By: Scott Vandekerckhove – Lead Contributor
Try to expand your vision of the future for just a bit. Imagine a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by warfare where buildings lie in ruin and vegetation has begun to spread wildly.
Streets and highways are riddled with abandoned vehicles vacated by their passengers in an escape from sheer terror. Something very bad happened here.
You ignored the evacuation warnings and sought refuge deep within the bowels of your home. You would have fled with your neighbors, but they were stricken with a virus that turned them into zombies. They’re out there now. Waiting to eat you alive. And due to depleted resources, the time has come for you to make your escape.
It won’t be easy. You know you can’t outrun them for long on foot, so you’d better get to some wheels quickly.
But not just any vehicle will do the job. You need something special. It has to be of considerable size to accommodate yourself and other survivors. You’ll require space for weapons and food; the ability to tow something; and enough traction to pull you through the decaying landscape that you’re certain to face once mobile.
Not to mention, this thing better haul major ass! And it must be able to meander through tight turns all while stopping on a dime.
This is a tough resume for any vehicle to fill. But, hey, this is a tough world.
Then it dawns on you; there’s that local Jeep dealership a half mile up the road that might still have what you need. It’s a risky proposition, but you’re out of options.
Armed with nothing more than the shoes on your feet and an ironclad will to live, you kick open the front door of your house and make a run for it. Sprinting like Carl Lewis, you miraculously avoid the people-eaters and arrive at the Jeep store in record time.
Once inside, you locate their key closet and blast through the door with the force of an NFL linebacker. Your sense of urgency has paid off.
And almost as if divine intervention has taken hold of the moment, a pair of keys, labeled “SRT”, conveniently dangle from the wall.
You were a car guy before Armageddon, and you still are now, damn it! Seeing those three letters provides for the first real sense of hope since all Hell broke loose in the world.
With two clicks of the remote start button, you hear the mighty 6.4L HEMI V8 come to life in the showroom. A Grand Cherokee SRT8 awaits your arrival; full of fuel and ready for battle.
You jump in the driver seat, grip the steering wheel with white knuckles, and mash the accelerator to hear the beast roar. A smile gleams across your face as pure V8 bliss washes away the dread of this new world. Things are going to be alright.
Crashing through the glass doors of the dealership, you blast off into the abyss of destruction on a mission to save those that remain. And at the helm of this Jeep, you’ll stand a fighting chance.
Back to Reality
In my eyes, the 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 is indeed the perfect vehicle for a post-apocalyptic world. But thankfully, for our test purposes, we were able to avoid the zombies and societal carnage.
I spent a full week with it, having logged nearly 600 miles behind the wheel. I drove it everywhere I went and the experience was beyond gratifying. You’d be a fool to feel otherwise.
This thing is all about excess. Everything in and around it screams over the top. I mean, just think about it – a two-and-a-half-ton-plus SUV with 470 horsepower and 465 lb/ft of torque! Massive high performance Brembo brakes sitting behind even more massive 20 inch wheels and tires. There’s an astonishing amount of body work at all ends that makes onlookers stare in amazement. The interior is lavishly outfitted with top notch materials and an incredible attention to detail. And a stereo lurks inside that will surely leave your ear drums with something to remember. I just don’t know where to end, or to begin for that matter.
She’s Got The Look
The exterior of the Grand Cherokee SRT8 is nothing short of stunning. Derived from the mainstream bloodlines of the Laredo, Limited, and Overland models, this version takes it to an entirely new level.
The SRT8 appears positively militant, sitting an inch lower than its lesser models, complemented by a full onslaught of changes to the body and shoes. If this was the apocalypse, anything evil would be deathly afraid to even approach this truck.
The already-brawny wheel arches are further accented by new body-color moldings that give all four corners an even bulkier look. Undoubtedly a necessary change to create balance with the monstrous 20 inch wheels and tires.
The wheels have been a lightning rod for criticism amongst SRT fans, but if you ask me, they look incredible. They’re far more intricate than the traditional 5-spokes of old thanks to machined voids of space in all 10 legs of the wheel. These babies must be expensive to make (and replace, God forbid).
Out back, the signature center-mounted exhaust pipes from the last generation have been moved out to their conventional corners to accommodate owners who want to tow. Buyers with active lifestyles (road racers, jet skiers, dirt bikers, etc.) will love to know that they can pull a full 5,000 lbs. behind this Jeep. Towing was largely impractical in the last gen.
Other notable changes to the body include a liftgate-mounted spoiler (pictured above) that reduces drag and improves downforce, as well as side sill cladding.
