The muscle car of SUVs gets more power and more technology
DIGITAL EDITOR ANDREW STOY: So the way I see it, you’ve got a couple different ways you can spend $70K on a 15-mpg SUV. You want HUGE and luxurious? Go for something like a Yukon XL Denali or a loaded Suburban, and you’ll have a big, cushy hauler for your entire family and the boat. Chances are you’ll use all that capability about 15 percent of the time.
But what if your family ain’t that big, and your boat is a jet ski? You can get yourself a Grand Cherokee SRT for about the same money (and with the same fuel economy) and get a midsized, high-performance SUV with a ton of luxury features and nearly 500 hp to play with when the right road is available. Chances are you’ll use all that capability also about 15 percent of the time.
Examined through such a lens, the question of which vehicle is more practical or makes more sense suddenly comes down to whether you’re a truck person or a performance enthusiast — do you want your purchase and fuel dollar to buy you more girth and towing ability or more speed and handling? If it’s the latter, you want the Grand Cherokee SRT.
I won’t rehash the basics of the current Grand Cherokee — you can read about it here and here. Just know it’s an outstanding SUV, and one of the reasons Jeep sales just seem to keep climbing. It does everything right, even in basic V6 form.
The 6.4-liter HEMI® V-8 with Fuel Saver Technology now delivers 475 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 470 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,300 rpm.
Add a 6.4-liter Hemi, a rotary knob with “sport” and “track” options and a little button called “LAUNCH” with a drag-race Christmas tree, and it does a lot more things right — the exception, of course, being fuel economy.
Sport mode is where this Grand Cherokee is happiest — the standard Auto mode uses an economy tuning that shuts down cylinders too aggressively and generally makes the SRT drive more like a plain ‘ol Grand Cherokee; that’s not why you spent your hard-earned dollars, is it? Hell no! The Sport setting completely changes the GC’s personality, and you can tell this is where the engineers spent their time. Shifts with the paddles are dual-clutch quick, and with two hands on the fat flat-bottom wheel, you can throw the SRT around in ways that defy its 5,100-pound curb weight. Just watch the binders — even with big Brembo brakes, the Grand Cherokee wants room to slow down.
As for luxury, you get Uconnect, heated seats and steering wheel, lovely fake Alcantara on the headliner and an airy multipane panoramic moonroof (at least on our tester). While the layout may not be Audi-grade, the materials are generally good, though the white-contrast stitching on the dash top of our tester was a constant distraction reflecting in the windshield. Bottom line: There’s nothing here that would make you wonder why you spent $70K.
Of course, your BMW and Benz-owning friends may wonder why, but perhaps that’s the point. This is the muscle car of SUVs — at least until the Hellcat Grand Cherokee comes out.
2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT – 20-inch x 10-inch Black Chrome wheels, part of exclusive Red Vapor Package
ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: A lot of you are going to have a hard time wrapping your heads around a Jeep with shiny 20-inch chrome split five-spoke wheels — a Jeep should fear no rock, let alone a gnarly curb, right? With its launch mode and track settings, not to mention an interior too nice to get dirty, this Grand Cherokee SRT might simply be too great of a philosophical leap for you to make.
And I respect that.
Think about it, though: a 475-hp Grand Cherokee SRT is probably destined to spend about as much time on the track as your average Wrangler Rubicon will spend in, uh, Rubicon-like conditions. So long as you don’t take it (or yourself) too seriously, you’ll have a heck of a lot more fun in this bruiser than you could have ever imagined.
Once you learn to put aside that nagging feeling that you’re going to tip over, which is in large part due to that coveted upright driving position (I think marketers would call it “commanding”), you can really start to enjoy the glory of the 6.4-liter naturally aspirated V8; put it in sport mode and forget about the paddle shifters. For lack of space, I didn’t use the launch button. Despite some shuddering under aggressive acceleration, it seems to have little to no trouble hooking up, thanks to the four-wheel drive. The push-you-into-your-seat thrust and the growl of the engine do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to selling the package.
New safety technologies such as Forward Collision Warning and Rear Cross Path detection have been added to the SRT model.
I’ll admit that I was bit surprised to see the price tag, at least at first. Ample luxury equipment aside (and this baby is loaded) you do pay handsomely for displacement these days. A 392-equipped Dodge Challenger starts in the mid-40s, and you can bet it doesn’t come with ventilated seats or a tow rating; this is, arguably, a somewhat practical vehicle at its core. Then there’s the ostensible competition. Forget about an X5M — a V8-equipped X5 starts at $72,000.
It’s tough to say why I like this so much more than its German counterparts, but I think that if there’s one thing Mopar products tend to get right, it’s attitude — from the Challenger Hellcat to this Grand Cherokee SRT, you can tell someone cared about making the act of driving a satisfying, addicting experience. And it’s all in good fun. This thing packs serious muscle, and I’m sure you could take it on the track if you really wanted to, but it somehow never comes off as pretentious.
So, the Grand Cherokee SRT could have easily been a totally ridiculous, utterly despicable ego-machine that I couldn’t help but hate. Instead, it’s a totally ridiculous, over-the-top ego-machine I can’t help but have a soft spot for. Would I ever buy one? Hell no. There’s just no way I could see a vehicle like this fitting into my life (though it did serve as a reminder of how all-around nice the Grand Cherokee is). But I’ll never turn down a chance for some seat time in one.
The steering wheel is designed and positioned to provide optimal view of the gauge cluster that features a 7-inch, full-color, customizable instrument display.
Options: Dual-pane panoramic sunroof with suede-like premium headliner ($2,095); SRT high performance audio with 19 Harman Kardon speakers with subwoofer and 825-watt amplifier ($1,995); 20-inch x 10-inch black chrome split five-spoke ($995); 295/45ZR20 BSW three-season tires ($895); single-disc CD player ($445)