2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT Review

The city churns out a trail of burned-out brains, dopamine domination, social lives sculpted by pure image, and furious individuals screaming into the blinking blue echo chamber as a defense against their own impotence.

Well then, what are the optics of a 5,000-pound shoe box happy to dispatch asphalt with sadistic laughter at speeds best measured in felonies?

On the surface, the 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT looks like the vehicular embodiment of a schizotypal state: one foot planted in the reality of responsible family transportation with seven airbags, a suite of standard active safety features, and compulsory all-wheel drive. The other lives in a fantasy land of launch control, smoky slip angles, and an atavistic engine note normally reserved for professional use.

From there the adjectives get worse, especially when you realize the SRT’s $67,990 MSRP ($72,000 in Canada) is actually just cover charge for the privilege of guzzling more gas than a Ferrari 488. But that’s only true if you trap yourself in the generational short circuit of valuing the image over the object.

A Jeep packing 392 cubic inches of hot explosions may look like mere mid-life braggadocio, but in practice, the SRT proves itself as the best bug-out buddy you could wish for, ready and willing to lay down the law of “leave me alone” on the way to deliverance.

Powerful Urges

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It starts with propulsion — there’s plenty — it comes from a prodigious 6.4-liter V8 cracking out 475 horsepower and 470 pounding feet of twist which baugh-baugh-baughs out through twin black chrome tips in a low-frequency mechanical frenzy capable of caving in chests. The HEMI is hooked to a ZF-derived eight-speed automatic transmission which feeds motion to a squared set of 295-section Pirelli Run Flats wrapped around 20-inch Carbon Black Forged wheels ($995 US and CAN) via an SRT tweaked version of Jeep’s Quadra-Trac full-time-four-wheel-drive system and an Electronic Limited-Slip Differential.

A Bilstein active suspension system, lowered ride height, aluminum control arms, increased camber, stiffer roll bars and revised steering calibration transform the trail-rated Grand Cherokee into a tarmac terrorizer capable of 0.9 g on the skidpad. Equip it with the $1,295 (US and CAN) High-Performance Brake package and you’ll get a set of big fire-engine red Brembos which will come in handy if you decide to stretch for the stratosphere somewhere in the middle of nowhere—six-piston calipers bite 15-inch (381 millimeters) rotors in the front, with four-pistons grabbing 13.8-inch (351 mm) rotors out back. When used properly they’ll bring the SRT to a complete stop from highway speeds in 116 feet (35 meters).

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The entire orchestra is conducted through a performance-oriented version of Jeep’s Selec-Trac system which offers seven pre-programmed personalities: Auto, Eco, Sport, Track, Tow, Snow, and Valet. For the anoraks, there’s a Custom button which lets you tweak drivetrain, suspension, stability control, and steering calibration through the 8.4-inch Uconnect screen.

All of the SRT’s specific components coalesce into a machine capable of accelerating to 60 mph (96 km/h) in 4.8 seconds on its way to a 160 mph (257 km/h) top end, which absurdly, isn’t even the fastest a Jeep will go anymore. For an extra $995 ($825 CAN), this hot-rod rhinoceros could lug a 7,200-lb trailer (3,266 kg), but I was more interested in escaping Toronto’s walking skyscrapers for a reprieve in the woods outside Otter Lake, Quebec.

Operation GTFO

Besides distance, the hardest part of our journey would be getting out of the city among the crazed congestion on Highway 401 as it runs east-west through the Greater Toronto Area. Theoretically, this is where the Grand Cherokee’s active highway aids should shine; in particular, I was counting on Adaptive Cruise Control to handle most of the heavy lifting as we moved east, engulfed by mid-day volume.

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With the ACC set to 75 mph (120 km/h) and the SRT lumbering along in the middle lane, things were perfect for about 20 minutes. Like most adaptive cruise control systems, the Grand Cherokee uses a front-mounted sensor array to maintain a predetermined following distance at a set speed. However, if the speed you want is too fast for the spacing you’ve set, the SRT’s brain will apply the brakes in order to create the desired gap, or come to a full stop if need be.

But as other cars cut in and out of the middle lane from both the left and right, the Grand Cherokee began to vacillate between slowing down and speeding up. Pitching forward as it slowed to create a gap to the new car in front, before squatting slightly as it accelerated back to our predetermined speed, only to pitch forward again as it began to encroach on the safe following distance, which brought on another round of acceleration.

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That’s when my foot went back in charge—robots and computers may operate more efficiently than people but they sorely lack the fluidity and foresight of a human brain when dealing with other erratic individuals. An attentive driver registers different information than a car’s sensors and algorithms, detecting and using the subtle movements of other drivers, like a shoulder check or creeping towards the line, to anticipate movement. That’s not a knock on Jeep’s application of ACC, but my own lack of enthusiasm for the technology.

Even Lane Keep Assist earned itself a timeout after spending too much time squabbling with me as we danced through knots of slower-moving traffic. Despite a few false freak outs, Forward Collision Warning was the only active safety feature to survive the 600-mile (1,000-km) round trip intact, because, why not?

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Steady-state highway cruising brings out one of the SRT’s biggest quirks, cylinder deactivation. Software tweaks in 2015 expanded the range of the technology, allowing for the big HEMI to spend more time operating with only half its holes firing when the Eco setting is activated. The 6.4’s attempt at efficiency happens with a conspicuously bassy gurgle that penetrates the serene cabin even though you’re only operating with 196 cubes. It’s rated for 15 mpg combined (15.7 L/100 km) which I turned into 16 mpg (14.6 L/100 km) despite deliberate disobedience of posted limits.

