2012 Power Drive
On Road, Off Road and Through the Cones With The Best of Mopar (And A Bit of Fiat As Well)
By Imthishan Giado
How long would it take you to drive an entire manufacturer’s range of cars on the track? Can a people carrier offroad? How does a tiny city car fare on the Autotest course? The answers to all this and more from this year’s Power Drive at the Dubai Autodrome, after the jump.
You get the feeling that the boys from Chrysler are in a fighting mood – like a bear waking up from a long hiberation with a mean headache, ready to show everyone who’s boss.
We were lucky enough to attend this year’s Power Drive event, in which all the cars on the range (and we mean everything, including the Voyager minivan!) are tested at speed on the track, followed by a brief offroad section, and finally a slalom course to try out the little Fiat 500′s handling capabilities. Don’t forget, Chrysler Middle East is now handling Fiat as well. Can you say Abarth?
Before we begin, Chrysler Middle East boss Jack Rodencal quickly runs through the highlights of the Mopar range this year. There’s quite a few changes to the lineup – we’ll run through them in easy-to-digest bullet form:
- The new Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 is still on its way to the region. Only one is currently here and it’s Jack’s own(!) car that’s going to be out on the track. And he’d like us to be gentle with it. Don’t look at our crossed fingers, Zack….
- After the longest delay, we finally have confirmation that the Dodge Charger SRT8 is coming here. 465bhp, mean looks and 0-100kph in 4.3 seconds. You’ll forget about all of that when you hear the price, though. Ready? Sitting down? All that muscle will cost you just AED160k! Unbelievable value for such a monster. Let’s hope the local dealers don’t get too greedy with the markups, but either way we can’t wait to get our grubby mitts on one.
- On the Ram front, you can expect to see the 2500 join the regular 1500 on sale – and interestingly, that also includes the Ram Runner super offroad pickup, which Zack claims will utterly demolish the Raptor in a desert duel. Certainly looks like it’s capable of flight, anyway. Unlike the Raptor, the Runner arrives in kit form – so in theory, you only pay for the bits of it you need. Not everyone needs the full roll cage and MasterCraft racing seats, but trust us when we say that you definitely need those awesome Fox Racing shocks and that vicious looking front end. I think it looks absolutely feral, like it wants to chomp the Raptor’s face off.
- Expect to see the highly-anticipated new Dodge Dart turn up in the region before the end of the year; our best guess is an introduction timed to coincide with the Abu Dhabi Motor Show. Automatics only, before you even ask.
- The venerable Dodge Challenger also gets a V6 model added to the lineup. But seeing as it features the 305bhp of the rapidly proliferating Pentastar engine, it’s no slouch. And at AED103k, it’s hardly going to break the bank. V6 Mustang, your serious competition is finally here. Now if we could only get that R/T..
That’s all the news that fit to print.
Enough talking – it was now time to venture out on the well worn Dubai Autodrome track. In just under one hour, we ran through nearly every car in the range as hard as we could, with our breakfast at risk the entire time. In no particular order this are our impressions.
First up is the Chrysler 300C. This is our first chance to sample the new flagship of the range. You might be forgiven for thinking that the exterior hasn’t changed much. With the toning down of its earlier brash looks and the loss of that fantastic eggcrate grille, it looks considerably smaller even though the dimensions are much the same as before. The real story is on the inside: jewel-like detailing on the instruments, soft touch materials in every direction and a transmission shifter that wouldn’t look out of place on a $100k Audi A8!
And you’d be even more amazed to discover that…the 300C is no track car, that’s for sure. The soft suspension setup is the chief culprit, coupled with too-light steering. Heave the old girl through the corners and there’s an awful lot of body roll. If you ignore all of that, the car is actually surprisingly quick and surefooted. It’s no embarrassment on the track, but there’s little doubt that it prefers to be on the highway.
Next up is the Charger R/T.
Essentially identical to the 300C under the skin, but it’s a world apart to drive. The steering loses the numbness and gains a whole lot more road feel, the ride is worse but stiffer and sharper through the bends, the engine zings harder; basically everything that was slightly soft and woolly in the 300 has been ripped off like a freshly pasted Band Aid. Unlike its departed predecessor, this Charger actually seems to be enjoying itself in the bends, and indeed, we’re only limited by the relaxed pace of the other drivers (who it must be said, are all doing this for the first time).
I didn’t get a chance to drive the Challenger SRT8 as it was being used as the pace cars but I did get a chance to ride along with the Autodrome instructors. As you’d expect, it’s easily the most rapid car on the track with that big 6.4-litre Hemi V8. I kind of expected it to wallow in the bends like the previous Challenger, but no, body roll is largely contained to a minimu and the brakes are scarily effective. OK, I reckon it still won’t hang with a well-driven Camaro or Mustang, but for a coupe that’s nearly the size of an S-Class, it handles bloody well.
Break time’s over and it’s time to check out the main event – the Grand Cherokee SRT8! A quick run in the base V6-powered Grand Cherokee reveals no bad manners waiting to trip us up. True, there’s lot of lean, dive and squat when you play silly buggers with the steering, but it remains relatively well composed. This is perhaps the only time I wished for more power – on the main straight, the Pentastar lacks the bottomless well of torque needed to propel this car with authority beyond 120kph.
No such problem with the SRT8 car. Our own Fraser Martin drove this at Willow Springs last year and pronounced it “flipping good fun”. Shahzad was at the wheel today and within moments, the grin was from ear to ear. OK, it’s slightly softer than before and the noise isn’t quite as bellowy as the previous car – which was frankly mad. None of that matters at all when you realise that this 2+ ton SUV can hustle down the straights and round the club circuit like a well-driven European performance saloon, shifts crackling through the paddle shifts like shotgun blasts. In fact, I’d wager this’ll give the regular Challenger a hard time…
And then there was the Voyager. Now that was, umm, interesting. Slow? No, not really with that Pentastar engine. Set up for performance driving? Not in the slightest. Nevertheless, it was a bit of a hoot to throw around the truck, if somewhat blasphemous, like a nun that poledances. Despite the protestations of the economy-minded tyres, it kept up well with the rest of the cars, as long as you remembered not to brake mid corner…
Off the beaten path
That’s enough of the track stuff. The next section of our whirlwind tour was on the axle articulation course, where we sampled the Dodge Durango, Ram 1500 pickup and the Cherokee.
Looks simple, doesn’t it? In theory, all you have to do is roll over the humps, letting the ‘floating’ wheels articulate fully and touch the ground before applying the gentlest of throttle (or none at all, preferably) and going over the next one. Turns out, it’s much harder than it looks. We were given two spotters, one at the front to watch which way the wheels were pointing (and to make sure that we didn’t biff the front bumper into some concrete) and a side spotter to make sure we didn’t go too fast (and biff the sills into said concrete).
Unlike regular dune work, this requires absolute concentration and precise, milimetric throttle work. Forget about putting it in D; you have to ensure you’re in Four Low, first gear to ensure maximum torque, and there’s absolutely no gear changing once you set off.