I love surprises. I’m not crazy about the kinds that force you to call your insurance company, but pleasant surprises are always welcome. When I think about crossover SUVs, I immediately picture a family traveling down the interstate with a cargo area full of luggage and the kids watching DVDs in the back. Although I’ve driven some fierce performers from the high-end luxury segment, such as the Land Rover Range Rover Sport and Porsche Cayenne, the vast majority of SUVs are purpose-built for family-friendly utility and light-to-moderate off-road capability.
The 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee is no exception. I’ve known many close friends and a few family members who have owned Jeep’s well-respected and comfortable people mover. All of them have expressed true affection for the award-winning crossover. Some have sworn allegiance that extended beyond the life of the vehicle, and a few have gone so far to name it the greatest vehicle of all time. It has a powerful base engine, but is better suited for towing small boats than taking on Dodge Challengers at the drag strip.
Grand Cherokee SRT Performance
When the 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT showed up at my office for a week-long review I was ready to be surprised. My hope was that the SRT suffix meant this Grand Cherokee was more than just a pretty face with generous cargo space. This model is powered by a 6.4-liter Hemi V8 engine that produces 475 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque. It can blast from 0 to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds while on the way to a top speed of 160 mph.
That is fast. Like an-angry-bear-startled-awake-from-a-long-winter’s-nap fast. And it comes from a vehicle with room for five adults and enough luggage for a week-long road trip.
The Street & Racing Technology (SRT) designation at the end of the Grand Cherokee’s name alerts those in the know that this isn’t a run-of-the-mill SUV you buy to tow jet skis. SRT is respected for building track-ready vehicles that are powerful and fun to drive. The SRT division has earned a place at the performance table, and the latest SRT models to dominate the headlines – those supercharged Hellcat sisters, the 707-horsepower Dodge Charger and Challenger – are worthy keepers of the tradition. I’ve driven both of Dodge’s kitties extensively, and they are a handful if you don’t respect them. With that much power being sent to the relatively modest rear tires, it only takes a slight misjudgment of the throttle to induce wheel spin and a tad more pressure to create all out wheel hop.
The normally aspirated 6.4-liter V8 found under the hood of the Grand Cherokee SRT provides a smaller percentage of the Hellcat’s growl, but proves to be a more predictable companion. As opposed to the Charger and Challenger’s gas pedal-induced smoke show, Jeep’s hotrod SUV sends the power to all four wheels with considerably less drama but keeps plenty of the fun.
Further proving the SUV’s dual nature, Jeep has supplied the SRT model with a handy “launch mode” and accompanying button. Press the button and the Grand Cherokee asks you to mash the brake pedal with your left foot and then depress the throttle pedal all the way to the floor. The Jeep automatically limits the speed of the engine to a user-configurable amount (I found 2,500 rpm to be just about perfect) and once the engine hits the programmed speed, you simply let off the brake pedal and the 5,150-pound beast is off to the races. Wheel spin is almost non-existent thanks to the Jeep’s Selec-Track all-wheel drive system, and just about every ounce of power goes to thrusting the Jeep forward versus melting the tires.
Everything we know about larger crossovers tells us they are top-heavy and need to be babied around turns to avoid the risk of rollover. However, the Grand Cherokee SRT challenges the tipsy-turvy precedent. I have no doubt contorting the wheel sharply to the left or right with enough speed would eventually cause the SRT to roll, but I am convinced it would require more than simply taking a sharp turn while gently pushing the legal speed limit. Thanks to a lower ride height, stiffer spring rates, cambered front and rear wheels and rigid anti-roll bars, the Grand Cherokee SRT is one of the best-handling crossovers I’ve ever driven. The precise steering and custom user-configurable drive modes allow the Jeep to be comfortable on the highway, or a sharp-as-a-tack canyon cruiser. Choosing one of the sporty configurations provides the driver with enough feedback that even a daily commute becomes a modest thrill ride.
When you put a 475-horsepower engine into a 5,000-pound-plus SUV and equip it with a visceral launch mode, you’d better equip it with equally incredible brakes. Jeep certainly thought ahead and included a bright red Brembo set-up on all four wheels. The 13.8-inch rear rotors are grabbed by four-piston calipers and the front wheels are graced with outrageous 15-inch rotors and oversized six-piston calipers. The stopping power generated by this combination is incredible. Thanks to the active braking systems, mashing the left pedal at higher speeds may be the closest I ever get to the feeling that a jet pilot experiences when landing on the deck of an aircraft carrier.
Welcoming Interior and Ample Capability
If the raw performance is a surprise, the amount of technology Jeep has stuffed into the Grand Cherokee and the sporty-yet-comfortable environment provided by the cabin is almost shocking. Yes, my nicely equipped test vehicle starts at $65,695, and with the $1,495 SRT Premium Laguna Leather, $1,995 rear dual-screen Blu-Ray player, $995 trailer hitch, $1,995 SRT High Performance Audio, $2,095 dual-panel panoramic sunroof, 20-inch black chrome wheels and three-season tires, the costs shoots up to $76,995 including destination fees. With an MSRP approaching $80,000, this Jeep is not exactly selling for pocket change.
For the price, you expect a high level of civility, and the luxury quotient found in Jeep’s top-trim Grand Cherokee rivals premium offerings from lauded brands like Land Rover, Infiniti and Lexus for significantly less money when comparably equipped.
Complementing the easy-to-use infotainment system and 19-speaker Harmon Kardon audio system is a truly family-friendly interior with plenty of passenger and cargo space. Active noise cancellation keeps the cabin quiet under normal driving situations. The front seats are capacious and the second row offers enough room for three adult passengers. Cargo volume is a spacious 35.1 cubic feet and is expandable to 68.7 cubic feet when the second-row seats are folded.
Towing is also a breeze thanks to the Jeep’s well-balanced suspension and incredible power. The 7,200-pound maximum trailer weight is enough to tow boats or a travel trailer, making the Grand Cherokee SRT one of the most enjoyable vacation vehicles on the road today.
An SUV That Deviates From the Norm
Quibbles are minor and mostly relate to the SRT’s expected mediocre fuel economy. While the 13 mpg city and 19 mpg highway are not terrible for the high-performance SUV segment, they will reach into your wallet more than you might want if you use the SRT as a daily driver. The other issue I had was the use of lightly colored matching stitching that Jeep used on the top of the dashboard. While it looks good, it causes a distracting reflection on the dashboard in the sun.
While there are plenty of newcomers in a constantly growing and changing crossover marketplace, the Grand Cherokee continues to shine with excellent styling and road manners. The SRT performance package takes the formula to the next level and sets Jeep’s midsize family-friendly vehicle apart from much of the crowd.
I would be hesitant to blindly recommend the SRT-powered Jeep to anyone, but I can whole-heartedly congratulate Jeep for building one of my all-time favorite crossovers. The sound of the engine and exhaust, the creature comforts, the easy-to-use and powerful infotainment and striking good looks are pretty tough to beat.
Well done, Jeep. Just make sure to send me the hinted-about 707-horsepower Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk when it hits the press fleet. If driving this SRT is brilliant, then an all-wheel-drive Hellcat SUV might become my favorite vehicle of all time.