicely.

The SRT is generously equipped, with most, if not all, of the trinkets you'd expect in this part of the market - leather sports seats, electronically adjusted and heated; full multi-media setup, adaptive cruise and high-end climate control.

But it's the performance package that appeals here - 0-100km/h in 4.8 seconds, top speed of 258km/h and an electronics suite that includes its own version of launch control.

There's also a configurable digital display that can be customised, when performance modes are selected, to feature a centrally-placed tachometer and, believe it or not, lap timer.

The chassis is nicely resolved, with a firm but not uncomfortable ride, accurate and direct steering and enough balance to gather itself up quickly after any rapid changes of direction. Jeep has integrated as many aluminium components as possible to keep weight down and nimbleness intact.

The SRT's price point is an intruguing one. At $97,000 plus onroads, it's almost 50 per cent more expensive than the standard, top-of-the-range Grand Cherokee.

Its mechanical twin, the Chrysler 300 SRT8 that shares the same engine, transmission and much of the running gear including oversized brakes and sports suspension, is substantially cheaper with an entry-level price of just $59,000.

But then you compare this machine with other SUVs that deliver the same kind of performance and equipment levels and the big Jeep seems like an absolute bargain.

Of the European options, perhaps only the Porsche Cayenne gets close to the Jeep's price with its entry-level models - as does the new Jaguar F-Pace's flagship supercharged V6.

Pound for pound (or kilowatt for kilowatt), the SRT is more comparable with high-priced German performance SUVs like the Mercedes GLE63, the full-blown Cayenne and BMW's X5 and X6M. And in that company, the Jeep looks like remarkably good value.

It might lack that Euro brand cache - but the extra $50 grand in your pocket might help soften the blow.

Big American V8s like this one have, in our experience, tended to be more about capacity and sheer brawn than finesse. But we were pleasantly surprised by the driveability and nimble, responsive personality of the SRT's thundering powerplant.

It's quick to respond to throttle inputs and loves to rev, creating a sonorous experience as it, rather rapidly, gathers momentum. Yes, it has 50 per cent more capacity than the turbo-charged V8 engines of its German rivals - but it's not some ham-fisted, low-tech bruiser, either. And its eight-speed auto, sophisticated all-wheel-drive system and selectable drive modes - giving choices from Eco and Tow modes right through to Sport and Track settings - enhance that output.

There's even a Valet mode - presumably for when your kids want to borrow the car. When selected, the engine performance is dialled back with a maximum 4000 revs; transmission is similarly neutered, launch control disabled, sport drive functions locked out and stability control set to maximum safety.

Valet mode can only be activated and deactivated using a four-digit PIN code.

Imagine that - a hot-rod that can be programmed to perform just like a normal car?

Seems like that SRT concoction is an adults-only recipe.

JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE SRT8 NIGHT EDITION

HOW BIG? Based on the full-sized Grand Cherokee, it's a large piece of metal that disguises its bulk rather cleverly with its power, clever design and welter of electronic driver aides. Three adults will find it amply roomy with heaps of cargo space in the back.

HOW FAST? Any car that will reach 100km/h before you can say its full name is seriously quick.

HOW THIRSTY? Really? You had to ask? Jeep doesn't offer an official consumption figure, but don't expect much change out of 20L/100km if you're using it as intended. On the highway you might get down to low double-digits.

HOW MUCH? Not cheap at $97,000 plus onroads, but comparatively a bargain in this high-tech category. At that price, though you won't see many of these chugging along the beach.

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