IT was a dark and stormy night. The line from Charles Schulz’s famous Snoopy cartoon could have been penned with the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT Night in mind, because it sure is a dark number, with a storm of power under its muscly hood.
The Night limited edition has dark 20-inch wheels and most of the shiny body bits blacked out, even the ‘SRT’ badge on the tail, but the big Brembo calipers, a pair of howitzer-sized exhaust trumpets and a bold ‘6.4litre Hemi’ badge on the side give the game away.
Based on standard Grand Cherokee SRT, the 128-model Night edition is priced at $97,000.
The blacked-outs bits and big wheels aside, it comes with silver-stitched Swedish leather seats, black chrome and silver bezels on the dash and a hot-shot 825W Harmon/Kardon audio system, which addresses the car’s occupants via a total of 19 speakers.
There’s also a special instrument cluster, which features a ‘valet’ setting designed to prevent incidents such as the one on TV where the potato chip-eating lad goes on a wild ride with the sports car he was supposed to carefully park.
The reconfigurable digital display has an expanded array of real-time performance timers and gauge readouts, among them dynamic handling, braking, engine power, torque and acceleration, battery voltage, oil pressure, coolant and intake air temperature.
We settled on the digital speed option because the speedo itself has tiny difficult-to-read numbers, and with the natural rein-free gait of the Night, it’s essential to keep an eye on the velocity to stay on the good side of the law.
The vehicle also has all-new drive modes – Auto, Sport and Track – the latter which alter the suspension, torque distribution, stability control, engine mapping and electric steering, and another setting is Custom, which lets the driver select and lock in his or her favourite settings.
Plus there’s an Eco mode, Snow, Tow and another for fuel savings.
The naturally-aspirated V8 generates 344kW and 624Nm, which is sent to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic.
Use the built-in launch control, brace yourself and the 2.2 tonne Grand Cherokee will bellow its way to 100km/h in less than five seconds, run the quarter mile in the low 13s and top out at 258km/h.
That’s Rocketship territory, with audio pops like a .38 Special as it runs through the lower ratios.
The eight-speeder works just fine on its own, but you can switch to manual mode via the paddle-shifters if you reckon you can do better than the classy ZF transmission.
For a big lad, the SRT handles very well with its Bilstein suspension and fat road-biased Pirelli lo-pro tyres providing lots of grip.
Good space and comfort, big boot, great visibility, top-notch reversing camera and all the latest electronic driver aids, plus standard stuff such as satnav, Bluetooth, heated and ventilated seats, even a heated flat-bottomed steering wheel.
But the grandest part of the Chero SRT is its sheer driveability and the accompanying roar of a raging bull – maybe even a red one – in its element.
Fuel economy doesn’t really matter in vehicles of this kind, but we averaged 14.4 litres/100km.
The Night’s road presence is considerable.
Yahoos take one look and just wilt as they recognise the SRT’s authority, while grans smile at the glorious paintwork.
Verdict: Packed with all the good stuff, and much cheaper than its Euro rivals, it’s a practical high-performance SUV to make old fogeys feel 10 years younger.