Showing up to Detroit’s annual Woodward Dream Cruise with anything less than a V8 is nearly sacrilegious. Every year, thousands of cars and their owners gather on Michigan’s famous stretch of asphalt to worship at the altar of the automobile, and this year, I offered up a 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT to sate the auto gods.
Engine: 6.2L V8, 475 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: Eight-speed auto
Fuel Economy: 13 MPG City, 19 MPG Hwy, 18 MPG Combined.
Price: Starts at about $65,000. $70,000 as tested.
Before leaving for Woodward, I knew that I needed a vehicle that could not only ferry four adults on a 500-mile road trip in comfort, but also fit in with the muscle cars and hot rods that crowd the street. The Grand Cherokee SRT was the perfect vehicle for the job. Its aggressive styling was enough to turn some heads among the cacophony of cool cars, while its fairly large proportions kept it relatively comfortable for the four of us.
Good for Family and Fun
I say “relatively comfortable” because a plush ride is not one of this Jeep’s strengths, especially in the back seat. A stiff suspension may help you to ride the rails through corners, but it only works against your comfort. The pothole-ridden streets of Detroit certainly didn’t help either. It’s a trade off that comes with any performance machine and, if you ask me, it’s totally worth it here, just to experience the solid handling and performance this SUV doles out. Rear legroom comes in at a fairly generous 38.6 inches while the cargo area behind the rear seats totals 35.1 cubic feet, more than enough to hold four people’s luggage for a weekend trip.
Jeep’s famous seven-slot grille is still found on this high-performance Grand Cherokee model, though the front end is taken from stately to sinister with the addition of a new front lip, low spoiler and blacked-out headlamps. The low body kit continues all the way around the SUV, while the LED tail lamps are surrounded by black to give them a floating appearance. Massive 20-inch wheels really help complete the look, while the Pirelli P Zero tires look the part and perform well when pushed.
Muscle Car Heart
For 2015, the SUV has been injected with a little more power and now pumps out 475 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque. The big V8 motivates this 5,150-pound behemoth from to zero to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds — any vehicle this big has no business being this fast. Feeling this SUV surge ahead is completely addictive, as all four wheels hook up with the pavement and the eight-speed automatic smoothly runs through its ratios. Adding even more fun to this SUV is launch control, which turns the SRT into a charging mammoth from hell. Simply hold the brake, press the accelerator to the floor, then release the brake, and you shoot forward as the all-wheel-drive system sends the optimal amount of power to each wheel for a clean jump off the line every time.
A glorious growl accompanies the thrust every time, never letting you forget the true nature of this beast.
It’s when the power is surging that you appreciate the overly stiff suspension, as even while moving at a decent speed, the Grand Cherokee remains stable and confident, with no scary body roll or wishy-washy steering to speak of. The steering wheel itself is thick and leather-wrapped with fantastic contours that curve nicely to accept the driver’s hands, while the heavy weighting offers great feedback and a planted, muscular feeling while you’re at the helm.
Operating the gear lever can be a bit of a hassle in the Grand Cherokee, and it’s surprising that FCA hasn’t pushed for the GC to adopt the rotary dial shifter that’s found in numerous other Chrysler products. It can be common to grab reverse when you think it’s in park and to find neutral instead of drive, because the gear shift doesn’t slot through gates — you simply rock it forward or backward like a joystick to change gear and it can be hard to push it the right amount to hit the right gear.
Interior complaints stop there. The massive 8.4-inch touchscreen running Chrysler’s Uconnect infotainment is as good as ever, offering simple operation and great looks. Special for the SRT are a set of pages that can show tons of info, including recent track times, lateral acceleration and zero-to-60-mph times. To make it even more interesting, Chrysler allows you to share your stats using a built-in 3G Internet connection. The Laguna Leather seats were comfortable and supportive, offering tons of comfort for my large frame.
Attention for a Good Price
I was curious to see if the Grand Cherokee SRT would attract the eyeballs of any spectators at the Dream Cruise, after all, classic muscle and spectacular custom hot rods are everywhere. Keeping your head on a swivel is an understatement at this event — you need a motorized lazy susan to keep you seeing in all directions. Despite the tough competition, we still got thumbs up and plenty of appreciation (especially while cruising by the Jeep, Dodge, Chrysler stand). Finished in white, the black accents on our tester really stood out, giving it the tough appearance that folks on the streets loved.
And best of all, when you look at the comparative set of performance SUVs, the Grand Cherokee SRT looks like a bargain. With the main competition coming from BMW and Mercedes, both of which can easily crack the $100,000 mark, the $70,000 price tag on this domestic beast seems fairly reasonable.
With another Woodward Dream Cruise in the books, it’s time to start looking ahead to next year and planning what to drive. Problem is, I don’t think there’s another vehicle on the market that can haul four people in comfort and style while also providing a thrilling drive for just about $70,000 the way the Grand Cherokee SRT can. It’s ready for family road trips and track days, a claim few other SUVs can make.
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