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American powerhouse

For some time now, FCA has been cooking up something quite remarkable over in Detroit. Not quite the rebirth of Hemi power, but rather the rejuvenation. And that, powertrain friends, peaked very recently at April’s New York Auto Show with not one but two extreme 6.2 supercharged V8 show cars that don’t subtly turn their backs on the eco-friendly EV movement, but rather punch any notion of the industry needing to cut emissions right through our already holey atmosphere.

Oh, and when I said that these were two ‘show’ cars, I meant production cars – these vehicles will be built by FCA, one under the Jeep brand, the other Dodge.

So, welcome, petrolheads, the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk and the Dodge Challenger SRT Demon. The former, for the record, is now the most powerful and quickest SUV ever; the latter, quite frankly, has so many amazing performance claims that it’s difficult to know where to start, but here’s a flavor: highest horsepower V8 production car engine ever produced; highest g-force acceleration of any production car at 1.8g; and the world’s fastest 0-60mph production car sprint time of 2.3 seconds.

There’s a real throwback, huge-American-V8-block-with-old-school-swashbuckling-power sense of feeling with these two developments. FCA will say otherwise, I’m sure, but there’s no real high-level engineering sophistication here, just pure brute force by way of large-displacement V8 goodness and, okay, some other impressive trickery too. But hell, there’s not even an advanced twin-scroll turbo or two in sight!

And I love it. In fact, I love it so much that I actually dislike myself for admitting this because, after all, I’m a guy who’s a real fan of the electric powertrain movement – my own wheels are, in fact, a BMW i3 range-extender, which really is greener than green. And my favorite concept in recent years is the upcoming Jaguar I-Pace BEV.

But as I discussed in my last column, I’ve simply had enough of EV startups essentially willy-waving with their 0-100km/h claims. Okay, okay, we get that with your instant torque and stupidly huge e-power outputs your prototype is fast – but 2.39 seconds fast as in the case of FF 91?! Really, Faraday – is that even relevant for an EV? Should that part of the industry not be focusing on IC-beating driving range?

Well, via the Trackhawk and Demon, what we seem to have is a little balance adjustment, showcasing what the IC engine can do in return when it comes to pure performance, although admittedly without the FF 91’s (or any other e-powertrain, for that matter) quite unbeatable efficiency capabilities – and I really do understand the importance of that last point.

But anyway, back to Hemi. Not only do I find it refreshing that FCA big chiefs signed off these ideas – seriously, can you think of any other car maker in the world that would have the courage to ‘okay’ this? – but I also think it’s important, in general, that large-displacement engines are allowed to live on, albeit in very small numbers, of course. There are generations of drivers out there who soon won’t even know what an atmo engine feels like, let alone a manual ’box. To have something like the Demon around serves as a reminder.

The drive to efficiency is an important one for us in the automotive world, and cars like the BMW i8 and Honda NSX, and even Tesla Model S show that green doesn’t mean boring. But there are many roads to driving pleasure and large-displacement V8 power is one of them.

In a strange, roundabout way – and this coming from me of all people – long may that continue!


12 June 2017


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