Driv­ing with di­nosaurs

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Road Test -

some­thing out of Amer­i­can Graf­fiti with a boxy body dumped over the chas­sis to crowd the chunky, five-spoke al­loys. In­side it’s all busi­ness and the su­perb leather trim ex­tends atop the dash­board.

How­ever, the car­bon-fi­bre sur­rounds on the gear shifter, dash and cen­tre con­sole are peel­ing and lift­ing. A slap-face re­minder that short­cuts have been taken build­ing this car, it in­spires lit­tle own­er­ship and driver con­fi­dence.

TECH­NOL­OGY

The engine’s push-rod over­head-valve de­sign pre­dates me. How­ever, pil­low-talk by Mercedes-Benz— the pair had a brief al­liance— paid off in Chrysler’s en­gi­neer­ing depart­ment.

So the big-bore 6.4-litre V8 Hemi (347kW/631Nm) picks up vari­able-valve tim­ing, fuel shut­off, the abil­ity to de­ac­ti­vate four cylin­ders when coast­ing or idling, elec­tronic throt­tle con­trol, alu­minium heads and two spark plugs per cylin­der.

Chrysler claims 13.0L/100km but sub­ur­ban ped­alling gets about 20L. The SRT8 has 360mm ven­ti­lated brake discs with four-pis­ton Brembo calipers, lower diff ra­tio with a heav­ier rear axle, hy­drauli­cas­sist steer­ing (in­stead of elec­tric) and a ‘‘ se­vere duty’’ cool­ing sys­tem. The au­to­matic is a five-speed, not the 300-spec eight-speed, and comes with pad­dle-shifters.

SAFETY

There’s no crash test rat­ing but the Euro­pean left-hand drive equiv­a­lent, the Lan­cia Thema (just how many peo­ple have been in Chrysler’s bed?) has a EuroNCAP rat­ing of five stars.

The SRT8’s suite of stan­dard safety gear in­cludes for­ward col­li­sion warn­ing, adap­tive cruise con­trol, blind-spot mon­i­tor­ing, lane-change warn­ing, rear cross-path de­tec­tion, roll mit­i­ga­tion, tyre­pres­sure mon­i­tor­ing, rear cam­era, front and rear park sen­sors, elec­tronic sta­bil­ity and trac­tion con­trol, six airbags and bi-xenon head­lights with au­to­matic high-beam dip­ping. The spare is a space-saver.

DRIV­ING

I ex­pected more noise and a more en­gag­ing hit off the mark but the SRT8 is un­ex­pect­edly docile. Just the car to take to the shops.

It does, how­ever, have a mean streak; it just re­quires the driver to put more weight on the ac­cel­er­a­tor pedal.

There is a sport mode that sharp­ens the gear­box shift points— bet­ter felt when us­ing the pad­dle-shifters— and flicks to a firmer sus­pen­sion set­ting. There’s no more power, just a more en­er­getic feel­ing from the driv­e­train.

With the engine thump­ing up front, there’s a strangely dis­cor­dant arm­chair feel to the cabin— it’s as if you’re just tak­ing the lounge room for a fang down the street. That’s mag­ni­fied by the big-di­am­e­ter steer­ing wheel that, while hav­ing plenty of road feel and be­ing nicely weighted, feels a tad as though you’re pi­lot­ing some­thing pon­der­ous.

It’s an un­usual im­pres­sion given that, once the throt­tle is wide open, the SRT8 runs like a scalded cat and hangs on con­fi­dently through the cor­ners.

The seats are well bol­stered, firm in the right places and gen­er­ous in width and I can’t de­cide if the 1960s-style of the dash­board switches and di­als is retro-fun or sim­ply an­cient.

It’s a very dif­fer­ent ma­chine to push along com­pared with, say, an HSV or FPV, which re­quire more phys­i­cal work to per­form and are harder on the body. The SRT8 slips in be­tween— it’s com­fort­able and easy to drive, rides well and is quiet. In­deed, I would like more noise.

VER­DICT

I’d go the SRT8 Grand Chero­kee be­fore this 300-based hot­tie. I re­spect its safety fea­tures and fun-to-drive as­pect but de­spair at its qual­ity.

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