What makes the 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT so appealing? Is it the raucous exhaust note that mimics the sound of rolling thunder? Is it the ridiculous way in which it piles on speed relentlessly when you mash the throttle? Is it the fact you have proper launch control? Or is it simply the fact you can roll around town in an SUV Q ship with only those in the know aware of the potency that lurks beneath your right foot?
I reckon it’s a little of all of the above…
We recently drove the SRT – and the off-road focused Trailhawk – extensively at the ‘local’ Australian launch in NZ. What became immediately apparent was the ludicrous duality of the SRT. Like all great V8 engines, the SRT’s Hemi can be tapped to cruise the streets effortlessly, but nail the throttle pedal and things start to happen very quickly. Now, we get to sample the SRT on local roads.
Priced at just under 100 grand, the SRT is hardly ‘cheap’ but take a look at the numbers and it becomes apparent you need to spend a lot more on competitor performance SUVs to attain similar levels of performance. The SRT starts from $91,000 before on-road costs, and doesn’t need a slew of options added to the equation, either.
The engine is a ballistic missile in the tradition of all great performance V8s and ensures the SRT is the second-fastest Jeep ever released. 6.4 litres of Hemi bent-eight generates 344kW at 6250rpm and 624Nm at 4100rpm and will propel the SRT from 0-100km/h in 4.9 seconds. It’s not quite as thirsty as you might think either, using an ADR-claimed 14.0L/100km on the combined cycle. Over our week behind the wheel we used an indicated 16.1L/100km, with the tail end of our driving all around town.
The big V8 is backed by an excellent eight-speed automatic, there’s AWD, different drive modes (Auto, Sport, Tow, Track and Snow) and suspension settings and the aforementioned launch control. We tested that at Pukekohe Raceway and it allows you to get the hefty SRT out of the hole with serious pace. Furthermore, 90 per cent of peak torque is available between 2800-6000rpm meaning there’s a heavyweight punch from just off idle.
The cabin is impressive in both execution and comfort. Seats trimmed in contrasting leather and Alcantara (that also feature contrast stitching) are both comfortable and beautifully trimmed. The front pews are heated and cooled, something buyers will appreciate at each end of the weather spectrum. The U-Connect infotainment system doesn’t feature Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, but the media connection works well and Bluetooth is clear and reliable. Plug your phone in directly via the USB port and you don’t need to stream your music via Bluetooth.
The driving position is excellent, aided by electric seat adjustment and solid visibility fore and aft. The seats themselves are sculpted enough to be serviceable on a race track, but not so much that they seem a little stupid for day-to-day use. Taller drivers will be able to lower the seat enough to sit down into the cabin, while those of you who like a higher riding position will be able to lift the seat up to where you want it.
I like the SRT’s cabin too, in that it isn’t drowning in a complicated sea of buttons and switchgear. The controls it does have are easy to decipher and there’s nothing there that doesn’t need to be there. The touchscreen is responsive and clear, and the steering wheel controls are also well laid out.
Front cabin storage and amenities are well catered for, the door bins are large enough for bottles and the like, and the centre console bin will also swallow items like phones, keys and sunglasses. The cabin feels sporty enough to match the SRT badging then, but isn’t too confined or cockpit-like.
There’s more than enough room in the second row for two adults or three teenage children, and there’s ample luggage space for a family as well. In all-round terms, the cabin is solid, quiet and insulated, delivering on the premium sensation the pricing would indicate. It’s not at Mercedes-Benz level for example, but then the pricing isn’t at that level either.
The engine, assessed on its own, is a work of art. We love V8 engines at CarAdvice and the modern Hemi is a sensational, hairy-chested V8 in the grand tradition of American iron. Sure it’s more efficient, refined and well behaved around town than ever before, but it retains a wild side that we all love in a performance V8. Pin the throttle and it bellows to redline, the sumptuous soundtrack matched by the merry dance of the speedo needle, which sweeps round the dial at warp speed.
We also tested the SRT’s track chops at launch and it’s a stark reminder of just how far modern engineering has taken the SUV. That you can drive something this heavy and unwieldy at speed on a racetrack with relative precision is genuinely hard to get your head around.
As you thunder out of one corner, hit the brakes to wash off speed and balance the SRT for the next, turn in and ease back on the gas, you’re trying to compute how you can do all that as if you’re driving a nimble sports car. It’s not quite a razor blade in precision terms obviously, but it's an almightily fast SUV on the right piece of road.
The steering deserves mention here too. Through the meaty wheel, there’s a certain neutrality to the system at low speed, but it loads up perfectly the faster you push the SRT. Such that on a track, it feels precise and assured, never too light or floaty. We dialled up speeds at the track that had the SRT squirrelling and twitching around, especially under hard braking, but the steering never lost its solid sensation.
The Pirelli Scorpion tyres (a meaty 295/45ZR20) bite hard into the tarmac and we would be remiss to overlook the extra capability the 4WD system brings to the equation. The overall result is an extremely capable SUV that can be driven way harder than our speed limits in Australia will allow and, perhaps most crucially, can be accessed safely.
The suspension system is likewise excellent across all conditions too. Pukekohe is a bumpy track, and the SRT never felt like it was about to bounce off the hot mix no matter how hard we attacked the main straight. The roads around Auckland are much smoother than the majority of our appalling urban network though, and the SRT continued to shine once we got out into the cut and thrust of Sydney. Some sports SUVs border on – or indeed cross over – the too firm line, but the SRT isn’t one of them.
When you’re cruising – a lot more sedately – around town, the SRT is beautifully behaved and comfortable. The 20-inch wheels and tyres don’t transmit a harsh ride into the cabin, there’s no banging or crashing and nothing to interrupt the general comfort or ambience. The steering is as enjoyable at low speed as it is when you’re really cranking – something urban buyers will appreciate when it comes to reverse parking and three-point turns.
While the SRT is no shrinking violet, it’s one of those SUVs that seems to reduce in size the more you drive it. It certainly doesn’t feel hefty or oversized from behind the wheel, even in the CBD, and all-round visibility is excellent. It’s easy to park, easy to get in and out of, and easy to position in tight laneways. Even though it’s ensconced comfortably in the large SUV segment, it’s not one of the gaggle that feels especially huge and out of place.
When Jeep set out to deliver the SRT, the company wanted to provide a properly hardcore, V8-powered performance SUV that didn’t have a stratospheric price tag. That price tag is reserved for the soon-to-be-released Trackhawk variant.
With the SRT though, Jeep has done exactly what it set out to do and it’s hard to find another SUV with the same explosive force for the same outlay. In ‘fit for purpose’ terms the SRT is a resounding winner. If the humble American V8 appeals to you, there’s no competition. The Jeep Grand Cherokee is a real wolf in sheep’s clothing.