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2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8: A well-mannered brute

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SRT stands for Street and Racing Technology, Chrysler’s performance vehicle division. Note that this division is run by Canada’s own Ralph Gilles. Although no one thought to add “trails” to the acronym, that didn’t stop the powers that be at Jeep from designing an SRT8 version of its Grand Cherokee. I know, it doesn’t really make sense and a bit like the case of the Mercedes-Benz ML 63AMG – a high-performance SUV – it’s hard to justify. But passion and logic don’t always go hand-in-hand, do they?

A 470-hp Hemi engine!
If you want to tow a trailer, go for the Grand Cherokee with the 5.7-litre V8. Its 360 horses are more than up to the task. What’s more, this engine guarantees good performances and reasonable fuel consumption for this sort of vehicle.

But if you want to be able to race from 0-100 km/hr in just 4.9 seconds, cover the quarter-mile in a little more than 13 seconds and reach a maximum speed of 255 km/hr, you’ll need an even more powerful engine. Enter the 6.4-litre V8 HEMI producing 470 horses and 465 lbs-ft of torque. This engine features Fuel Saver Technology (FST) which deactivates half of the cylinders in certain circumstances in order to save fuel. While the FST is very efficient, five-speed gearbox is lamentable, as it does nothing to reduce fuel consumption. Hopefully, an eight-speed automatic will be offered in a few months.

Since this engine generates 50 more horses than the previous SRT8’s 6.1-litre HEMI, the engineers tweaked the platform to make it more rigid. The independent rear suspension has also been updated and the brakes have been improved enormously. Thanks to the magic at Brembo, the high-performance brakes specialist, this beast comes to a full stop in less than 35 metres. But to make the braking distance so staggeringly short, high-performance brake pads were needed. Unfortunately, they produce black dust that dirties the alloy rims.

Luxury
When we got into this vehicle, two things impressed us right off the bat. The first was the purring of the engine, whose only desire, it seems, is to roar into action. The second is the quality of the materials and finish in the passenger compartment. The simulated carbon fibre band around the dashboard is a good indicator of the care that went into it. Furthermore, the seats feature oversized lateral ridges for extra support. The leather-covered steering wheel is comfortable and heated when needed.

If you like sunroofs, you’ll love what the Grand Cherokee has to offer. Basically, it seems to have everything. But that’s what you’d expect given that the base version sells for nearly $60,000. Note that two or three options packages are available for an extra $4,000 to $5,000. With that in mind, this car seemed to be worth the price, at least in terms of presentation and equipment.

Very docile
Not long ago, a vehicle with all these features and so much power would have been a tough beast to tame. These days, nothing could be further from the truth. Despite all the horses under its hood, the Grand Cherokee SRT8 is very docile. Of course, a little judgement is required, as pressing the accelerator will cause it to spring forward.

Nonetheless, the suspension is very comfortable, its handling is predictable in turns, and it’s fun to drive at any speed.

The secret to its handling is the Selec-Track system that manages various suspension, shifting and all-wheel drive settings. The driver can choose between five different driving modes: Auto, Sport, Tow, Track and Snow. All you have to do is turn a big button on the central console to select the best setting for the situation. You should also note that you can change gears using shifters located behind the wheel.

Basically, the overall assessment would be extremely positive, if not for the rather high fuel consumption. Try as I might to control my right foot and the gusto with which it pressed the accelerator, my average fuel consumption was still a little more than 20 L/100 km. Even on the highway, fuel consumption remained high at 13.2 L/100 km. And that’s a tough pill to swallow when you know that there are many more fuel-efficient sports cars out there. For instance, the Chevrolet Corvette, although not a heavy SUV, has much better fuel economy.

As hard as it is to justify its existence – not to mention its purchase – the Grand Cherokee SRT8 is quite impressive. But it becomes less and less relevant as fuel prices continue to increase. Nonetheless, the engineers who worked on this beast have earned their stripes.

Evaluation

Test model 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee
Trim level SRT8
Price range $37,995 - $63,995
Price as tested $62,995
Warranty (basic) 3 years / 60,000 km
Warranty (powertrain) 5 years / 100,000 km
Fuel economy (city/highway/observed) 19.6 / 13.1 / 20 l/100km
Options Harmnan Kardon audio system, Trailer Two Group
Competitive models Ford Explorer, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota 4Runner
Strong points
  • Spectacular performances
  • Selec-Track System
  • Excellent handling
  • Improved finish
  • Efficient all-wheel drive
Weak points
  • Very high fuel consumption
  • Model is hard to justify
  • Display screen is sometimes hard to read
  • Steep price

Editor's rating

Fuel consumption 2.0/5 The oil companies are going to love you
Value for price 4.0/5 A nice achievement all things considered
Styling 4.5/5 I like this shape inspired by Jeeps of the past
Comfort 4.0/5 Seats offer good lateral support, the suspension well calibrated
Performance 5.0/5 Wow!
Overall 4.0/5 You can criticize the existence of this vehicle, but not the execution
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