My junior year of high school involved a social studies course taught by a dour, acid-tongued woman, a Scottish leftist in the tradition of George Galloway, who delighted in admonishing us for our bad behavior by labeling us “a bunch of spoiled, upper-middle class brats”. Well, guilty as charged for this writer. Despite the not-so-hidden proletarian contempt she may have had for us, I credit her with teaching a lesson on the Simon-Erlich wager, an event that proved formative in shaping my view of the world.
In 1968 Paul Ehrlich wrote a book entitled The Population Bomb that predicted all kinds of catastrophic events, namely famine as a result of overpopulation. 12 years after its publication, Ehrlich and Libertarian academic Julian Simon made a bet on a basket of commodities, with Ehrlich betting that their prices would rise, to the detriment of humanity.
Neither of Ehrlich’s predictions came to pass, but doomsday catastrophe narratives are still central to our discourse: Y2K, peak oil, global warming, the zombie apocalypse and so on and so forth. As silly and alarmist as theories of global collapse may be, people are happy to buy in to them (especially the zombie apocalypse) no matter how ill-prepared they may be for the consequences.
I strongly suspect that a lot of it has to do with the sense of alienation many people feel in regards to our modern existence. How perverse, if not sadistic, must one be to gleefully anticipate the breakdown of civilization and the mass expiration a variety of the globe’s species, humans included?
This phenomenon extends to muscle cars as well. It seems that every few years, we are ready to give the muscle car its last rites, though it’s less of a desire to do so rather than a dispassionate look at reality; between CAFE, rising fuel prices and increasingly burdensome ownership costs, it’s hard to imagine a future automotive landscape involving the V8 powered American sports coupe.
But time and time again, the Big Three manage to outdo themselves. 2005 brought us the retro-looking Ford Mustang. 2008 was the year of the Dodge Challenger. 2010 saw the Chevrolet Camaro return to much fanfare. A year later, Ford brought back the 5.0 nameplate. And a year after that, we got the most mental Mustang yet, the 662 horsepower Shelby GT500.
2013 – or, more accurately, 2014, brings us yet another over-the-top muscle car, except, this isn’t a muscle car in the traditional sense. The Grand Cherokee SRT8 is a bit like the Canadian-market Pontiac Parisienne wagon with wood paneling and a 400 cid V8 that my cousin once used in the late 1980s to dispatch Porsche 928s in various Traffic Light Grand Prix.
That may not be an entirely fair comparison. On the one hand, the JGC SRT does have a big V8 – 6.4L, 470 horsepower and 465 lb-ft – and it also weighs close to three tons. But no B-Body station wagon ever looked this mean, wore such high performance Pirellis or Brembo brakes. Nor did it have an 8-speed automatic transmission (new for 2014, and said to help improve fuel consumption) with Launch Control.
I have to admit that up until now, I never really bothered with launch control systems. To me, it seemed like yet another gimmick meant to impress the kind of people who enthusiastically told me about how enthusiastic the folks on Top Gear were about the Nissan GT-R and were unable to fathom why I didn’t like it. But since SRT decided that there would be a big button marked “launch” with a nice pictogram of a “christmas tree” right on the center console, I decided to give it a go. Closed course, professional wanker, all that sort of stuff. Don’t try this at home.
Engaging Launch Control is simple.
- Come to a stop.
- Make eye contact with the attractive woman in the car next to you, especially if she is in the passenger seat and somebody you presume to be her life partner is driving. Bonus points if she regards your black-with-red-brake-calipers-and-booming-rap-music with utter disdain.
- Press the button marked “Launch”
- Left foot on the brake, right foot should mash the throttle into the carpet. At this point, the computer takes over and holds the revs at a steady three grand.
- When appropriate, release the brake. Wait a split second for your brain to wrongly assume nothing is happening. This is simply the tires getting traction. At this point, you’ll wonder if leaving the open packet of Dare® Real Fruit Gummies on the dash was a good idea.
- The 5331 lb Jeep will blast towards extralegal speeds faster than you can think of an overwrought motoring journalism cliche to describe the experience. Dare® Real Fruit Gummies will pepper the cabin like birdshot. On subsequent days, you will find them in the vehicle’s carpet, debate whether to eat them, and then do so, because this car brings out the disgusting fratboy in everyone.
In accordance with my pledge to maintain some semblance of decorum at TTAC, I will refrain from bragging about my exploits on the ragged edge of the pursuit of V-Max, the various Teutonic luxury sports coupes driven by Chinese exchange students that I obliterated from stoplights, the half-screamed, half-giggled mock pleas from various women to “stop driving soooo fast” as their boyfriends sat terrified and helpless.
Instead I’ll say this; my week with the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 cost me $260 in fuel over one week and 500 miles of driving. It was worth every single penny and I would do it again if I was lucky enough to get that opportunity, and I don’t say that because of my firm belief in cornucopian theory and the ease with which we’ll be able to recover “tight oil” in the future. In those seven days, I was able to, variously, transport myself 4 of my friends and all of our gear to a lake house, a bachelor party, a wedding, drive my brother to a rural campground in Northern Ontario and take my parents out for dinner in peerless comfort. On one highway cycle I saw 23 mpg while driving at 75 mph with the A/C going strong, and I could have maintained that figure consistently if I kept my foot out of the throttle. Which is, of course, impossible in this car.
I cannot think of one vehicle that does everything with such ease and grace, that can still look elegant and subdued while possessing the capability for unrestrained belligerence. You would not be embarrassed if you had to take a client out to a round of golf, or if you were to line up against someone on a north Georgia drag strip.
The best part about the Grand Cherokee SRT8 is that its overall character has filtered down to the civilian-grade versions as well. A V6 powered Laredo obviously isn’t going to behave in the Silverback-gorilla-in-heat manner that the SRT does, but it’s still a very nice car for people who don’t want to bankrupt themselves at the gas pump. But you still get the same composed ride, nicely-weighted steering and high quality interior. The real test will be for Chrysler to imbue forthcoming products like the Cherokee, the 200 and others with the same overall greatness. The Grand Cherokee SRT8 proves that it’s within the realm of possibility for Chrysler – or any American manufacturer. But in the end, it all comes down to the execution – or lack thereof.