But there’s zero doubt that designers spent most of their efforts up front at the business end of the vehicle. Sure, the signature 7-slot Jeep grille remains, but that’s about it.
The surrounding front fascia has been fitted with functional brake ducts to cool the gigantic 15 inch rotors up front (the largest brakes in SRT’s entire fleet). Up above the ducts lie individual LED strips that are, on one hand, elegant, and on the other hand, intimidating. Be it in broad day light or in the pitch black of night, the LEDs provide for one hell of a presence creeping up behind you in traffic. People will know when you’re there.
If the LEDs aren’t imposing enough, the sinister hood should do the trick.
Sculptors carved two massive scoops out of the aluminum hood that would surely make any box of Raisin Bran cereal become insanely jealous (Get it? Two Scoops – HAHA!). SRT says the scoops are functional heat extractors. I look at them more as soul catchers of the drivers you’ll end up passing. It’s the baddest looking hood on any vehicle since the last-generation Viper.
Collectively, this Grand Cherokee makes peoples’ heads turn on a swivel. You can’t help but be mesmerized by it at all angles. SUVs should not look like this, but thankfully this one does.
While I was driving on Interstate-696, a police car transporting a prisoner passed me on the right hand side to take a closer look. At first, both cops in the front set their eyes on the Jeep. Then, as they continued to pass, the prisoner handcuffed in the back contorted his body to get a look as well. He seemed more concerned with the SRT8 than he did his own freedom. True story!
Superior Interior With All The Trimmings
Make no mistake about it; this is an SUV aiming at competitors way above its price class. And nowhere else on the vehicle is that more evident than the interior.
The entire Grand Cherokee line has been widely praised for its robust interior. Fit and finish, materials used, ergonomics, and overall appearance are arguably at the top of its class already. The SRT8, however, ups the ante considerably. One look inside and you will know what I’m talking about.
The highly-bolstered seats are covered in rich leather that feel wonderfully soft to the touch and even smell good. High class French-style stitching borders the leather seams to provide a really stellar look.
That leather and stitching continue on to the center armrest, upper portions of the doors, and even the dashboard which further oozes of luxury. Everywhere you touch is supple and upscale. Even genuine carbon fiber accents adorn the dash and doors to let you know this is high-end stuff. What a stark contrast to the Chrysler interiors of old that had been de-contented and clad in tupperware during the Daimler era. A welcome change, no doubt.
The seats are both heated and ventilated, which will resonate really well with buyers that see all four seasons in a year. You can keep your butt and back warm in the winter, all while keeping your nether regions nice and cool during the scorching summer months – a feature that male buyers will appreciate most.
You can even keep your hands warm too, thanks to the new heated steering wheel that now has a flat bottom design. It feels so thick in your hands that grip is never a concern. The steering column both tilts and telescopes electronically, so getting the perfect position is no problem.
Also connected to the backside of the wheel are standard audio controls and all new paddle shifters. The shifters are great for grabbing and holding gears without having to remove your hands from the wheel – a feature that allows you to keep that big HEMI breathing fire up in the top of the rev band.
Beyond all that, my loaner came chock-full of options including a power liftgate, blind spot monitoring and rear cross path detection, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, and a dual-pane panoramic sunroof. Not to mention, a 6.5-inch touch screen radio with Bluetooth communication and Garmin-based Navigation. There is some serious technology going on inside here.
But in a stroke of sheer genius, SRT now offers a sound system that is sure to rattle your cages. If you thought the Kicker Surround Sound system in the last Grand Cherokee SRT8 was good, think again. The new hardware provides for a night and day difference (read on to the next section if you’re interested in hearing more).
Bottom line: this is the best interior of any vehicle in Chrysler’s entire lineup. The feel and appearance of the materials used here rival those of any other SUV at any price. It is that good.
If there was anything to desire, it would be the 8.4-inch touchscreen found in the new Charger and 300. That head unit alone would make the center stack absolutely perfect. All in due time, though, as I am quite sure it’s on the way soon.
The Stereo. My GAWD, The Stereo!
Let’s get something straight right away. The phrase, “good for a factory stereo system”, simply does not apply here.
It is all too often that a stock stereo will falter at or near the peak of its volume band. Tweeters start to distort and get scratchy, while subwoofers reverberate and make for muddy bass notes. No such luck here.
