When most people think of Jeep, they think of Wranglers plowing through mud and climbing over rocks. They don’t, however, think of a 470hp V8, 0-60 in 4.6 seconds, and surely not of a $65,000 price tag. Meet the 2014 Grand Cherokee SRT, a different sort of Jeep.
It caters more toward the realistic type of SUV buyer here in America, one who will probably never forge a stream in their life, but still wants a big car to go to the mall in. Understanding this sort of buyer will help you understand why the Cherokee SRT exists. The fact is, most buyers use SUVs in the exact same way they would use a car, and they wind up wanting the same things offered in cars. Just look at the BMW X6. It is both an SUV, as well as one of those coupe-sedan thingys, like the Mercedes CLS. Personally, I think the people who buy a vehicle like an X6 exude an especially repulsive level of vanity, but somehow BMW manages to sell enough X6s to make it worthwhile.
This sort of clientele purchasing SUVs has inevitably taken the emphasis off of off road ability, and put it on more traditional, car like, aspects. The result has been new SUVs that are basically just big cars, and it was only so long before someone said “Hey, can I have a fast one?”
Porsche basically started the trend of fast, high-end SUVs when they released the Cayenne Turbo, back in 2004. Now BMW makes M-versions of their X5 and X6, and Mercedes has their ML63 AMG and G63 AMG. This super SUV segment has become a lot like the super sedan segment (M5, E63, etc), and the Jeep you see here sits in the SUV realm right where the Cadillac CTS-V sits in the sedan realm. It is the bargain of the bunch, still with brutal performance, and a distinctly American flavor.
“Bad mother (shut your mouth)!!!” is the best way I can describe this Jeep. It is basically an sport utility muscle car, and it sure looks the part. People who are entirely car clueless may think it is just another SUV, but the bold styling makes the SRT pretty obvious to anyone who is even slightly car conscious. It has a wide, aggressive stance, and a mean looking facia that will ensure the Prius, doing 55 in the left lane, will get the hell up out of your way.
Badass is what a car like this should be. You can’t put performance like this in a big car, and then go and make it look friendly. If I’m buying a car with an SRT badge, I want intimidation to come standard. When I roll through town, I want to see communists run for cover, women lift up their shirts, and bald eagles to circle overhead….. ‘Murica!!!
Ok, fine, excessive patriotism aside, the Cherokee SRT does have a triumphant presence about it, one that will certainly make an entrance. It also definitely has the “rambo” aspect going on, so it will surely conjure an extra helping of hatred from people with “Baby on board” signs in their window as you fly past them at high speed…. letting them know exactly how little you care about their child, how… dare… you!
That $65k price tag is a tall order to fill in terms of build quality. The first generation Jeep SRT-8 was placed lower in the market at around $40k, but even so, I would still have been scolding it for feeling cheap for the money. Chrysler has much improved since 2006, though, and this new GC SRT passes the quality test in my opinion, at least to the extent that a CTS-V does.
The interior is nicely appointed with leather and suede on the seat, dash and doors. There is real carbon fiber trim, none of that fake crap, and the plastics and metals used elsewhere are all quite decent. The car I drove seemed pretty well loaded with options, including sat-nav, infotainment, and the new dual-pane panoramic sunroof. The interior also has a nice clean design all around, no excessive flare, but certainly quite handsome, and the red engine start button somehow seems to work.
The big bucket seats are phenomenally comfortable. You sink in nicely and they hug you well during corners. Back seat space is solid too, with seating for three people. A rear seat entertainment system is optional, if you already have kids, and there’s ample of room to make some, if you don’t. There is also a large amount of trunk space, as you’d expect from an SUV, so the Super Jeep retains all of its practical value, even though it is more of a muscle car at this point. Its like having your cake, and eating it too, but only after dousing it in some fiery hot sauce.
Push that almost tacky, red starter button, and the car shakes as V8 thunder bellows forth, then settles to a quite purr at idle. We roll off slowly, waiting in event traffic our way to the main road. This gives me a chance to get situated with the car, and for the Chrysler rep to tell me all about the new features.
