Classification of vehicles in the auto industry has become a messy business. All sorts of new products blur the lines between SUVs and crossovers, compacts and mid-sizers and so on. But the SRT Grand Cherokee stretches into two categories that rarely cross, SUVs and sports cars.
|Engine: 6.4-liter V8 with 470 hp and 465 lb-ft of Torque.
Transmission: Eight-Speed Automatic.
Fuel Economy: 19 mpg highway, 13 mpg city, 15 mpg combined.
Price: Starts at $64,990. Our test unit cost about $72,400.
This is the only domestic vehicle of its kind, and the only real competitors in this tiny niche segment come from Germany. Trying to wear many hats all at once, the SRT-tuned Jeep Grand Cherokee makes very few compromises in its goal of delivering tight-track handling along with the typical duties of an SUV, namely towing and hauling people and cargo.
STRAIGHT LINE SPEED
Powered by a 6.4-liter HEMI V8 that makes 470 hp at 6,000 rpm and 465 lb-ft of torque at 4,300 rpm, the SRT Grand Cherokee is capable of a 0-60 mph sprint in 4.8 seconds according to the brand, though our time with GC SRT at a drag strip elicited times just north of 5 seconds. The powertrain is responsive, and matched to an eight-speed transmission that doesn’t miss a beat. Downshifts come quickly, and hammering the throttle from a stand still is met with fast upshifts that are nicely timed, after the initial blast of torque rips you off the line.
The immense powertrain combines to make this Grand Cherokee feel much lighter than it actually is, carrying a 5,150 pound curb weight. Just because you don’t feel it, doesn’t mean it’s not there however, and all those extra pounds being carried around prods the powerplant to drink an excessive amount of gas.
Officially rated at 19 mpg on the highway and 15 mpg combined, we averaged 13 mpg, which is also the SUV’s city mpg rating. Now, if a fuel efficient SUV is what you are after, the Grand Cherokee can be had with a 3.0-liter diesel. If, however, you want the ludicrous speed of the SRT, dismiss all notions of saving fuel. Not that you can’t drive slow, of course, but the burst of speed and agility that comes when the throttle is depressed is so addictive that it is hard to keep out of it.
It seems that the folks at SRT were also having so much fun hammering the throttle, that they installed a feature specifically designed for straight line speed. A button located beside the gear shift initiates launch control, a system that optimizes the SRT’s all-wheel setup along with the powertrain to deliver the fastest 0-60 mph sprint possible and it couldn’t be easier to use. Simply hit the button, and the information screen provides step-by-step directions on what to do. Step 1: fully depress brake. Step 2: fully depress throttle. Step 3: release the brake, and try not to soil yourself when this mammoth jumps off the line like a jackrabbit.
STICKS LIKE GLUE
But that’s enough about speed because frankly, sticking a massive engine in an SUV isn’t this SRT’s greatest feat. That would be its handling. Coil springs along with a Bilstein adaptive damping suspension is found all the way around, along with front and rear stabilizer bars. Cornering is flat and planted while understeer is suprisingly minimal.
On the race track when speeds are higher, you can feel this sports SUV start to push a bit in the corners, but the speeds at which it can be flung around a track are mind bending compared to its heavy set nature.
Thanks to the Bilstein adaptive suspension setup, the Grand Cherokee SRT offers five different drive modes: auto, sport, tow, track and snow. Track mode, being the most hardcore, offers optimized performance for racetracks, but we found that the stability control system was still a little too intrusive.
Despite us gushing about performance, the SRT Grand Cherokee isn’t only about asinine speed. The insides of this beast are stylish and comfortable. Real carbon fiber accents along with soft-touch materials and real chrome adorn the dashboard and center stack, building on the already lush Grand Cherokee interior. The SRT model has a bit more of a business feel to it than some of the wood-trimmed cabins offered in the line. Importantly though, the sort of feeling you want from something that costs over 60 grand is well represented here.
One point of contention for us is the gear-shifter found down to the right of the driver, which can be finicky to operate. Attempts to go straight from drive to reverse almost always ended up with the SRT in park, as the motions used to control the gears must be precise.
Another complaint, albeit more of a personal gripe, has to do with the steering wheel. The button and paddle layout is well done, but the overall girth of the wheel is a little too chunky for our tastes.
As mentioned above, the only true competition for the SRT Grand Cherokee comes from German brands, specifically Mercedes-Benz and Audi. From Benz, we have the ML63 AMG with a starting price of $97,250, which makes 557 hp. Audi brings us the S Q5, which undercuts the SRT with a starting price of $51,900, but performance lacks with only 354 hp.
The SRT Grand Cherokee starts at $64,990, which actually makes it a fairly good value when you put it next to its competition. The interior is nice enough to make even Mercedes-Benz loyalists smitten, and the performance is not lacking in any area, with the ML63 and the SRT Grand Cherokee even sharing the same 4.8 second 0-60 mph rating.
While still expensive, the SRT Grand Cherokee offers good value in its segment and it is absolutely riotous to drive. It is truly a statement to what can be achieved against the odds. A small, sleek sports car already has a lot going for it when engineers set out to make it handle well, but a 5,000-lb goliath of an SUV has all of the traits that sports car buyers hate. And yet somehow, SRT merges two worlds that never should have met, defying convention to bring us a great product.