Strengths and weaknesses:
- power to spare
- stunning good looks
- upscale interior comfort
Muscle car for the horsey set
It became blatantly clear to me early on in my test of the 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 that it’s one of those vehicles that is practically useless. But then it occurred to me that the Corvette is also like that.
Now let me explain that utility is not akin to good or important ... at least not to everybody. If you want a vehicle that can transport five people in pretty good comfort, over all sorts of terrain and in all kinds of weather, you would do a lot worse than the new Grand Cherokee.
However, lower the body down and it pretty much loses all chance of going farther off the path than ... well ... the path to the cottage. Drop in a Hemi V8 and you’ve pretty much thrown all notions of economical motoring out the window.
You’ve pretty much turned a useful utility vehicle with a pedigree for ruggedness into a poser ... a Corvette, if you will.
And, frankly, there’s nothing wrong with that.
The SRT8 version of the Grand Cherokee is the Corvette that SUV owners would buy if they wanted to elevate their performance to the next level – the same way Camaro owners drool for a Corvette, BMW 3 Series owners for an M3 and Lexus ES 250 drivers for an LFA. It is the muscle car of the SUV set.
From the moment you crank the engine (ok ... push the button to fire it up), you’re inundated with power – the engine rumbles to life with a sound that turns more heads than a Harley in a warm and sunny spring neighbourhood.
Actually, let’s back up a step. From the moment you set eyes on the SRT8 Grand Cherokee, you know it’s special. Sometimes you see the look on the faces of passers-by and they’re not quite sure why, but it looks special. It could be the hood vents to aid the engine in keeping its cool, or the dropped sides and LED driving lights. Or maybe, it’s just the monocolour paint scheme.
Get the Grand Cherokee SRT8 out to a stretch of highway, and floor it to quickly not just get up to speed with traffic, but to get ahead of all those already at speed. Acceleration is beyond exhilarating. Early on I found myself in awe of how a vehicle this bulky can get to 100 km/h this quickly and also how it sucks up gasoline (accelerating out of the parking lot after resetting the trip computer, it read 124 litres per 100 km).
The five-speed automatic transmission has Chrysler’s AutoStick sequential shift (through steering wheel paddles), with gears set up to allow the driver to effortlessly push the vehicle to its limits. The only complaint is the lack of a highway gear to keep fuel economy in check.
And it handles, too. The SRT folks have done a great job of making sure this Grand Cherokee keeps its composure through the twisties. It’s not as efficient and confident as a Challenger SRT8, but damn it’s close. And when conditions act up, you can choose from five different driving modes (including a track setting!).
Inside, occupants are treated to the niceties of an upscale SUV, rather than the rawness of a high-performance car. You get heated seats and steering wheel for those chilly mornings, a full-roof glass panel (optional) to brighten up everybody’s day, and suede-like seat-fabrics that hold you through all kinds of driving exercises.
The cargo hold has enough space to carry whatever you need to take along to wherever you’re going (hopefully, it is set of racing rubber and wheels for a weekend at the track), so there is still a semblance of utility ... but I’ll warn you right now, you’re going to lose some grocery items.
And you know what? That rumble from the exhaust nicely drowns out the cans crashing against the interior trim.