Driv­ing Quest

Australian Muscle Car - - Driving Quest -

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.

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