The biggest new feature on the 2014 SRT is the addition of Chrysler’s ZF 8 speed automatic transmission. The new gearbox works well in each of its modes. Drive is your typical get in and go setting, and Sport makes the gearbox shift more aggressively, holding gears longer, and downshifting sooner on deceleration. Manual mode works via the paddle shifters behind the wheel, and the system is actually quite good. Shifts are quick and very responsive to your inputs, a huge improvement over the gearbox in my Dad’s old Magnum, which held gears to redline regardless of when you told it to shift. The Jeep also now features automatic throttle blips on downshifts, making for a smoother experience. Functionally the new 8 speed gearbox is excellent.
Ergonomically, the new transmission misses the bar by a mile. It is needlessly complicated, and becomes very confusing when you have to figure it out in traffic. For some reason Chrysler thought the typical “PRND” selector was too old fashioned, and replaced it with this awkward whale tail thing that sticks out of the transmission tunnel. It clicks up or down, and sometimes you need to press the button on the side, and sometimes you don’t. Whether you can get used to it or not, the point is that it isn’t very intuitive. Truly nothing is gained by getting rid of the traditional PRND selector, and this is definitely a case where they shouldn’t have messed with success. There are times in traffic when you need to get between Drive and Reverse quickly, so simplicity of operation is always the best way to go. This was my only big complaint about this Jeep, but it is something worth emphasizing.
The rest of the new electronic modes are very intuitive. There is a “Selec-Track” dial near the center armrest that can switch between driving modes. These modes are pretty self explanatory, and include Auto, Track, Sport, Tow, and Snow. Sport and Track modes tighten up the suspension, and loosen the boundaries of the driver assists (TC/SC). In Track mode, the driver assists can be shut off completely, and the torque split sends 70% of the engine’s grunt to the rear wheels (60% in Sport). Tow mode uses the suspension to help stabilize a load behind the car while on the move, and it can tow up to 7200lbs. All of this is made possible by an adaptive damping suspension from Bilstien.
You might notice the lack of an off-road setting, and that is because the SRT-8 isn’t really an off-road sort of Jeep. It has enough ground clearance and torque to hold its own on a light trail, sure, but if you want to do real off-roading, then you should look at one of the “lesser” Grand Cherokee models.
Naturally I spent most of my time in the Auto and Sport modes. Auto is what you will use for most drives, and allows for a good bit of play in the suspension over bumps. Click the dial over into Sport, and the chassis stiffens up like you wouldn’t believe. There is almost no body roll whatsoever, very weird to experience in a car so high off the ground. The steering response also becomes razor sharp, especially for an SUV. It is easy to accurately place on the road, and believe it or not, there was actually had some semblance of noticeable feedback coming through the wheel. In a big vehicle like this, you don’t expect fantastic driving dynamics to begin with, so it comes as a big surprise that this Jeep is actually quite good.
When you start the throw the Jeep around in Sport, it is astounding how well planted its chassis feels, especially considering how comfortably it rode in Auto mode. A 5100lb SUV is not what you’d think could ever be a model of handling composure, but Chrysler has worked some kind of magic with this SRT. It will go around corners, and it will be happy about it. Long sweepers will be more preferable than tight, back-to-back bends, but this Jeep will be competent either way. I was told by my Chrysler rep that Jeep SRT often trounces the Challenger SRT-8 during the autocross events they’ve held. I expected this Jeep to be fast, and I expected it to be pretty comfortable, but its handling competency was not on my list of expectations going into this drive. So with that, I applaud Chrysler for a job very well done.
If the handling was a pleasant surprise, strong performance from the engine was expected to be a strength. The 6.4L Hemi does a damn good job of propelling this big SUV at quite a rapid rate. I remember when the first Jeep SRT-8 came out, back in ’06, I couldn’t bring myself to believe such a huge car would do 0-60 in 5 seconds. The performance claims for the 2014 Jeep SRT are 0-60 in around 4.6 sec, the 1/4 Mile in around 13.6 sec, and a top speed around 165mph…. not bad for a big car with a large face.
