We're in Reno, at the top tip of Nevada. Reno pops up in various songs, usually in connection with some desperado wanting to leave. I can see why: it's a poor man's Vegas. The Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8, it turns out, is a surprisingly effective way of getting the hell out of town.
Is the Grand Cherokee on your radar? It's slipped off mine, I have to confess, but with a 6.4-litre, 470bhp Hemi V8, variable cam-phasing, 20in forged alloys, dustbin-lid-sized Brembo brakes and 160mph top speed, the SRT8 has just ram-raided its way back into view. American cars always look better in context, but even with Lake Tahoe as the wallpaper, the latest GC is a solid bit of work. In SRT8 form, it's an inch lower, has tumescent arches, a new single-piece front-spoiler unit with LED running lights, and a bonnet with a pair of huge heat-extracting ducts punched into it. The rear end has a spoiler and diffuser, with fat exhaust pipes. Yes, it's all a bit daft in this day and age, and you can feel the odd bit of CO2 leaching out, even with the engine switched off. But, in black, it's certainly not visually beaten up by the Porsche Cayenne, Range Rover Sport or BMW X5/6.
Inside, though, it takes a few hits. But only a few. Old-school Jeeps had interiors like old schools, with a chronic mismatch of materials. This is vastly better: the seats mix Nappa leather and Alcantara, and grip your frame superbly. The driving position is excellent. And the central display adds ‘Performance Pages' to the usual list, including g force, acceleration and deceleration times.
For the record, we tried to verify Jeep's claimed 0-62mph time of 4.8 seconds, but couldn't do better than 6.6. Maybe downtown Reno wasn't the place to do it, or maybe you need a fair wind, a jockey-sized driver, and a fuel tank of vapour. Not that this suggests any lack of commitment from the SRT8. Its engine is a thunderingly fine thing, and gurgles and bellows with volcanic promise. Ninety per cent of its 465lb ft of torque is on tap from 2,800rpm to 6,000rpm - a 50 per cent improvement on the outgoing 6.1-litre Hemi.
Best of all, though, is the way it handles. Torsional stiffness is a 146 per cent improvement over the old car, and there's an active damping system that interacts with every outpost of the chassis's electronic architecture to optimise its dynamics (there are five modes to choose from). It has man-sized, accurate steering. The upshot is it doesn't handle like a drunken tugboat.
The Grand Cherokee SRT8 lands over here next spring, at a whisker under £60k. It demolished Reno. Let's see how it handles Romford. I hate gambling, but a tenner says it'll have it...
We like: Thumping engine, fine handling
We don't like: Filling the thing up
The verdict: This new gen blows the performance SUV market wide open.
Performance: 0-62mph in 4.8secs, max 160mph, 16.8mpg
Tech: 6.4-litre, V8, 4WD, 470bhp, 465lb ft, 2336kg, n/a g/km CO2
Tick this on the options list: Pretty much everything is standard
And avoid this: Ticking anything else