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Skidmark : Yank Tank.

By Faisal Hakki Notwithstanding my very deep rooted and predominantly negative preconceptions about Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) in general, and American SUVs in particular, I had the chance to do a pretty extensive test drive on what is supposedly the most powerful factory-produced US SUV, the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8. As soon as I met with the proud owner, we were quick to head towards the fairly empty, twisty and somewhat narrow (for a car of the Grand Cherokee's size) roads that stretch between Badr al-Jadeedah and Iraq el-Ameer. From the very beginning of our journey, the suspension settings clearly revealed the bottom-line intentions of the hooligan Jeep. Short shock absorber travel coupled with multiple A-arms on all four corners and a handful of stress and anti-roll bars meant that this Jeep in particular felt more at home on the fast sweeps of the Nurburgring than on the hard boulders of Wadi Rum. Yet, for a car that will ultimately spend that majority of its lifetime as a confined city dweller, the suspension setting will come off as a bit too hard for the majority of mainstream SUV drivers.External body reworking on the high-tier SRT8 doesn't exactly do wonders for an already straight-cut-boxy-yet-neat-exterior. It does, however, accentuate the powerful shoulders at the rear, differentiates it from all other Grand Cherokees sharing the road and ultimately underline the potency of the beast lying under the front hood. And what a beast it is! The Hemi 6.1-liter big block V8 pumps out 425 American ponies and 420 lb-ft of torque capable of catapulting all 2,000kg plus of prime US steel from standstill to 100 km/h in a claimed 4.5 seconds, which is by the way faster than a Porsche Cayenne Turbo or Mercedes ML63. Understandably, the unleaded-guzzling 6.1 Hemi is not exactly the most intelligent or advanced engine on offer, but once you get a taste of the massive torque reserves and the manner in which a car of such proportions manages to move this fast, you'll be raising your finger proud and high to all tree-huggers and the birds they protect. Unfortunately, the thrill lasted for no more than half an hour of hard driving before I quickly started to comprehend the major shortcomings of this steroid-laden Yank Tank. As a friend of mine was quick to note, the leather trim on the seats could easily be mistaken for one of those after-market faux leather covers. Ditto for the interior finishing and trim feel. The SRT8 might be well ahead of other cars coming out of Detroit in terms of refinement, but it remains unarguably cheap for a car with a JD70K price tag. The guys responsible for the interior must have been left with a very small budget after all that engine, suspension and brake reworking. On that note, the brakes which sport bright red multiple piston calipers at all four ends with the word "Brembo" splashed all over, seem to have very little in common with other braking systems I've encountered from the same Italian manufacturer. The calipers might be Brembo, but judging by the spongy pedal feel and vague biting point, the rest of the system, seems to come right off a 1976 Chrysler New Yorker. So why did Jeep build this Super Cherokee? With the wafer-thin sidewalls on the Scorpion Zero Pirellis, it is evident that it's not meant for the rough stuff. The suspension is too hard for enjoyable city driving, yet struggles to deal with the weight shifting in tight corners. The interior is equally disappointing; cab drivers would feel at home cuddling with the industrial-grade leather while fiddling with the spartan dials and switches. And although we weren't really bothered in measuring it, I'm confident that fuel consumption is laughable. So why was the SRT8 given the green light? And more importantly why are people--my friend included--buying it? The only reasonable explanation I could find was the sheer power of the thing; it really is that jaw dropping, but then again, only in a straight line and for a brief period of time before the thrill wears out. So as I always preach, if you are comfortable with spending such an amount on something very fast yet ultimately impractical, buy yourself a secondhand 911 and live happily ever after. nfaisalhakki@lycos.comSkidmark : Yank Tank

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Publication:The Star (Amman, Jordan)
Date:Jul 23, 2007
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