Count them with me, folks. 19. Yes, 19 speakers are strategically planted within the cabin of the Grand Cherokee SRT8 to provide for what I can personally guarantee you is the most crushing sound experience you have ever laid ear-witness to in a factory built vehicle (see image below). At full volume, 825 watts of pure power surge through the interior with such a ferocious tone that most of you reading this sentence probably wouldn’t be able to tolerate it.
Every layer of recorded sound tears through your ear canals with unprecedented clarity and force. This system, supplied by Harman Kardon, absolutely thrives at the top of the volume band. Crank it up all the way and you will be floored by what you hear.
I threw everything I could at these speakers. Even the most punishing, sadistic tracks of thrash metal that will render most stereos helpless at only half volume. The Grand Cherokee handled it with ease. It felt more like being in the front row of a metal concert instead of sitting in a car. I should have probably been wearing earplugs, yet it was pure symphony.
Driving the Grand Cherokee SRT8 provides for an experience that defies conventional logic. At 5,150 lbs. of curb weight, sitting fairly high up off the ground, this hulk of an SUV exhibits movements that it simply should not be capable of. Yes, the feel of sheer mass is undeniable, but it never feels out of shape. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
Think of familiar roadways that you frequent each day. Imagine those tight turns or long, sweeping approaches at freeway interchanges marred by pesky warnings of maximum speed. If it says 45 mph, it feels like you can comfortably double it behind the wheel of the SRT8. And it does so in remarkably linear fashion.
If you’re looking to push it even further, simply turn the Select Track dial to Sport or Track Mode, and the vehicle stiffens up even more. Heightened levels of dampening and compression make sure that the big Jeep sticks to the ground like glue (as if it didn’t already before). You feel the additional stiffness instantly as your head begins to bounce a bit more.
Overall, I would describe the Jeep as feeling like a two-and-a-half-ton bicep. And it’s constantly flexing in a show of strength. The wheels and tires feel inextricably linked to the unibody and suspension like connective tissue. There is absolutely no disconnect from the steering wheel to the drive wheels. It will amaze you.
And while the road feel could certainly be described as “very firm”, it doesn’t sacrifice comfort. Perhaps you’ll feel bumps and potholes a bit more than usual, but it is never jarring. In fact, it’s a pleasure to drive.
The Power To Move You And Stop You
Engine and brakes. The two most important parts of any performance vehicle.
The Grand Cherokee SRT8 comes ready for battle at both ends.
Underneath that menacing hood lies one of the single greatest naturally aspirated V8s on the market today. The 6.4L HEMI is one seriously potent powerplant capable of incredible outputs. At 470 hp and 465 lb/ft of torque, that’s a gain of 50 hp and 45 lb/ft over the outgoing 6.1L HEMI V8.
The power gains are certainly impressive, but it’s where this new engine makes its power that shines most. Thanks to variable valve timing and an active intake manifold, 90% of the HEMI’s peak torque is available all the way from 2,800 RPM up to 6,000 RPM. The manifold, now with long and short runners, ensures that the engine never starves for air. The swell of power that results is simply phenomenal.
You can ease into the throttle or hammer it as you ride a tidal wave of torque and horsepower through the entire rev band. It’s never coarse or biting. Instead, it is refined and flowing with grace as that All-American V8 growl emanates through the exhaust system. You’ll be addicted just as I was; incessantly exploring the range of massive grunt at your right foot.
Chrysler claims a 0-to-60 time of 4.8 seconds and a top speed of 160mph. Those are earth shattering numbers in any vehicle, especially an SUV of this size.
In an effort to quench the HEMI’s thirst though, engineers have utilized Fuel Saver Technology this time around (formerly known as MDS, or Multi Displacement System). It will cease fuel supply to four of the eight cylinders during light acceleration and cruising speeds, which Chrysler says yielded a 13% gain in highway fuel economy.
The EPA rates this SRT8 at 12 MPG in the city and 18 MPG on the highway. I averaged 13.7 MPG during my week with the truck – right around where I expected to be. It may not be the 40 or 50 MPG so many buyers are looking for these days, but you gotta pay to play in the performance game. And my, my can this thing play.
But the most awe-inspiring performance feature of this vehicle is unquestionably the brakes.
Four-piston Brembos sit around 13.8-inch rotors in the rear; returning hardware from the last generation. Up front, however, things have changed dramatically. Enormous 15-inch rotors are squeezed by all-new 6-piston Brembos (pictured below) that bring this SUV down in a hurry.
The extreme mass of the Grand Cherokee is no match for the front brakes. They lock down with such incredible force that you can’t believe how fast they can stop this thing. There’s virtually zero fade and they never once complained with heavy inputs. According to Chrysler, 60-to-0 comes in just 116 feet. That may be a conservative estimate.