Jeep also gave the SRT standard Active Noise Cancelling technology, which uses four microphones and the Grand Cherokee’s sound system to counteract road noises coming from the gargantuan 11-inch-wide run-flat tires beating on the pavement. Unfortunately, it also somewhat suppresses the HEMI’s aural ruckus.

Speaking of sound systems, ours was equipped with the $1,995 (US and CAN) High-Performance Audio Package which adds 19 Harman Kardon speakers plus a subwoofer, along with an 825-watt amp. There was also a $2,150 (US and CAN) Rear Entertainment Center which never saw use.

Two-Lane Blacktop

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We pulled off the 401 at Belleville and headed across ON-37 towards Tweed where we’d stop for a sip of the SRT’s favorite fluid before hooking up with the 41 and then the 132 before crossing into Quebec just east of Renfrew. Unfortunately, progress was held hostage by a lackadaisical Volvo stumbling along at ten under the limit, followed by a tractor-trailer that would make gauging oncoming traffic dubious at best.

My interior monologue is jangled. “Oy, I thought you said this thing was fast. I’m bored. Are we there yet?” Don’t answer, crank the tunes, shut the voice off, there seems to be space.

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The first time you pull out to pass with your foot to the firewall it’s like unwrapping all of your Christmas gifts at once. Most of the HEMI’s 470 pounding feet of torque are available as low as idle speed, and all of them kick you in the gut at 4,300 rpm before all 475 horses hit their stride around 6,000 rpm, launching you forward much faster than a two-and-a-half ton brick should be allowed from a moral standpoint.

The stability and silence mean the sensation of speed is non-existent until deep triple-digit territory, and even so, you only notice because the scenery’s melted into a liquid smear silently hissing by your window.

Breaking the Border

We cross into Quebec over the Chenaux Generating Station for the last leg of our trek, a 45-minute bomb up the twisty and dippy QC-301, followed by a short dirt road sprint around two lakes before crawling down a single track through the trees to a clearing with a yurt that would be home for the next few days.

For the time being, I was still cosseted by the Grand Cherokee’s $4,995 ($6,995 CAN) Laguna Leather seats, which trade the Grand Cherokee’s standard Nappa leather for the hides from ethically raised, baptized, and virtuously slaughtered Scandinavian cows. In reality total option cost is more like $9,085 ($10,685 CAN) because Jeep won’t let you have the top-shelf leather without first equipping the $1,995 High-Performance Audio pack (US and CAN) and the $2,095 Dual-Pane Sunroof ($1,695 CAN)—but I digress.

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In an effort to save fuel I had left the SRT to manage its own affairs in full auto mode—but there’s something about La Belle Province that always makes me frisky and I felt like playing.

Rotating between the performance modes changes the Jeep’s vibrations instantly as it tenses and tightens between Auto, Sport and Track. The steering gets heavier but doesn’t provide extra information, the dampening tosses comfort for corner speed, and when cranked in Track mode there’s a real urgency in its belly as the transmission starts to fire off aggressive upshifts with a sharp spit.

Mode changes also affect the all-wheel-drive system’s torque distribution; in Auto mode 60 percent of available torque goes rearward, Sport ups that to 65 percent, while Track gets 70 percent sent to the back.

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Despite Jeep’s major league performance promise, the Grand Cherokee SRT isn’t exactly the happiest apex chaser. When really cooking, the height and mass underfoot trigger warning bells inside your brain despite pulling less than 1.0 g laterally, while aggressive driveline lash and suspension dampening in Track mode can make it feel squirmy on the street.

Paradoxically, it’s dirt where the Grand Cherokee still remains the most comfortable, especially when you dial it in using SRT’s à la carte matrix of go-fast features available through the Custom Performance Page. Setting AWD and stability control to Track with suspension and steering left in their most comfortable settings, the bruiser becomes a venerable V8 rally wagon. Fat rubbers floating over the loose surface in lithe four-wheel slides, hooking from ditch to ditch, front tires clawing forward, the rears spinning and spitting a wake of sand and stone under a coniferous canopy.

ALSO SEE: 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk Review

Even at its most liberal, the factory stability control wasn’t totally comfortable with the yaw angles we were pulling through the desolate dirt esses, but truthfully, I don’t really want to know how the SRT would behave completely unchained.

Mobile phone reception had been obliterated for well over an hour before we reached the single track to the yurt, the wonderfully incurable sanity of speed and solitude.

Verdict: 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT Review

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It would be mean to call the Grand Cherokee SRT ostentatious. The truck isn’t vulgar, pretentious, or in your face, the only thing giving away the secret the SRT stows below its bonnet is a new set of intakes which underline the traditional seven-slot Jeep grille. It’s sneaky fast, a special brand of quick that leaves people bitter after the fact because they fell hook, line, and sinker for a sucker bet.

As the only vehicle in FCA’s family to join the company’s 6.4-liter V8 with full-time all-wheel-drive, the sleeper Jeep basically embarrasses everything else on the road short of high-end performance machinery. However, that brings notoriously awful fuel consumption in stop-and-go city driving, which spikes lifetime running costs on a Grand Cherokee that already carries a significant price premium over the next closest trim.

Realistically though, you don’t buy an ESSS-ARGH-TEED Jeep by accident, anyone even remotely toying with the idea of buying one will be well aware of the life of consumption they’re signing up for—they’ll also know that they’re saving a fistful of dollars compared to similar products with German labeling.

But who cares, even moderation should only be enjoyed in moderate doses—sometimes you get what you want, it just depends on what you need.