While it may not have the cachet of its European rivals, it's just as quick and an absolute bargain in comparison.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT may be able to haul arse – to use a colloquial phrase common in its native America – but it’s one of few fast cars that can also tow up to three tonnes.
Although the flagship SRT launched here in 2012, the big news for this year is the addition of an eight-speed automatic to replace the five-speed unit that was the original’s biggest flaw.
At a very tempting $77,000 plus on-road costs, the SRT continues as the flagship model in the Grand Cherokee line-up. Curiously, however, it is only a relatively small step up from its $71,000 Overland sibling.
Forget about turbos and superchargers because size is the name of the game here. Under the bonnet, the SRT (short for Street Racing Technology) packs a whopping 6.4 litres of pure old-school American muscle.
The Jeep’s 344kW/624Nm V8 Hemi, now paired with that German-made ZF eight-speed auto, can shift this 2336kg monster from zero to 100km/h in 4.9 seconds – as quickly as a PDK-equipped Porsche Cayman S.
However, there are several equally formidable contenders in the exclusive go-fast SUV segment, although all of these command a sizeable premium over the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT.
Rival models include the $133,900 BMW X5 50i (5.0 second 0-100km/h), the $161,600 Range Rover Sport V8 HSE Dynamic (5.3sec), the $179,045 Mercedes-Benz ML 63 AMG that shares some platform DNA with the SRT (4.8sec) and the quicker $222,100 Porsche Cayenne Turbo (4.7sec) – all of which use forced induction to generate additional power over their less powerful counterparts.
The SRT’s in-house rival is the 5.7-litre V8 Grand Cherokee Overland and while its certainly not slow, it’s just not in the same league as its powerhouse sibling.
There’s no confusing the SRT Jeep with the standard Grand Cherokee – from the super-wide Pirelli run-flats on all-four corners shadowing the equally massive Brembo brakes (six-pot up front, four-pot down back), to the properly functional heat extractors either side of the bonnet bulge – this thing has got high-performance stamped all over it.
For 2014, the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT boasts a much-improved cabin design over the previous iteration, with plenty of stitched leather and real carbonfibre accents to satisfy the enthusiasts.
However, while soft-touch materials abound inside the SRT, there are also a few hard plastics that have a decidedly cheap look-and-feel to them. It’s no deal breaker, but it does expose the Jeep’s non-premium origins.
Along with its bona fide performance credentials, the SRT also boasts a feast of technology, as well as a virtual A-to-Z catalogue of luxury features.
Highlights include the Nappa leather and suede seats (heated and cooled front, and heated rear), SRT-design heated leather steering wheel with paddleshifters, 8.4-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation, seven-inch customisable gauge cluster, power tailgate, adaptive bi-xenon headlamps, rear-view camera with front and rear parking sensors, dual-pane panoramic sunroof and Chrysler’s Uconnect infotainment system.
Uconnect functions such as making or answering phone calls and sending and receiving text messages can be activated by voice commands, once the user’s smartphone is connected to the system via Bluetooth.
While the standard-fit 11-speaker sound system produces a perfectly reasonable note, it simply doesn’t compare to the $1200-optional 825-watt, 19-speaker Harman Kardon unit. Comprising nine tweeters, five mid-range speaker, two mid-woofers and three subwoofers, the audio hits the ear like a front row seat at a live concert.
There’s also something called SRT Performance pages, which displays performance data on the centre screen. For example, drivers can call-up a series virtual gauges that monitor things like g-forces, lap times and quarter-mile acceleration runs (handy if you intend taking your SRT to the Drag strip – watch this space) at the touch of a button.
As a full-size SUV, the SRT also boasts plenty of cabin space including a large boot area, as well as 60/40-split second row seats that fold almost flat. We easily loaded a 29-inch mountain bike (without removing the front wheel).
While the SRT’s cockpit is certainly a nice place to spend some time, it’s that killer engine under the bonnet that tends to dominate the driving experience.
Hit the bright red start button and the 6.4L hemi immediately settles into a classic muscle car-style burble that merely teases its potential fury.
Mated to a hair-trigger throttle, even medium-weight prods can produce neck-snapping acceleration from low revs.
Drop the right boot, though, and the big SRT squats down before a catapult-like blast-off, as well as a soundtrack to rival some of the world’s best sports cars.
Just don’t expect to light up the extra-wide Pirellis down the back – even in the hard-core track mode. That’s despite 70 per cent of the engine’s torque being delivered to the rear wheels in this setting.
It’s all down to the Jeep’s instant all-wheel-drive traction and electronic limited-slip differential, which effectively eliminates any potential tyre-frying moments.
It’s smooth, too, with the eight-speed transmission changing gears with the same effortlessness as a high-end Euro sedan.
To fully unleash the SRT’s rage though, simply knock the electronic shift lever down a notch to the Sport mode and tap the paddleshifters for quicker and more intense cog swapping along with rev-matched throttle blipping on the downshift.
If you’re at the track, we suggest you take full advantage of the SRT’s Launch Control feature for the fastest straight-line acceleration runs. As with many systems, press the dedicated button, left foot on the brake (with engine idle settling at 2000rpm), drill the right pedal, raise your left foot again, and you’re gone.
However, fuel economy is another feature that probably won’t be top-of-mind for the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT’s target audience. This is one hell of a thirsty beast, no matter how gentle you are with the throttle.
Even trundling around in the dedicated Eco mode with cylinder deactivation at its most ‘green’ we still had an average fuel consumption reading of 19.6L/100km. Floor it, and you’ll see the instant consumption meter climb to 99.9L/100km.
The Jeep’s Selec-Trac drive-mode control also manages the SRT’s adaptive suspension system and while the default ‘auto’ mode provides the most comfortable (but firm) ride, the Sport and Track settings could be more aptly labeled as firmer and rock hard, in the case of the latter.
The upside is that you can seriously punt this thing into corners without so much as a single degree of roll – or so it feels. It’s an impressive performance for something that resembles an apartment block on wheels and is further enhanced by the SRT’s solid grip levels.
Apart from the boat-like 3.6-turns from lock-to-lock, the Jeep’s old-school hydraulic power steering system is a welcome change from the more common electric units, given there’s decent feedback through the steering wheel. Tight car parks can mean lots of arm twirling, however.
Braking performance is exceptional. The six-piston Brembo calipers at the front and four-piston Brembos at the rear not only stop the heavyweight SUV with authority, but the brake pedal is firm and very trustworthy – even in the wet.
Along with the brakes, the SRT also gets the latest safety tech including Adaptive Cruise Control, Blind Spot Monitoring, Cross Path Detection and Forward Collision Warning, which alerts the driver to rapidly approaching traffic and automatically applies brake if the driver ignores the visual and audible warnings.
If you’re after a luxury SUV that delivers ballistic straight-line performance on a budget, then there’s only one choice, the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT.
While the competition may boast more refinement and more brand cachet (for some) they won’t be any less practical than this weapons-grade Jeep.