2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8: Climbing Vail Pass
January 5, 2013
I was pretty disappointed when our long-term 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 reached the highest point on Vail Pass — 10,666 feet — and there was only an unassuming green highway sign to mark the milestone. There's not even a wide enough shoulder to pull over safely for a photo. What gives, people of Colorado?
Then, I realized that Vail is only the 14th highest highway pass in Colorado, and that list doesn't even include non-highway mountain passes like Mount Evans and Pikes Peak, which are over 14,000 feet. Meanwhile, crossing California's highest pass, Tioga Pass (9,943 feet) on Highway 120, always feels like a big deal (especially since it coincides with dropping 20 bucks to enter Yosemite's eastern gate) and has a distinctive wooden sign. Eventually, I settled for a photo next to this sign for the town of Vail at just over 8,000 feet.
Eight thousand feet is about where the Jeep's 6.4-liter V8 began to feel the altitude. You'll recall that our monstrously powerful SUV is rated at 470 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 465 pound-feet of torque at 4,300 rpm. In Southern California it spends at least 90 percent of its life loafing, with the other 10 percent spent at or near full throttle, at which point it's just explosive as the torque comes together rapidly... right, that's why we added it to our long-term test fleet.
On the higher-elevation sections of Interstate 70 in Colorado, the V8 has to work harder and doesn't feel like it has nearly as much power to spare. It's certainly not slow, but you start to forget that this is the special, larger-displacement, expensive V8 and wonder if maybe it's the ho-hum 5.7 liter.
While climbing Vail Pass, the engine was often around 4,000 rpm to keep a 70-75 mph pace. Those are big revs for a big V8 at a steady cruise. Fuel economy didn't suffer much, likely due to the lower speed limit through the mountains. It's often 65 mph or even 55, whereas earlier in the day, we'd been traveling in parts of Utah and Colorado where it's posted 75 or 80. My westbound trip through the pass netted the lowest mpg of the trip (13.3 mpg), but that was partly due to stop-and-go traffic caused by slippery roads and accident-related sightseeing (look, man, that car slid off the road).
Once we were back down around 5,000 feet in Denver for Christmas, our SRT8 Jeep felt like its old, overpowered self again. But at 10,000 feet, forced induction seems like a good idea no matter how much engine you have under the hood. I'm liking the idea of putting Blizzaks on our Focus ST about now.
One side note is that I like how the Jeep's five-speed automatic transmission is programmed. It's quick enough with downshifts when you need them, and it's smart enough to drop a gear when you're on the brakes headed downhill. And it will hold off on upshifting right away if it detects an enthusiastic/aggressive driving style.
Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 17,713 miles
Read the previous installment from the Jeep's Colorado road trip: 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 Long-Term Test: The Ride to Colorado