Jeep s grand scheme
2012 Grand Cherokee SRT8. Suppied picture

Clyde Campbell is the managing director of Fiat Chrysler Group in Australia, which apart from selling funky Fiats and svelte, sexy Alfas, distributes Jeep products.

READ MORE ABOUT JEEP AND ITS TOUGH HERITAGE

Long renowned as drivers' cars, the Alfa in particular is admired by many competitors as a dynamic and fun-filled motoring package.

When it comes to the performance and handling stakes, a Jeep would be a country mile away, wouldn't it?

Not any more. I've just driven the latest creation from Chrysler's SRT high-performance arm. It's a five-seat hot rod - a four-wheel-drive Grand Cherokee wagon that has had power, torque, steering, suspension, braking and overall dynamics added to the mix at a level that will blow most European hotshots into the scrub.

Already the standard Grand Cherokee is selling more than three times the volume of last year but the SRT has boosted that figure, with the first 250 already committed to buyers.

So what qualifies the SRT for the high-performance stakes? It's a long list, but starts with a new 344kW/624Nm 6.4-litre Hemi V8 engine with an active intake manifold and high-lift cams that makes 90 per cent of the torque peak between 2800 and 6000rpm.

Supporting that is a body that is 146 per cent stiffer than the previous model, Bilstein adaptive dampers managed by Jeep's Selec-Track ride and handling package, and an active on-demand 4WD transfer case that will steer torque to assist handling.

Stopping all of that are six- piston Brembo brake calipers (four-piston on the rear) and ventilated rotors.

Finding out if all of that worked couldn't be done on the public road, so Chrysler booked Victoria's Anglesea testing ground for the day. With the odd glimpse of heavily disguised cars testing next model components we had the use of a speed bowl, acceleration test track and a steep handling course that I last drove through in a Scania B-triple truck.

On the long run through Victorian countryside even the most experienced and cynical motoring journalists agreed that the SRT was a fine-handling, well-balanced, precise, comfortable and serious performance car for the buyer who wants something that looks as aggressive as it behaves.

On the track, the Jeep lifted the impressions even higher as it blasted its way towards its governed maximum speed of 250km/h (in a Jeep!) and demolished 0-100km/h in a whisker under six seconds.

On the twisty bits I thought I was back in my old Subaru WRX as the SRT dived between and around the bends in an exciting blend of instant V8 power at all four wheels, massive brakes and pin-sharp steering.

And the noise. Chrysler has built an exhaust system that plays a tune no enthusiast could ignore, especially on the gear changes and particularly if you're using the steering wheel paddles in manual mode. The balance is spot on, too - a minor rumble at town speeds but a head-turning snarl when you get serious.

There are other brands which can package the kind of performance that the Jeep SRT offers, but Chrysler does it for $76,000, which is less than half the price of the Porsche, BMW and AMG SUVs that the SRT will either stay with or beat into the ground.

The West Australian

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