Before we go any further, let’s get one thing out of the way; the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 is a ridiculous vehicle. After all, how else can you describe an SUV that is designed to carry five people in comfort, plus all their camping gear, tow 5,000 lbs, and venture off-road, while at the same time featuring a huge 6.4-liter Hemi V8 engine that boasts 470 horsepower and a pavement ripping 465 lb-ft of torque, powering the 5,150 lb vehicle to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds, and just over 13 seconds in the quarter-mile? It’s absolutely ridiculous . . . and that’s what makes this special Jeep so cool!
|1. With a 6.4L Hemi V8, the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 makes 470 hp and 465 lb-ft of torque, allowing it to tow 5,000 lbs and hit 60 mph in just 4.8 seconds.
2. A Performance Pages feature provides acceleration numbers, braking distances as well as cornering and braking G forces.
3. Pried at $54,470 to start, our test car stickered for $63,975.
IN THE COMPANY OF SPORTS CARS
We had the chance to drive the Grand Cherokee SRT8 at the Midwest Automotive Media Association’s Spring Rally at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. All the major automakers bring many of their cars out so that journalists can drive some of them on the Road America racetrack, and others on the beautiful roads in the area.
Cars like the Mustang Boss 302, Corvette Grand Sport, Porsche 911, Mercedes SLS, Camaro ZL1, Jaguar XKR-S and Aston Martin Vantage, were among the many track ready selections. And… the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8. Yes, this big ‘ole SUV shared the track with sports cars and supercars alike and wasn’t the least bit shy in doing so.
BUILT FOR SPEED
All one has to do is turn the console mounted Selec-Trac knob to Track, and it transforms the suspension into a unit that can handle the demands of quick side to side direction changes in a chicane or long fast sweeping curves. And that honking big Hemi will rocket you from any apex down the long straights with ferocity, making you think the 180 mph marking on the speedometer might not be an exaggeration.
We were paying too much attention to the track ahead while hurtling down the long straight between turns 4 and 5 to check speedo, but 130 would be in the ballpark. Watching for the braking markers the bright red Brembos with 6-piston front and 4-piston rear calipers then capably chomped down on huge vented rotors at all four corners to slow the car down.
Once down to about 45 mph, a quick crank left on the flat-bottomed, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and the responsive steering rack gets the GC SRT8 pointed in the right direction to bound up the hill to the next hard left. Jeep’s Quadra-Trac AWD system controls the torque output and some of the wheelspin to making sure this ham-fisted scribe didn’t wind up in a gravel trap.
Paddle shifters behind the steering wheel make the experience all the more engaging, and utilizing them doesn’t require a special drive mode. Just push on one of the paddles, and the Jeep will engage in the proper gear it’s running in and you’re ready to shift yourself from there. If you upshift past 5th gear, it will automatically revert back to Drive mode, so you don’t have to fiddle with the gearshift lever on the console to switch back and forth.
The choice of just five gears is surprising, and a little disappointing, though one has to think Chrysler will be fitting a new transmission with a few extra cogs in the near future.
With a high center of gravity (lowered or not, this is still an SUV) the GC SRT8 exhibits far less body roll than expected, staying flat when cornering at speed and delivering plenty of confidence. With a slight novelty factor playing a part, still, it was no less entertaining on the track than the Aston or Jag.
As an extra treat, the performance SUV comes with Chrysler’s “Performance Pages,” located in the info center between the tach and speedometer. Proof of just how capable this truck is, it will deliver in-depth statistics from acceleration numbers and braking distances to cornering and braking G forces.
ON ROAD: A LUXURY TREAT
Rolling off the track and on to the public roads around Elkhart Lake with a switch of the Selec-Trac knob to Auto and the Grand Cherokee is now in family mode, and ready for the every day mundane chores of car-pools and sports practices. The SUV handles that mission with the same aplomb as it did the racetrack. The suspension and 20-inch tires soak up potholes and broken pavement like a luxury car. The Hemi can handle a light right foot easily and, if driven moderately, the exhaust note is even subdued. It’s only when you stomp on it to make a pass on a two-lane road that you hear it roar.
The bi-polar nature of the Selec-Trac knob, switching between the frenetic pace of Track mode to the docile pace of suburban traffic in the Auto mode is remarkable. And you get three more settings in between: Sport (for those times you want just a bit more aggressive tuning, Tow (self explanatory) and Snow (so you needn’t worry about how this 4-wheel drive will handle dicey traction in Midwest winters).
HIGHLY STYLIZED INSIDE AND OUT
One of the criticisms of older Grand Cherokee models, most older Chrysler products in fact, was the downscale look and appeal of their interiors. Not – and we can’t stress this enough – any more. All the newer Chrysler and Dodge products have made outstanding strides in that department and now boast some of the most stylish cabins in the industry. And we’re not talking about a nice interior for a Jeep; this is a nice interior for a genuine luxury SUV.
The wide sweeping dash is handsome. Ours was finished in two-tone charcoal and had contrasting French stitching around the soft touch dash and the very comfortable, nicely bolstered, leather seats with grippy suede inserts. Those suede inserts are perforated so the seats can blow cool air on hot days while radiating heat in the winter. SRT embroidered emblems grace the top of each seat back. Real carbon fiber trim is fitted on the dash and door trims, and just the right amount of brushed aluminum trim is fitted around the heating vents, center stack and console. There are even drilled aluminum pedals. Driver and passenger elbows are invited to rest on the padded door sills, armrests and center console, the latter of which, along with a cubby at the base of the center stack, can house your electronic devices.
The layout of the controls is also simple and easy to see and use, including the 6.5-inch touch screen with navigation that does double duty controlling the radio as well. Oddly, however, the screen is a good 2-inches smaller than those in other SRT8 models.
Rear passengers will enjoy a good amount of head and legroom, as well as their own temperature controls (including heating for their seats). And if they should grow weary on long trips, they can recline their seatbacks to gaze out through the panoramic sunroof or catch a few Zs along the way.
PERFORMANCE MEETS PRACTICALITY
With few compromises on utility, the rear seats fold flat to deliver plenty of extra cargo room and the rear liftgate is electrically controlled for open and close operation.
If there is one way the big Jeep isn’t practical it’s in the fuel economy department. Even with a cylinder deactivation feature that allows the engine to run on just 4-cylinders at highway speeds, the claimed 12/18 mpg (city/highway) is brutal and judging from out tests, optimistic.
With a highly styled outside, the SRT8 gets a one piece front fascia, LED daytime running lights and fog lights integrated into the body-colored grille, with a sculpted hood that features functional heat extractors. Sleek for an SUV, it’s still one big box and chooses to punch holes through the atmosphere rather than slice through it. As a result, that 180 mph marking on the speedo is a bit optimistic, but Jeep assures us 155 mph is possible.
EXPENSIVE: OR IS IT?
The base price of the Grand Cherokee SRT8 is $54,470 with a long list of standard features and luxury appointments. The Luxury Group II Package, at $4,495 adds the leather door trim, power liftgate, and the outstanding Blind Spot Monitoring and Cross Path Detection System, plus adaptive cruise control with forward collision warning. Another $995 for the Trailer Package, $1,995 for the 825-watt High Performance Audio package, and $1,195 for the Dual Pane Panoramic Sunroof. The bottom line comes to a significant of $63,975.
Silly, yes, but when the BMW M5 is celebrated as two cars in one, a luxury cruiser and a sports car, all for just $90,695, the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 throws in SUV capability and cuts a third off the price.