Each week, our German correspondent slices and dices the latest rumblings, news, and quick-hit driving impressions from the other side of the pond. His byline may say Jens Meiners, but we simply call him . . . the Continental.
I am just back from the European drive of the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT, a high-performance SUV that impressed me. Under load, the 6.4-liter V-8 engine is a fantastic unit that pushes the SUV into triple-digit velocities absolutely effortlessly. On small mountain roads (I drove the Colle del Lys near Turin, highly recommended if you get to Northern Italy), I found the suspension to be capable and the hydraulic power steering to be sufficiently accurate, although I would have preferred a more-aggressive ratio.
But there are drawbacks. The SRT (with a nameplate that still says SRT8, as it should) is perhaps a bit too nice and quiet when compared to its predecessor. For narrow mountain roads, the gap between second and third gear is too wide, a problem that will be over-addressed when the old, Mercedes-engineered five-speed box makes way for a ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic next year. And the cylinder deactivation feature shows a glaring lack of refinement. Depending on a number of parameters, four cylinders are deactivated below 3000 rpm—and yes, it brings about clear and remarkable savings. Jeep says the highway mileage increases by 13 percent.
These savings come at a price. The added noise and vibration is so clearly tangible and audible that the “Eco” light that appears on the center instrument is rather excessive. Jeep even altered the exhaust system to alleviate the worst, but at the expense of a more emotional sound. Cruising along at 80 mph on four cylinders makes you feel like you’ve been cheated. As soon as all eight cylinders fire up, it’s a different world. Too bad the deactivation feature can’t be deactivated. Or perhaps Jeep could learn a lesson or three from Audi. Thanks to counter-noise and active engine mounts, cylinder deactivation on the S6, S7, and S8 is imperceptible. And the cost should be justifiable, given the SRT’s steep price.
The Grand Cherokee SRT would look even nicer if it were fitted with the black trim that differentiates the Europe-only Grand Cherokee S Limited from its siblings. The S Limited is available only with a 3.0-liter V-6 diesel, and it is a successful attempt at a more purist look for this SUV. The SRT also would really benefit from the cool rear-center exhaust of its predecessor. But with all the criticism, I think the Grand Cherokee SRT is very, very nice, and if I were shopping in this strange market segment, I’d consider it right along the German and British competition.
Where will Jeep move? There are B-segment and a C-segment Jeeps coming up, both developed by Fiat engineers in Italy. The brand could go even smaller and venture into city-car territory. I think that a move upmarket would be interesting, although it will be tough to recapture the demographics of the fantastic 1963–91 Wagoneer. And why not do an upmarket two-door SUV? Jeep has a rich history of such vehicles as well.
The Comprex Could Return
You might remember the pressure wave charger developed in the 1970s under the Comprex nameplate. In the mid-1980s, it was offered by GM on the upmarket Opel Senator, where it boosted a 2.3-liter diesel engine (the Senator is shown here with the lower hood of the gasoline version). The Comprex offers instant response and high efficiency, but it is difficult to adapt it to larger engines. Mercedes-AMG actually experimented with this charger for the A45 AMG, but decided to go for a rather conventional, single twin-scroll turbocharger instead. The interest, however, is reborn. We may see this technology yet on future vehicles.
Mercedes-Benz has released German pricing of the new A-class: the 121-hp A180 starts at around $ 22,200, excluding a 19-percent sales tax. That’s close to the Audi A3 and the BMW 1-series. These are the cars to which the next A-class will be compared, while its predecessor was a mixture of minicar and people mover and thus a standalone vehicle. Twice the money of an A180 will get you into an A45 AMG with around 350 hp.
VW’s Nostalgic Scirocco
In the search for a nostalgic touch, Volkswagen has come up with a special edition of the European-market Scirocco called the GTS. That was the name of an early 1980s special edition, which was not truly iconic but rather a low-cost alternative to the GTI with single rather than dual headlights, and fancy striping on the side. The new Scirocco GTS is a visually enhanced 210-hp Scirocco with 18-inch wheels, spoilers, and the inevitable striping. The Scirocco was former chief designer Murat Günak’s last strike at Volkswagen, and it is a laudable attempt at an affordable “shooting brake.”
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