Building Modern Muscle

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Jeep has always been a name synonymous to the battle-hardened chariots from World War II. Starting out in life as a government-built light military, the Jeep vehicle soon became one of the world's first mass-produced four-wheel-drive passenger cars. Priding themselves on a “less is more”  attitude, while still maintaining the reliability, short wheelbase and rigidity required to tackle the most horrendous of terrain.

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Fast forward to 1962, Jeep realised that the world is not all desert and beaches and introduced a new and more practical vehicle lineup called the Wagoneer. It was a station wagon made for families and people that enjoy roofs over the head on the daily commute. The Wagoneers success would go on to spawn the Cherokee and Grand Cherokee family. Throughout the 80s & 90s the Cherokee was THE SUV to have. With its reliable 4.0L straight six and go anywhere attitude, the Cherokee remains a staple for off road performance and comfort.

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The Grand Cherokee has changed quite dramatically since its inception 1993, but since its most recent rebirth Jeep has already made a strong argument that they mean business. It is quite simply one of the best value for money packages on the market today. Put anything that provides the same offroad performance, luxury, style and on road comfort and you’d be hard pressed to match anything on price. And we are going to prove that point with this; the 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8.

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The SRT8 is Jeep’s more sporting creation, ditching the knobbly off-road tyres for some sticky 295/45/20 Pirelli rubber and a couple of badges indicating there’s an all-American Hemi 6.4L hiding under the vented hood. It is America’s answer to the Range Rover Sport Supercharged V8 and the continuous onslaught of performance SUVs from Germany. While this isn’t Jeeps wildest creation, it is essentially a jacked up AWD Dodge Charger for taking the kids dune bashing.

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With a more squatted stance, red brake calipers, blacked out grille and multiple air ducts, the SRT8 distinguishes itself apart from the rest of the Grand Cherokee family by painting a much more aggressive picture than its Overland sibling. Jumping into the cockpit, Leather and Alcantara coats every surface.

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The sport seats offer plenty of support and the driving position is nice and low in the cabin giving the driver ample vision out of all windows. Once you’re in and comfortable, a simple press of a button moves what feels like two little fists firmly into the middle of your back. In comparison to other manufacturers cars with similar ideals, whilst not exactly massaging chairs, they were one of the best for my borderline prehistoric spine.  

The Dash and centre console are designed to be simple, functional and easy on the eye. The infotainment system really resembles something like a mobile phone. You can drag and drop your favourite “apps” to the bottom for quick access.  

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Surrounding the Infotainment system its finished off with leather trim and a smattering of carbon fibre trim panels just as a reminder this is no ordinary family car as the Harman Kardon stereo package competes with the aural barrage from the 50-cal Hemi V8. Thundering exhaust aside, the optional stereo was superb. Deep bass and crisp clean tones with zero distortion no matter what volume I played my favourite Beyonce’ song.

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Turning the key, a Red Grand Cherokee avatar appears on the gauge cluster, with the 8.4-inch infotainment system displaying your most recent of vehicle settings from your last trip. I found the touch screen and sub menus very easy to navigate and customizable just like the latest of mobile phones. The only thing I wish the Jeep had was a dedicated button for the optioned heated steering wheel, rather than having to re-explore the submenus for it after everytime the car was turned off. And since we live on possibly the hottest continent on the planet, I think I can let it slide.  

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On the road it would be very easy to forget that you have 345kW under your right foot when left in fully automatic mode. The SRT8 is very refined and the P-Zeros were much quieter than I was expecting. Gear shifts were smooth and squeezing the throttle, the SRT knew exactly what gear it should be in to get you moving swiftly.

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Driving modes can be altered by turning a dial in the centre console. The standard options are, Tow, Snow, Auto, Sport and (the crazy one) Track. Changing each mode opens up a menu on the touch screen and your gauge binnacle changes to show what setting you have selected. Further refinement can be made by modifying the menu in the touch screen if you need to adjust your towing requirements or traction division.

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Flicking over to Sport mode, the steering firmed up and the gear changes were quicker and more precise - A flick of the paddles had the 8 speed gearbox working to keep offering smooth and fast shifts. Each time you breathe on the throttle you get a smile on your face as the Hemi starts to yell just a proper modern muscle car.

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However, turning into ‘track mode’ it immediately felt like I was in a completely different car. The throttle response became a hair-trigger and at low rpm the whole car jolted about like a greyhound itching to be released from the trap.  Driving sedately in track mode was less than desirable, albeit, that's my fault, I have no idea why I thought “sedate” and “track” would work hand in hand… but, when you engage paddle shift and put your foot into it a touch, everything seemed to make sense, the steering got heavier and the gear shifts were incredibly fast and direct, banging through each gear like you were driving a true muscle car. Oh, and the downshifts, a click of the left paddle shouts the revs up over the fun side of 4000 rpm as it drops down a gear, ready to tackle whatever was coming ahead.

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I didnt keep it in track for very long, the nice little green line on the dash showing my fuel consumption had disappeared on the wrong side of 20L/100 (but if you are slaying laps around Barbagallo Raceway, you wouldn't really care…) so back to Auto, cruise control on, and watched the Jeep shut down 4 cylinders and carry on with a very surprising 7L/100 showing on the dash.

I was quite impressed with Jeep’s ability to drop cylinders and still retain smooth driveability. You could feel the ever so slight change in drive, but not enough to have you worrying about it. Adjusting your speed up a notch kick starts the other 4 cylinders and you are away again.

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Jeep have managed to put the SRT8 in such a perfect price point, there really isn't much out there that can compare in the value for money range that this targets. For just under $100,000 you can get yourself a fantastic family hauler that just so happens to have the most muscled-up V8 this side of a Challenger. The fit and finish is exactly what you would hope for and leaves you wondering if the German rival is worth spending 50% of the purchase price again on.

The drive is brilliant, the sound it outstanding. I really feel that the Americans have done a great job of nudging their way into the European performance SUV market, without the inflated pricing. The SRT8 manages to offer a package of practicality, performance and style. It’s the ultimate livable muscle car.  

Thanks to the team at Rockingham Jeep for the short term loan, for more information on the SRT8, be sure to contact them or alternatively, take it for a test drive yourself.