Numbers only tell part of the story, though. The real strength of the Jeep is how the engine feels from the driver seat. It has the pulling power that people love from American V8s, and that makes its speed come easy, a little too easy for the law in most places. It throws you back in your seat with vigor, as soon as you get on the gas, and it doesn’t let off. The big V8 roars as it approaches redline, then you pull the right paddle and the savagery continues. The power feels immense, especially on normal roads.
Many people may say they think this Jeep is underpowered because “the Bimmer has 552hp”. Functionally, they couldn’t be more wrong. This Jeep is properly fast. After testing the Brembo brakes with a nice hard stop (they are fantastic by the way), I mashed the gas, and the Jeep just shot forward with a staggering level of acceleration. I didn’t bother with the launch control, so it could have been even faster, but the way this thing gets out of the hole is damn impressive. If 470hp isn’t enough for you, then just throw a supercharger or turbo kit on there, and you will blow the doors off of those Germans no problem.
I’d be lying if I said the Hemi Engine wasn’t the centerpiece of the GC SRT, but it is the way that the rest of its performance package supports the engine that really blows me away. The rest of the SRT lineup is made up of rear wheel drive cars that wind up spinning their tires with all this power. The Jeep, on the other hand, has all wheel drive, so it is able to turn all of its power into speed. The result is some very respectable and surprising performance. This thing will take corners pretty damn fast, and is able to use all of its power to slingshot itself out with a great amount of speed. While some of the other SRT models have been a little more about show than go, this Jeep uses every ounce of performance its 6.4L Hemi has to offer… in more than just a straight line too.
In the market
While $65k seems like a lot to spend on a Jeep, you have to keep in mind how much its competitors cost. The fact is, with its performance being so well rounded, the Jeep SRT will give the X5M, ML63, and Porsche Cayenne Turbo a serious run for their money. The thing is, though, the X5M costs $89k, the ML63 costs $96k, and the Porsche will set you back an astounding $110k, and those are all base prices without any options. So, the Jeep is very much the bargain of the bunch. In fact, it costs around the same amount of money as the standard V8 equipped Germany models (X5 xDrive50i, ML550, and Cayenne S), albeit without the hugely expensive options that pile up on top of the price.
The Jeep SRT offers a very solid value for your money, and the same basic package as any of the high performance German SUVs. If you are really concerned about being a little down on horsepower, aftermarket modifications can make things right for well within the $25k+ you’ll be saving over the Bimmer, and others. Also, many kits can get you over 600hp for under $10k, with the right size blower equipped of course. The Hemi is a solid motor to begin with, so it should be able to handle that sort of power without issues. So if you plan to spend around $75k, you will be able to show up all of those pretentious European models.
This Grand Cherokee SRT is a fantastic product from Chrysler. If you are a muscle car loving American, then you should be able to see that your tax dollars have been well spent. If you are more in the tree hugger, “baby on board” camp, then you will probably be furious because this Jeep mocks everything you stand for. It also happens to get pretty awful fuel economy, with an EPA 13 city/ 19 highway mpg, and it will surly dip well into the single digits if driven hard. Interestingly enough, even with these low mpg numbers the Jeep still manages to be more fuel efficient than both the BMW and Mercedes. That said, buyers of something like this do not have MPG on the brain. They intend to break laws and emissions regulations in the name of horsepower, and they don’t care what anyone thinks. The Jeep embodies that sort of outlaw attitude.
I just love cars like this, whose very existence is a huge middle finger in the face of the tight-wads in our society. This “Super Jeep” exudes badassary in a traditionally American sort of way, but now backs up its image with solid, all-round, performance. The Europeans can’t really thumb their noses at this one, because like the Corvette and the Viper, the Jeep SRT-8 is entirely competent in its segment. It is surely a solid purchase for anyone looking in the super SUV realm. Who would’ve thought a Jeep could be this good? If I wasn’t a believer before, I sure am now.
WoM Score: 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT
Primary Function: Performance: 2
Secondary Functions: Luxury(2) Practicality(2) MPG(1) 4×4(1): 1.5
Visual Appeal: 2
Build Quality: 2
Value for Money: 2
Final Score: 9.5/10