Monster SUV battle: ML63 v Jeep SRT8

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IOL mot pic aug10 ML vs Jeep 1 Denis Droppa Mercedes ML63 AMG (left) matched against a brawler in the form of Jeeps Grand Cherokee SRT8.

If you want to know what’s faster between Mercedes’ latest ML63 AMG and Jeep’s latest SRT8, the answer is easy.

The Mercedes wins. It should be obvious. We’ll get to that in a minute. The question here is which one’s a better value proposition and whether the far more expensive Mercedes is worth all the extra cash.

The old adage “you get what you pay for” rings true in certain areas here, as outright quality is no contest either. Where the big AMG gets suede the Grand Cherokee gets plastic. Likewise, full colour animated displays are compared with old-school-looking Atari graphics, and solid metal bits are met with chrome-plated plastic.

It’s not all bad for the R800 000 Jeep though.

Build quality is miles better than older Jeep/Chrysler products were known for. The dashboard top is made of leather and stitched in a way that would make its predecessor look like a baby toy, and squeaks and rattles are non-existent.

We also like Chrysler’s signature aquamarine blue lighting, that’s been tastefully scattered around the interior behind almost all buttons and inside the glowing cupholders.

IOL mot pic aug10 ML vs Jeep 2 Mercedes cabin is a masterclass in ergonomics and boasts a huge array of subtle touches. Denis Droppa

The ML63 AMG on the other hand is a lesson in interior masterclass, and it should be at R1 380 000. Anything that hinges, clicks, presses or moves does so with intricacy, and every surface is covered in something expensive. Even the A-pillars and sun-visors are finished in luxurious black suede.

We are a little curious about how far Mercedes is willing to go with some of its component and switchgear sharing.

Some bits can be clipped out like Legos and interchanged between all the cars it sells.

So yes, the R580 000 price difference is evident if you were to run your finger over the two super SUVs, but what about where it counts in actual performance?

On paper the AMG’s twin-turbo 5.5-litre V8 with 386kW and 700Nm is always going to clobber the SRT8’s naturally-aspirated 6.4-litre V8 with 344kW and 624Nm. And it does. Especially at Gauteng altitude where thinner air takes the Jeep’s outputs down another notch.

Our Vbox says the Mercedes is six tenths quicker from standstill to 100km/h at a best time of 5.2 compared to the Jeep’s 5.8, and it covers the quarter-mile in 13.4 seconds to the Jeep’s 14.1.

IOL mot pic aug10 ML vs Jeep 3 Jeep interior is more basic and more plastic than that of the Mercedes. Denis Droppa

However, the kick in the pants test doesn’t necessarily agree with our ultra-accurate satellite-fed gear.

Yes, the ML is insanely quick, especially for an SUV, but because it’s turbocharged there is a moment or two when you’re waiting for things to happen after mashing it.

The Grand Cherokee’s hulking Hemi responds to miniscule inputs of the pedal, and therefore feels the more immediately responsive of the two.

The Jeep’s steering feel is just plain better too.

Where the Merc uses a fancy speed-sensitive and electronically-assisted type, the Jeep gets a tried and trusted hydraulic rack and pinion. It’s lighter, but it’s always accurate, and we sometimes found the ML’s steering a bit dead and loose around 12 o’clock with heavy corrections needed to keep it guided straight ahead.

On the technology front the Merc is more F1 while the Jeep is raw Nascar, if you catch our drift. The Merc lets you switch between Comfort, Manual and Sport settings for the gearbox, the boys from Affalterbach have provided not one but two harder settings for the suspension, and traction control can be turned off with one easy button on the dash.

Like in other AMG-engined monsters, the ML63 has a full-on AMG menu in the instrument cluster which not only keeps an eye on things such as oil temperature, but also has a lap timer – just in case you decide your SUV is a good idea for a track day.

Or you find a track in the Kruger Park.

The Jeep is far more Detroit and gangsta in its approach. It offers a basic knob which allows you to dial into one or two off-road settings, and more importantly Sport and Track modes. Sport still keeps your traction control in semi-guardian angel guise, while Track trusts that you have a friend in Jesus.

And that’s about it really, not that you’d expect much more in terms of information from that Atari-like display we talked about earlier.

So when it comes to these two-tonne missiles, going straight is generally the easy part – it’s when you dial up Newton through a corner to check on his laws of physics that things get far more interesting. Neither is entirely happy being manhandled through apexes and no matter what each carmaker’s ad campaigns profess it’s very obvious that a track is not the natural habitat for these behemoths.

The Merc, thanks to all that wizardry, is undoubtedly the better handler. It hunkers down and almost magnetically plants itself to the tarmac. You feel more trusting and confident piloting it when things get hairy, and there’s a definite sense that under the skin there’s a multitude of technologies at work keeping things planted. It’s almost like the engineers fine tuned as much as physics would allow into the car in terms of a balance between SUV and AMG.

Interesting is how sensitive Merc’s Pre Safe technology is – the first time we got it sideways it rushed the windows up and tensioned the seatbelt.

The Jeep is less forgiving.

It pretty much trusts that when you ordered the car you knew what you were getting into. Unlike the Merc which tends to have a little bit of hesitation low down, the Jeep is always in hair-trigger mode when it comes to throttle and steering response. So simply flattening the loud pedal out of corners tends to be a startling experience, and not over-cooking it into corners takes on a new meaning.

The SRT8 is also more susceptible than the ML63 to g-forces, in that it unsettles and slides easily. It’s that extra tech which gives the Merc the upper hand. Why do people buy these SUV tar-scorchers? Not for track use, that’s for sure. They’re more for posing and presence, and straight-line prowess.

And in this regard they both fit the bill. The Jeep has spoilers deeper than Jay Leno’s chin, the Merc has a nose and side skirts straight off the Imperial Starcruiser. Presence with a capital P. Fuel consumption with a capital C is also a consideration, with both cars averaging around 20 litres per 100km.

VERDICT

Which one would we buy? The value for money proposition - especially if you’re at sea-level where performance will be just about on par - is way in favour of the Jeep. If money isn’t an object and you’d rather be a gentleman brawler than a cage fighter, the Merc’s the winner. But it’s a shootout, so there must be a winner. And we find the Jeep closer in performance to the Merc than the price difference suggests. We choose SRT8. - Star Motoring

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