What is it?
The Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT is the fastest and most powerful Jeep has ever produced, and it is utterly bonkers with it. Powered by a 6.4-litre Hemi engine that produces 461bhp and 460lb ft, it is the performance ‘halo’ model at the top of the American manufacturer’s Grand Cherokee range.
The SRT acronym denotes that the Grand Cherokee – which is great in standard form – has been worked over by Chrysler Group’s performance arm, Street and Racing Technology. The mission for SRT was to splice the performance and comfort of a high-class saloon with the all-wheel-drive practicality of an SUV.
The previous Grand Cherokee SRT had a 6.1-litre powerplant, which clearly wasn’t regarded as enough by Jeep. But the increase in capacity and performance isn’t the only change with this new Hemi. It also gets an active intake manifold and high-lift camshaft with cam phasing, which both help to optimise the power delivery across the rev range.
And although the Grand Cherokee SRT has the power to uproot mighty oaks, it also has one eye on hugging trees – a new ‘fuel saver’ system shuts off four of the eight cylinders when full power isn’t required. It’s an unobtrusive system – you only really notice due to the small ‘ECO’ symbol on the dash display. Still, this is by no means an eco-mobile, returning a claimed 20mpg on the combined cycle.
Helping this two-tonne 4x4 provide sporty handling is a steering system that’s been tuned for a more direct feel than a standard Jeep’s. The car’s active adaptive damping has been tuned by SRT, and is managed via the Selec-Track system that offers five modes: Track, Sport, Auto, Snow and Tow (the latter presumably being for those days when you want to combine flat-out hooning with load-hauling).
The aggressive styling adheres to SRT’s belief that every element of the design must be functional, not just for show. Compared to the base Grand Cherokee, the SRT is 25mm lower at the front and 35mm at the back. Together with a rear spoiler, flared wheel arches, black heat extractors on the bonnet, dual exhausts and a rear diffuser, it provides a muscular, aggressive stance, which is enhanced by the 20in five-spoke alloys the Grand Cherokee SRT rides on.
The interior is described by Jeep as ‘race-inspired’. That means there’s a leather steering wheel, SRT-badged Nappa leather and suede suits, a leather-clad gearknob, carbonfibre accents in the cabin and metal pedals.
What is it like?
Unsurprisingly, the Grand Cherokee SRT’s performance is as muscle-clad as the exterior styling.
The prodigious torque and power does mean that low-speed driving can be a slightly awkward, lumpen affair unless you’re blessed with the deft, delicate footwork of a Bolshoi Ballet graduate.
Find a more open, flowing stretch of countryside and things change dramatically. The engine sounds muted and feels distantly insulated until you proffer a substantial stab of throttle, at which point it turns into such a raging beast that you question the wisdom of waking it up in the first place.
It sprints from a standstill to 62mph in 5.0sec, and offers that pleasing, heart-fluttering push in your midriff as you press the loud pedal. SRT focused on ironing out any flat-spots in the Hemi’s power delivery; the result is a consistent wave of thrust that doesn’t show any signs of tailing off if you’re trying to stay the right side of the speed limit. Which takes some doing, because the SUV really does shift.
The five-speed auto box is adequate, although not as sharp as the products of some German rivals. The transmission can be flipped to manually operated paddle shifts, they’re only really a major benefit if you’re in the mood for pointing the Jeep’s nose down a twisty road.
When you’re barreling along, the Grand Cherokee SRT feels impressively fleet of foot for a vehicle that weighs 2360kg and is 4846mm long and more than two metres wide wing-mirror-to-wing-mirror.
Although the ‘Auto’ mode on the Selec-Track system continually adjusts the car’s set-up to suit the terrain, our test drive suggested that ‘Sport’ mode is better for all-round driving. True, you get a little less bump absorption, but the handling feels more direct and the Grand Cherokee SRT seems to wallow less. ‘Track’ mode, meanwhile, feels far too firm for most road conditions.
The vast cabin is appointed, with easy-to-read dials and screens and a no-nonsense, faff-free approach to major controls. It perhaps lacks the veneer of quality you get in, say, a BMW, but you do get a generous level of standard kit. Naturally you sit high, with a good straight-ahead view, although drivers who have to sit closer to the wheel and pedals might find that the chunky A-pillar severely restricts their view of oncoming traffic at junctions and roundabouts.
The sports seats offer good support during press-on driving, although that seems to come at the expense of cushioning, something that becomes apparent during longer motorway cruises.
A pair of enormous air ducts exaggerates the continent-sized feel of the bonnet, which dips steeply away from your eye-line in a way that leaves you always guessing precisely how wide the front flanks are.
Overall though, the Grand Cherokee SRT hides its size pretty well when you’re on the move.
Should I buy one?
Jeep has created a vehicle that stirs the senses with its muscular ability and imposing styling, even if it might be too bold for some tastes.
Having said that, our test drive in northern Italy suggested that, in practical terms, the Grand Cherokee SRT will make about as much sense on British roads as a penguin sanctuary in the Sahara.
You’ll get moaned at for taking up all the space in Tesco’s car park, oncoming drivers will scowl as you annex more than your fair share of single-track B-road and you’ll quickly be on first name terms with the attendants in your local filling station.
But when is buying a car like this ever going to be a decision based purely on practicality?
You get a lot of car for your cash, both in terms of physical size and equipment levels. A sunroof, powerful Harman Kardon stereo, satnav, Bluetooth and cruise control are all standard kit, as are safety features such as forward collision warning and blind spot detection (both extremely useful on a vehicle of this size).
Jeep is justifiably proud of the fact that the Grand Cherokee SRT offers a superior bang-for-buck ratio than all of its rivals in this sector, including the prestigious German brands. So it represents an accessible way into this segment... if you can afford the fuel bills.
Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT
Price: £58,995; Top speed: 160mph; 0-62mph: 5.0sec; Economy: 20mpg; CO2: 328g/km; Kerbweight: 2360kg; Engine type, cc: V8, 6417cc, petrol; Power: 461bhp at 6250rpm; Torque: 460lb ft at 4100rpm; Gearbox: 5spd automatic