Regardless, both the engine and brakes work harmoniously at providing the speed and stopping force that buyers want. It is staggering how well they execute.
At The Drag Strip
Unfortunately, much to my chagrin, we couldn’t get to a road course. So we had to settle for the strip – a vital test that all performance cars must go through.
SRT claims this Jeep will run mid-13’s. And under the right conditions, I know it’s more than doable and repeatable.
The 85 degree heat, however, had us locked in the high 13’s. Couple the heat with 5,150 lbs. of curb weight (5,350 with me in the car), and you’re fighting a lot of mass too. We tried every plausible configuration with the Select Track System. Auto Mode, Sport Mode, then Track Mode. We alternated between simply keeping it in DRIVE, and using the new paddle shifters.
Our best time was firstname.lastname@example.org using Track Mode and just letting the transmission work on its own. I did use the shifters twice in Track Mode and ran both 13.73 and 13.74 consecutively. You gotta be quick, making sure not to let the HEMI smack the rev limiter in first gear. If that happens, your time is toast. I’d say your best bet is to leave it in DRIVE and punch it. The paddles will help more on a road course when you need to keep the revs up in turns or in moments of rapid deceleration.
There’s not much magic to launching the Jeep. No burnouts or brake torquing needed. Just wait for the green and go! The AWD system managing torque underneath provides for some of the most tenacious grip of any vehicle on earth. You’ll feel the truck kick up a bit off the line, then the front tires claw into the ground like a savage animal.
Just for good measure, here’s a video of me running 13.81@101 mph.
This Jeep is not your ordinary Grand Cherokee capable of slow and deliberate movements over rocks and tree stumps, or through a river stream. No, no. The SRT8 belongs exclusively on concrete and asphalt.
Don’t get the idea of heading back into the woods to carve up some timber for the fire. Stick to carving up your favorite twisty roads and blasting on to the highway at warp speed. Better yet, get this bad boy to a race track. That’s where it begs to be put through the motions.
Taking On The World’s Best
The high performance SUV/CUV market is fairly limited. Battling this Jeep will be Germany’s finest including the BMW X5M and X6M, Mercedes Benz ML63 AMG, and Porsche Cayenne Turbo. And while all four of them do hold marginal power advantages over the Jeep SRT8, you will pay considerably more cash to man their ships.
Starting prices for the competitors list out as follows…
BMW X5M – $86,400
BMW X6M – $89,500
Mercedes Benz ML63 AMG – $93,465
Porsche Cayenne Turbo – $107,100
The Jeep SRT8 begins at $55,295 (including destination). If my math serves me correctly, that’s a starting price of $30,000 less than the next closest competitor. Staggering, don’t you think?
Granted, the one I tested priced out at $60,480. But that still seems to be the steal of the century if a hyper-SUV is what your heart desires. And, in all honesty, I’d say the Jeep beats all of them in the looks department, hands down!
Come With Me If You Want To Live
I began this review by painting a not-so pretty picture of the future, where this heroic SUV is your vessel to salvation. A bit extreme? Well, perhaps the zombie and Armageddon-like references were a stretch. But think of it more as a microcosm of what vehicles in this realm face today.
The shift in the market is clear. People are becoming more and more focused on the missionary role of transportation that a vehicle provides. Point A to Point B. That is it! That is what people are having and choosing to settle for. Cars have become almost sterile. It’s an apocalypse in and of itself.
But there remains a significant portion of car buyers out there that will not lie down and die. I’m talking to all you gear heads, car guys, and automotive enthusiasts out there. You know who you are. There’s still hope in this world. I implore you to stand up and be counted!
SRT is a standalone brand now, making it clear that the resistance has formed for good. The Grand Cherokee sits proudly alongside its other SRT brethren; the Dodge Challenger, Dodge Charger, and Chrysler 300C. Soon, they will be joined by the car that started it all – the Dodge Viper. From there, who knows what other SRT variants will arise. One thing’s for sure though; this is a lineup poised to take on the world’s best performance cars at a fraction of the cost.
So while the world may not be ending just yet, rest assured that SRT has you covered until that time comes. And if there is any doubt as to whether or not they plan on sticking around, just have a chat with the guys who build them. They’re the ones with their arms folded in the picture below.
*Check out the SRT brand website at www.DRIVESRT.com*
**Special thanks to Heather Heughens and Brian Urban for help during testing**