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RWD and SRT-8 Grand Cherokees in pipeline

Grand Cherokee: The 2011 Grand Cherokee range could soon feature new RWD and SRT-8 variants.

Jeep looks to expand both ends of its new SUV range

31 Jan 2011

JEEP is considering expanding its new WK-series Grand Cherokee range in Australia with a new rear-wheel drive version at entry-level as well as a replacement for the discontinued SRT-8 high-performance model.

However, the new $40,000 base five-seater proposition against the popular front-drive Toyota Kluger and rear-drive Ford Territory – which account for at least 50 per cent of volume in the segment – would still be at least 12 months away.

Similarly, as Chrysler Group Australia embarks on a busy year for new-model launches, the highly anticipated replacement for the searing WH Grand Cherokee SRT-8 is also on the cards for a 2012 release Down Under.

Spy pictures reveal a hunkered-down prototype roaming the Mojave Desert in North America, brandishing massive alloy wheels, a deep front spoiler, large air dam featuring extra cooling ducts, and new fog light surrounds compared to the regular WK.

Under the bonnet – which may feature a pair of air intakes – is said to be a new 6.4-litre V8 Hemi that is expected to pump out 350kW of power and about 580Nm of torque – a sizeable jump over the existing 313kW/569kW 6.1-litre Hemi. Reports suggest that Jeep is using a BMW X6 M as the performance and dynamic benchmark for the new-generation SRT-8.

9 center imageTop: 2010 Grand Cherokee SRT-8. Bottom: 2011 Dodge Durango.

Chrysler Australia communications boss Dean Bonthorne would not confirm either vehicle for Australia, but did confirm that both are firmly on the company’s radar.

“At this stage a rear-drive Grand Cherokee is under investigation, based on the increasing popularity of 4x2s in Australia over recent months,” he told GoAuto.

“But we have not yet made any decision as to whether we proceed with such a vehicle. It is something that is being looked at, but it is a little too early to say.” Mr Bonthorne said the company is still working out how the latest Grand Cherokee will settle in the market now that the new base Laredo four-wheel drive model is priced right up against the all-wheel drive versions of the Territory (TX) and Kluger (KX-R).

“It’s just a matter of having the right model mix to suit our market,” he said, Mr Bonthorne denied that Jeep’s go-anywhere reputation would suffer by having a rear-drive-only Grand Cherokee, particularly as the mid-sized SUV’s promise of versatility and lifestyle would remain.

“While Jeep does have an off-road heritage, it’s also about freedom and lifestyle, and you don’t always need hardcore 4x4s to succeed,” he said.

“We have already had considerable success in this area with other models (such as the car-based Patriot).” Another Grand Cherokee-based derivative under investigation for Australia is the Dodge Durango – a rebodied version with seven rather than five seats. Such a vehicle would give Chrysler – if not the Jeep brand itself – further ammunition against the seven-seat versions of the Territory, Kluger and others in the sub-$45,000 medium SUV segment.

“We would like to have a seven-seater SUV like the Durango … but there is nothing to announce,” Mr Bonthorne said.

Dodge unveiled the third-generation Durango in August, featuring much the same V6 and V8 petrol powerplants as the WK Grand Cherokee, but sitting on a longer wheelbase (3045mm versus the Jeep’s 2916mm) to help accommodate the third row of seating. Both are built at the same Jefferson North factory in Detroit.

Jeep is in the middle of a feverish model turnaround program, having just launched the Grand Cherokee this month, while preparing the release of the revised Wrangler – the brand’s bestseller in Australia.

Along with a new hardtop design, the Wrangler will gain an upgraded 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine, as well as a new dash, full door trims, larger rear cargo storage area and powered/heated mirrors.

Later in the year, a facelifted Patriot compact SUV arrives, while the revamped Compass – featuring a Grand Cherokee-style squared-off nose treatment – is also on Chrysler Group Australia’s wish list, though no firm decision has been announced.

Jeep is also planning to celebrate its 70th anniversary with a range of value-added limited edition models spread throughout the range.

Jeep new-model rollout: Grand Cherokee petrol models: February Wrangler facelift: February Patriot facelift: Mid year Compass facelift: Mid year Grand Cherokee diesel models: Mid year 70th Anniversary special editions: Mid year Grand Cherokee RWD: 2012 Grand Cherokee SRT-8: 2012

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