– Handsome styling
– Cabin space and features
– Power and handling
– Limited offroad cred
– Fuel consumption
– No third-row option
Imagine that, just a couple of decades ago, there was no such thing as a fast luxury SUV. Today, the Germans seem to be dominating that niche with overpriced heavy-machinery. But going up against this European onslaught with their sole warrior — the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT. Based on Chrysler’s midsize 4×4, the SRT version is a spectacular testament to what the Americans are capable of.
Redesigned in 2011 and facelifted in 2014, the Jeep Grand Cherokee is a handsome SUV. Differences between the regular and the SRT version are minimal at best, with slightly wider fenders, unique wheels and bespoke bumpers. The facelifted model got new LED running lamps integrated within the HID headlights as well as LED tail lamps.
Inside the muscular-looking SRT, the cabin looks very similar to a top-spec Grand Cherokee, with its common 8.4-inch touchscreen and its stitched-leather dashboard, with the only differences being the faux carbon-fibre style trim, the slightly-meatier steering wheel and the beefy sports seats up front.
Build quality is generally very good, more so than rival American brands, except for a couple of unevenly-fit cabin panels. Aside from the faux carbon-fibre, the interior makes good use of leather upholstery, metallic-look plastics, padded surfaces, and soft-touch plastics all over, with hard plastics used only in panels below hip-level. The SRT even has the three-letter logo stitched on the leather/alcantara combo seats, a stitched-leatherette dashboard and a chunky thick-rimmed steering wheel.
The Grand Cherokee has grown over the years, and that extra girth pays dividends in cabin volume. Headroom is good, as is legroom both front and rear, although not as abundant as larger 4x4s such as the Prado or the Pajero. There isn’t any third-row seating either, although the Grand Cherokee was always meant to be a premium 5-seater.
The front bucket seats are wide but with thick bolstering and power-adjustable controls, while the rear is a 60:40 split-folding bench with three headrests. There is no shortage of uncovered cup-holders in the centre armrests and bottle-holders in all the doors, while the boot area is sizeable.
The Grand Cherokee SRT comes with a good bit of gadgetry, headlined by the UConnect touchscreen for the navigation system, Bluetooth phone and multimedia hard-drive, all easy to use and even partially voice-controllable. The CD/MP3 stereo with subwoofer sounds good enough, with USB and AUX ports. Other features include a sunroof, cruise control, average dual-zone a/c with rear vents, front and side-curtain airbags, ventilated front seats, HID headlights, rain-sensing wipers, rear camera with all-round sensors, cargo net and more.
Powered by a 6.4-litre V8 that makes 475 hp at 6000 rpm and 630 Nm of torque at 4300 rpm on tap via all-wheel-drive and an 8-speed automatic shifted via paddles or a knobby electronic gear-selector that was part of the 2014 updates, replacing the old 5-speed. That new gearbox finally helped the new Grand Cherokee SRT outrun the lighter previous-gen model, as we got a 0-100 kph time of 5.0 seconds during May weather. We didn’t try the 255 kph top speed.
The new automatic features two modes — Drive and Sport — which alter the transmission’s characteristics independently from the vehicle’s numerous “Selec-Track” driving modes, including Auto, Sport, and Track. Torque distribution in the various modes ranges from 50:50 to 30:70, the latter in Track mode.
The Jeep SRT is one gut-kicker of an SUV, although the power delivery is linear as the revs build up, different from what one would feel with a turbocharged engine where all the juice is dumped on the road early. The smooth unconfused 8-speed shifts quickly and clearly improves acceleration, although our test fuel economy was still an expectedly-high 18.8 litres/100 km.
The handling is superb for such a relative behemoth, generally flat and stable around most corners, although tighter ones bring out the understeering tyre-squeal early compared to a real sports sedan. The European super-SUVs can probably outrun it, but then again, you’re getting the Jeep for almost half the price.
Grip comes from the ultra-wide 295/45 tyres wrapping those 20-inch alloys. The firm steering offers passable feedback on occasion, but very little most of the time. The big Brembo brakes are very strong and linear in pedal response.
Surprisingly, the highway ride is firm but still very compliant on most surfaces, with only a hint of firmness that’s no worse than the average BMW X5. Wind and road noise never go beyond moderate levels at 140 kph, but the engine’s subdued hum will always be audible.
There’s no question of going off-road with this Jeep, as it comes with neither the ground-clearance nor the low-range gearing of its cheaper siblings. It’s unfortunate, really, as it would’ve been a monster on the dunes, but Jeep saw it better to remove the weight of off-road equipment. It can still hit the beach and gravel trails, so not all adventure is off the table.
Still, almost all its rivals are strictly on-road demons as well. The difference is that the Jeep SRT is almost as quick, just as much fun and much better value than anything else in its class. Would we recommend it? Well, we generally don’t recommend SUVs that can’t go offroad, but we came pretty close to buying one ourselves, until deciding at the last minute that we really need a third-row seat for our family-hauling purposes. That’s as close to an endorsement as you’ll get from us.
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