The Australian muscle car’s heyday was a brief few years in the late 1960s and early ’70s. Back then, if you asked the average car enthusiast what we’d likely to be driving in the year 2015, there’s a fair chance many would answer “spaceships”. Jetsons-style transportation would have been far more fathomable to folk in 1970 than the notion of SUVs forming the basis for the family car. Of course, no one knew what a Sports Utility Vehicle was 45 years ago. The closest things were VW Kombis driven by hippies, the Leyland brothers’ Land Rovers and the Toyota LandCruisers starting to sprout up on farms.
What’s more, no car company marketing type in 1970 would have ever foreseen that performance-based four-wheel drive wagons would carve out a complete new niche in the 21st century.
AMC sampled two offerings from that subsection over the summer – albeit from vastly different directions. One was pure American beefcake, the other a lithe European. Both can reach 100km/h from a standing start in five seconds and cost about the same amount.
Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT
Our quest: To enjoy something irreverent. Our findings: There’s nothing subtle about this 6.4-litre V8 all-wheel drive SUV. It’s muscular in looks, performance and engine note. And we love it.
It simply blazes up the highway, all for a fraction of the price of the European SUVs (and their stablemate sports coupes) that it can match for pace. Phenomenal acceleration from a standing start sees 100km/h reached in a whisker under five seconds.
Of course, the German luxury equivalents differ greatly – especially under the bonnet – in being more high-tech, refined and luxurious. They are also less thirsty than the Jeep. Yet for pure brawn and presence, the SRT is unrivalled.
The naturally-aspirated 6.4-litre hemi V8 generates 344kW and 624Nm, spinning to an impressive 6250rpm, while the US-built eightspeed ZF auto transmission always seems to have a ratio on hand to keep the engine in its sweet spot.
For this reason the SRT doesn’t feel as bulky to drive as its exterior looks – and 2289kg kerb weight – might suggestion. It’s agile enough and never feels primitive on the road, thanks to the all-independent suspension.
Thus it was the perfect vehicle to haul the family on a week-long beach holiday, with six-hour trip each way seeming over in a flash thanks to the fun factor of driving an irreverent, captivating Yankee mobile.
This is like nothing else on the Australian market and needs to be experienced. The motoring world would be a boring place without unique beasts like this. Bottomline: Price as tested: $77,000 (plus onroad costs). Could we live with it around town? For sure, once we’d budgeted for fuel.
Audi Q3 RS
Our quest: To work out what the hell it is! Our findings: This is one car that’s difficult for us to quantify. Up-high hot hatch? Or a highperformance small SUV?
Regardless, Audi have created another niche-within-a-niche with the Q3 RS. It’s the first soft-roader to carry the German marque’s revered RS badge, which it reserves for hardcore performance cars.
It’s certainly not a conventional sports car or four-wheel drive. But it is a lot of fun, as AMC discovered as we pelted along Bell’s Line of Road en route to the Bathurst 12-Hour from Sydney earlier this year. The way it rides and handles suggests full-on performance machine, even if its shape suggests otherwise. One thing is for sure, it’s not as macho as the big Jeep, which explains why the missus loved it.
The 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo engine – which pumps out 228kW and 420Nm – is matched to a seven-speed dual-clutch auto. The Q3 RS sprints from 0-100km/h in 5.2 seconds with a soundtrack to match. The only downside was the seating position, which, despite a thousand adjustments, we couldn’t get quite right.
To borrow (and mangle) a phrase from Star Trek, it’s a performance car, Jim, but not as we know it. Bottomline: We’re still not sure how to categorise the Q3 RS – nor who the market is – but it’s bloody good fun to drive. Swift too. From $81,900 plus on-road costs.