2012 Mercedes ML 63 AMG vs Jeep GC SRT8
Super SUVs slug it out
By Shahzad Sheikh
This is not the first time I’ve brought these two cars together. For a feature in a previous life on CAR Middle East magazine we pulled together all the five-second SUVs on the market at the time (that’s 0-100kph in around 5 seconds). There were only three, the previous generations of these two and the old Porsche Cayenne Turbo S.
Today there are more (BMW X5M/X6M), but there’s a point to bringing just these two together again. Apart from the obvious previous history, there’s a commonly shared DNA – hey? Oh yes, the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee got the 2012 Mercedes’ ML platform (which also now underpins the new Dodge Durango and will be the basis for the Maserati SUV, which immediately endows that with some cred too).
No wonder then that when we journo types first tested the new Grand Cherokee we heaped praise on it and pondered how Chrysler had managed to apparently jump an entire generation of development to go from something relatively crude but likeable, to something very refined and highly desirable.
In that previous feature the Jeep felt very old-skool, simplistic and crude compared with the other two super-SUVs. Although, having said that, the Mercedes ML wasn’t really that much better. That old version still carried the legacy of a difficult birth for the first generation ML and its widely publicised durability woes. The Jeep was crude but honest, the Merc had felt crude but pretentious. The Jeep won easily – it was just as fast, much cheaper and fun.
Fast forward to today, and it’s not quite déjà vu. With the basic Grand Cherokee being so vastly improved, surely it’s game over for the Merc, even before the games have begun? Well in recent years Mercedes has rediscovered ‘over-engineering’ which was its forte in the old days. And it turns out that Jeep is not the only one that’s dramatically taken a giant stride forward in development, the new ML is a good car it turns out, a very good car indeed. Game on.
Jeep’s familiar 6.4-litre HEMI V8 with 461bhp and 459lb ft of torque is beaten by the AMG’s 5.5-litre V8 with 525bhp and 516lb ft, plus it has a 7-speed transmission versus the old five-speed in the Jeep (to be replaced in a couple of years). And yet the 0-100kph times are almost identical at around five seconds, although the Merc is fractionally quicker at 4.8seconds, but with the ML’s top speed pegged at 250kph, the SRT8 betters it just slightly.
Both are four-wheel drive family-sized SUVs (neither is any good for actual off-roading in these set-ups – though the regular variants will do a very decent job of going-anywhere) and their length, width and heights are almost identical.
Where there is a massive disparity, it’s in the price – the Jeep undercuts the AED365k ($99k) Mercedes by AED115,000 ($31k). So the Jeep’s not quite half price anymore, but you could still have an SRT8 and a Toyota 86 for the Price of a Merc. And the ML 63 price doesn’t take into account all the extras that you just have to add onto it, for example the AED6650 AMG Performance Pack (extra horsepower, bigger 21-inch wheels, more exhaust noise) and the costly entertainment systems. With a load of extras, this particular test car’s price was actually AED481,824 ($130,926), which means you could have the Jeep and possibly even a Ford Shelby Mustang GT500 too – gulp!
So when you climb aboard you expect the interior to be sublime, and it is indeed beautifully appointed and exquisitely finished, with a solid build and classy materials. The styling isn’t the most exciting, but it’s all sensibly presented. The seats are extremely comfortable and the rear is a nice place to be, particularly with the optional rear DVD system and the panoramic sunroof.
There’s a strong sense of well-being and rightness exuded in this cabin, and there’s something to be said for paying all that extra for the privilege of being in something that makes everything seem right with the world, and also strongly suggests indestructibility.
On the other hand, the Jeep’s interior doesn’t exactly disappoint either. Ok, the materials are clearly not quite in the same league, and despite the remarkable similarity in the instrument panels, the Grand Cherokee’s has a simpler old-skool display. This also doesn’t benefit from the much nicer information display on the dash that a Dodge Charger or Chrysler 300C has, and in this case the Mercedes too.
But it’s all appealingly laid out, and also gets a meaty flat-bottomed steering wheel, like the Merc, Plus rear space is good and the seats are similarly nice, and really if you didn’t see the ML interior beforehand, you’d want for nothing and find the Grand Cherokee perfectly acceptable.
On the move
The Mercedes first. It makes a great noise and feels properly grunty. It dispatches its huge turn of speed with remarkable restraint, feeding in the torque just so. It’s mind-bogglingly quick, but things don’t seem as warped as when I first drove a 5-second SUV, I supposed we’ve now grown accustomed to their existence and their absurd achievements.
What’s more remarkable is how this barge handles. It stays composed and grips tightly, body roll is well contained through the corners and the steering is surprisingly responsive and accurate. The ride is slightly compromised though, probably from those big wheels, but really, that’s just being picky, it’s still pretty comfortable.
Switching to the Jeep with master wheelman Fraser Martin now taking over the Merc and setting the pace, it’s didn’t prove at all difficult to stay with him. The SRT8 may be down slightly in acceleration on paper, but it didn’t show it in the real world. In fact subjectively it feels livelier, friskier, more eager and definitely more punchy, the torque being unleashed more aggressively. All this accompanied by a great engine note.
