When SUVs came into existence in the 1990s I thought the ‘S’ part was a silent letter. How can any high-riding family wagon with off-road pretensions also be Sporty? Fast forward to today and we’re surrounded by SUVs from Porsche, BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Range Rover and others that would show a 1990s sports car the fast way around a racetrack. It’s astonishing how car company engineers with big brains and bigger budgets can make two tonnes of family wagon hustle like a high-performance athlete.
Jeep’s reputation is built on rugged off-road ability, but even this iconic American brand is keen to emphasise the Sport in Sport Utility Vehicle. The Jeep Grand Cherokee is a large, luxurious family wagon with serious off-road cred, and the $90K SRT version has a potent V8 engine and sportier suspension designed to make this SUV fast on the road as well.
Then there’s the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT ‘Night’ Edition, which takes everything the standard SRT has and adds a few choice performance and visual enhancements to make it a truly special, and very menacing monster SUV.
- Only 128 examples of the $97K Night edition will be imported to Australia. So if exclusivity is your thing, act quickly. The ‘Night’ pack includes darkened windows, satin black alloy wheels, and black badging. Inside you get black leather with silver stitching, a stonking stereo and panoramic sunroof.
- The SRT Night edition packs the same thunderous 6.4-litre V8 engine as the standard SRT, but it gets a trick ‘Launch Control’ system which helps this automotive heavyweight power down the quarter mile drag strip in just 13.1 seconds – that’s faster than a Porsche 911 from a decade ago!
- It’s surprisingly accomplished at pounding down twisty roads at pace, if that’s your thing. The big engine gives this wagon real zest for speed, the steering is light and direct, and the suspension does a good job resisting bodyroll and delivering dynamic zeal.
- The Grand Cherokee is a roomy beast, with plenty of space for adults and luggage. It’s also luxurious inside: full leather, loads of fancy features and a thumping Harmon Kardon stereo.
- It also has a ‘Valet’ mode, which hobbles this powerful beast so the local hotel valet won’t be tempted to take your pride and joy on a cross-city joyride.
- You might think the injection of all this muscular performance would hamper the Grand Cherokee’s considerable off-road skills. Think again; it’s still one of the best vehicles for tackling the great beyond, though you may want to change the tyres for something more mud friendly, and make sure there are petrol stations at suitable intervals…
- …because that big 6.4-litre V8 engine is thirsty, even though Jeep boasts it has ‘Fuel Saver Technology’. According to official figures, the Grand Cherokee SRT Night will consume 14L/100km; we wouldn’t be surprised if real-world driving exceeded that. Performance doesn’t come free after all.
- The ride is definitely on the sporty side of luxurious. For the Jeep’s suspension to control such a high, heavy body, it necessitates compromises with ride quality. This means you will feel the bumps and joins in the road, and are better off not taking a sip of coffee when you approach a speed hump.
- A responsive accelerator pedal is usually a good thing, but the Grand Cherokee SRT Night takes that a bit too far. It is overly sensitive initially, which can lead to aggressive lurching away from a standstill. Better to employ a ballerina’s deft touch – initially – for a smooth yet still speedy getaway
- At 2336kg the Grand Cherokee SRT Night is a heavy car. Jeep says this model gets some lighter suspension components, but unfortunately they don’t help the bottom line because all that extra equipment negates any weight saving.
ANY RIVALS I SHOULD CONSIDER?
For the price? No. None of the European SUV brands can match the Jeep’s size and space and serious pace. If you’re willing to accept a smaller cabin, the Audi SQ5 and Jaguar F-Pace have sub-$100K models with decent performance. If you want the same size in a Euro, then you’ll have to put up with a far less potent dynamic package.