The Chrysler people in New Zealand are doing pretty well out of the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Registrations for the group brands (that's Jeep/Dodge/Chrysler) are up to 667 for the first half of the year, an increase of 79 percent over 2011. Of all the individual models, the Grand Cherokee is the biggest seller.
More credit to the Grand for doing it without relying on the image-enhancing abilities of a high-performance hero model, because it's done without that. Until now, with the arrival of the SRT8 version.
With the Grand Cherokee already a critical and sales success, all the SRT8 model has to do is roll up and be entertaining. That it is.
At $106,990 the SRT8 is probably quite expensive for an American off-roader, but it's also rather good value for a sports-utility that's as fast to 100km/h as a Mercedes-Benz ML 63, which costs another $90,000. The value equation might be further enhanced when you realise the Jeep is built on the same platform as the latest ML, although they share nothing save those basic underpinnings.
The new SRT8 isn't as aggressive-looking and raw as the old version. It's got a bigger engine, though: a 6.4-litre V8 (previously a 6.1) that now boasts cylinder deactivation technology, turning it into a V4 on a light throttle. It sort of works (probably better on a long American freeway, mind) but the SRT8 does still like a drink: the Combined fuel consumption is 14.1 liters per 100km.
It still sounds fantastic, but there's also now a lot more technology underneath. The provision of a humble five-speed automatic gearbox might surprise, but the transmission operates in synch with the adaptive suspension, stability control, four-wheel drive system and limited-slip differential through the Selec-Trac controller. Switch it to Auto, Sport, Snow or Track and the characteristics of each are modified to suit the driving situation.
You'll notice that there are no features particularly suited to off-road driving. Sure, it's a Jeep. But perhaps you need to be reminded of the name of this flagship performance version: Street & Racing Technology.
The big V8 makes 344kW/465Nm and can give aural pleasure even at low speed. The Jeep does not offer the highly polished dynamic abilities of German rivals from BMW-M or Mercedes-AMG, but then they're not really rivals because the Jeep is damn-near half the price.
And it's still very impressive, plus a little bit scary. Performance is extreme, but there are Brembo brakes to slow you down and the SRT8 hangs on well without subjecting you to a rock-hard ride. You really can feel the difference in the vehicle's behavior in the different modes, but it's fun in any of them. Except Tow. Did I mention there's a Tow mode? Apparently SRT8 owners do a lot of it, because the old model had awesome-looking central exhaust pipes that got in the way of the towbar and lots complained about them. Enough for Jeep to have relocated the cans to the outside of the car. Shame.
No point having a muscle-car if nobody knows it, so the SRT8 has plenty of warpaint. Again, it's quite subtle compared with the old version, but there's no mistaking the reshaped bumpers, 20-inch alloys and ridiculous bonnet, which has enormous vents in it – albeit facing the cabin, not the front of the car as you might expect.
Inside, the Grand in general has come along in leaps and bounds in terms of quality. So the SRT8's Nappa leather/suede seats, fancy instruments and ‘SRT' iconography look right at home. The dash and door inlays are apparently real carbon fibre, although they're underneath so much gloss-finish you really wouldn't know.
Shame, because there's nothing fake about the Grand Cherokee's sense of style and searing performance. It's outrageously hot for $100k (and a bit).