The ride is perhaps slightly better, but this thing also corners astonishingly flat. And driving this straight after the ML makes me realise that the big Merc was prone to initial understeer before the four-wheel drive caught, whereas this Jeep is more faithful at the helm on initial input. It’s a racier, keener car that seems to relish direction changes, although ultimately may have less grip than the Merc.
On choosing between them
And then there’s the looks. The big ML is more elegant, refined and Merc-like than it’s ever been in its previous two generations. It’s a handsome car that commands respect and looks suitably prestigious and dignified. You respect it.
But you fall in love with the Jeep. It’s got a Nascar stance, a confident and bullish demeanour, and it just looks cooler if not quite as classy as the Merc.
So performance and quality wins go to the Merc, and handling and looks are taken by the Jeep, with space and comfort equally as good. Throw in the price factor and it sounds like another easy triumph for the Jeep yet again. Well ‘triumph’ yes, but ‘easy’ no.
In coming to a conclusion for this twin test, I was far more torn than I ever thought I’d be. Mercedes has done an amazing job with the ML, it’s a far improved and desirable car than its previous two iterations. And the thunder that the AMG brings almost justifies the extra dosh, particularly each time you notice the three-pointed star on the steer boss, which means something again.
Truth be told, if you’re in that sort of league and the Merc prices (with options – which are necessary in this market to make it resaleable) don’t make you balk at all, then go pick up an ML63, I really don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
But if you’re after just one car that serves as a good family wagon for around town work, plus is a massively capable distance crusher, and somehow manages to double up as a fun-to-drive sporty thing too, that you could conceivably even take to a track day, then pick the great value SRT8. You’ll end up grinning as broadly as that grille on the front.
Mercedes ML 63 AMG
Price: AED365,425 ($99,300)
Engine: 5.5-litre, V8, 525bhp @ 5250-5750rpm (558bhp with AMG performance pack), 516lb ft @ 1600-4000rpm
Performance: 0-100kph 4.8 seconds, top speed 250kph, 11.8L/100km
Transmission: Seven-speed auto, four-wheel drive
Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8
Price: AED249,900 ($67,900k)
Engine: 6.4-litre, HEMI V8, 461bhp @ 6250rpm, 459lb ft @ 4100rpm
Performance: 0-100kph 5 seconds, top speed 258kph, 14.1L/100km
Transmission: Five-speed auto, four-wheel drive
Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8
By Fraser Martin
This’ll be the third time I have spent time in a Grand Cherokee SRT8, and I still think it is a stonker!
I drove the launch car in California on what must be the worst-surfaced race track in the world, at Willow Springs Raceway outside Los Angeles, and then again, at the local ‘launch’ at Dubai Autodrome during the Chrysler Power Drive event, where I was honoured to be charged with delivering High Speed Passenger Laps in it for the entertainment of the assembled company (an myself, of course!). It is quite the most flattering car when driven hard, even when you are occasionally on three wheels.
Grip is tenacious and off-the-line acceleration in Track Mode would put some supercars to shame, thanks to permanent four-wheel-drive. Mid-range acceleration is mighty strong too and balance is excellent considering the high centre of gravity and the fact that this car weighs over two tonnes.
And yet, selecting the Auto Mode on the rotary drive knob just to the side of the shifter, will result in an experience which is almost ordinary. The Grand Cherokee, in SRT8 guise, is a wolf in sheep’s clothing: it will burble along quite happily in low revs in traffic and drive almost like a standard Grand Cherokee, albeit one that is straining at the leash a bit.
Economy, as long as you don’t try too hard, is quite acceptable too, as Shahzad and I discovered on a run to the North of the country, for the main photoshoot for his Motoring Middle East comparison test with the Mercedes Benz ML63.
When the latest Grand Cherokees were announced, the spokesmen in the US got quite coy about admitting that an SRT8 version would be available, but they were hiding a very bright light under their bushels at the time.
There are no less than five pages-worth of detail under the safety and security heading in the SRT8 catalogue from Adaptive Cruise Control and Child Seat Anchor System to adaptive Anti-Lock Brakes and Stability Control, so there has been no expense spared in the toybox. And there’s a posh stereo too!
Given that there are 6.4 litres and a heady 470bhp tucked under the raised and vented bonnet, there is precious little room for much else, so this particular Jeep model does not feature a conventional transfer case; there are no low gears for rock crawling, and with the aerodynamic body kit, you can pretty much forget bashing through the sand dunes.
But when it comes to squirting this Jeep along a twistier piece of tarmac than you’d generally find in these parts, I reckon you’d be hard pressed to keep up with a well-driven example in just about anything else around.
To add insult to injury, the SRT8 retails at about half the price of most things you’d consider competition, and it is one of the most handsome SUV buys out there.
There are few of them around in the region – and that’s because demand has far outstripped supply in the home territories. Now why does that not surprise me?