2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 Road Test

2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 Road Test

  • Full Review
  • Pricing & Specs
  • Road Tests (3)
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2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV

(6.4L V8 4x4 5-speed Automatic)

Ferris Bueller Would Drive One

Good advice is hard to come by in this world. But here's a golden nugget. Do something you love with your life, because first you're 20. Then you're 40. Then you're dead.

Too morbid? Then allow us to quote the great philosopher Ferris Bueller, who once said, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop to look around every once in awhile you could miss it."

That's the mindset behind the 470-horsepower, 6.4-liter, 160-mph, 5,000-pound, $60,000, 12-mpg 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8. This muscled-up SUV is about enjoying today, right this very moment. It's about wanting, reaching and grabbing. Pure automotive hedonism. And we absolutely love it.

Just the fact that Jeep will sell you such an automotive delectation in this age of four-buck gas and the politicized green movement is exactly what we're talking about. Your neighbor, your Oprah and your wallet may be telling you to get a Prius, but your soul wants this beast.

Let's go for a ride.

The Track Numbers
The last time we drove a 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 we spent an afternoon flogging it on the big track at Willow Springs Raceway. And we went home impressed with the Jeep's speed, stability and agility.

This time around we stayed away from the racetrack. Instead we spent two weeks with the Jeep doing the commute thing, the mountain road thing, the test track thing and the dry lake lets-get-it-dirty thing. After all that, we're still impressed.

This 5,000-pound behemoth lit up our test track. Jeep claims a 0-60 time of 4.8 seconds, a quarter-mile time in the mid-13-second range, 0.90g on the skid pad and 60 to zero in 116 feet. And for once a manufacturer's performance claims are right on.

At our test track, our dark gray Jeep hit 60 mph in 5.1 seconds with its traction control turned off (4.8 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and it tore through the quarter-mile in 13.4 seconds at 102 mph. Then it circled our skid pad at 0.87g and wowed us with a 67.2-mph run through the slalom.

It also stopped from 60 mph in 116 feet on the very first run. Then it got better, stopping from 60 in 112 feet on its fourth try.

Impressive? No doubt. But also a bit disappointing. The previous-generation Grand Cherokee SRT8 was about a tenth quicker to 60. Turns out an extra 50 hp can't quite overcome the new Jeep's extra 500 pounds.

We're also a bit disappointed this isn't the All-American German Slayer we were hoping for. Although it's no doubt a serious performer, the Jeep, which carries a base price of $54,470, is easily outperformed by the big-buck German muscle SUVs. Both the $87,000 BMW X5 M and the $107,000 Porsche Cayenne Turbo will smoke it in a straight line, and the Porsche outhandles the Jeep easily.

Real Competition
In its price range, the Jeep's only real performance competition is the 390-hp Infiniti FX50 S. Now, the FX doesn't perform quite as well as the Grand Cherokee SRT8, but it's not exactly left behind either. Again, the Cherokee's as-tested weight of 5,256 pounds and the tall gearing of its antiquated five-speed automatic transmission hold it back.

The Infiniti has less motor, but it weighs "just" 4,621 pounds and has a seven-speed transmission. It hits 60 mph in 5.5 seconds (5.2 seconds with rollout), and finishes the quarter-mile in 13.7 seconds at 101.5 mph.

When it comes to agility and road holding, however, the Grand Cherokee sets a new standard at this price point. Its 67.2-mph run through the slalom is essentially dead even with a BMW M3. This big biatch turns. Especially in Track mode.

Track mode is the most aggressive setting in the Jeep's five-mode Selec-Track system. Controlled by a large knob on the console, the Selec-Track system integrates with all systems that can affect performance — stability control, suspension damping, shift logic, torque split, rear LSD operation and more. Largely, its management of torque split and suspension damping yield the biggest influence in control.

The five settings are Auto, Sport, Track, Snow or Tow (it can pull 5,000 pounds). In Sport and Track Mode the truck's dampers are stiffened for more control, and its all-wheel-drive system sends more power to the rear wheels for additional agility. In Snow the torque split is 50/50 front to rear, but in Sport and Track it's 35/65.

Mountain Road
But on the street, the differences between Auto, Sport and Track settings are minor. Truth is, it doesn't really matter which mode you choose; the Jeep SRT8 takes to a mountain road like Hef to healthy blondes.

Body roll is very well controlled. Steering is intuitive and has good weighting. And turn-in is very quick. Jeep's engineers have dialed a slight bit of understeer into the truck's cornering behavior to keep you feeling confident, even at a serious pace with the ESC turned completely off. Finding the grip limits of the Jeep's 20-inch Pirelli P Zeros is fun, not terrifying.

And the AWD kills any dreams of power oversteer. Once you get this big beast turned, you just wood the throttle and hang on. If you drive it off the road backward, then you've mistakenly put it in Reverse. Even in Track mode its stability is remarkable.

But the best part may be under the hood. This 6.4-liter Hemi V8 is further proof of the power of the pushrod. It makes 470 hp at 6,000 rpm and 465 pound-feet of torque at 4,300 rpm. And it sounds as if Apollo tuned the exhaust. (Um, he's the god of music.)

Our only real dynamic complaint is the transmission's inability to match revs on the downshifts. Even when you use its well-placed paddle shifters, you get crude old-school downshifts that throw weight forward and shock the Jeep's drivetrain.

We complained about this same shortcoming during our flogging at Willow Springs last month. Jeff Roselli, the Jeep's lead development engineer, told us it is a "Chrysler Safety Office" issue. Apparently Chrysler's policy is to refuse to open the electronic throttle unless a request for more torque has been made by the driver. In other words, the lawyers win again.

Living With the Beast
That aside, this new Grand Cherokee SRT8 is a big bunch better than it was. It handles better, stops better, drives better and rides better. It's also built better and is more comfortable than the truck it replaces.

Remember that commute thing? Well, if you can live with the gas mileage (we averaged just 12.2 mpg during our two weeks, which includes two dirty dry lake flogs) this is great daily driver. It feels solid. Rides like a German performance sedan. And it has a luxurious quality missing from its predecessor.

Sure there are still a couple of plastic bits you wish were actual metal, but Jeep has gone the extra mile when creating this interior. The gauges are just right. The carbon-fiber trim is real. Heated front and rear seats and steering wheel are standard. The well-shaped sport seats are also power-adjustable, ventilated and covered in a suede/Napa leather combo that feels rich.

The only miscue is the chrome strakes added to the floor of the cargo area. They're a nice visual touch, but we found them to be easily scratched by stuff. After just two weeks they looked beat.

Other standard stuff includes a nav system, satellite radio, bi-xenon headlamps, bright pedals, the SRT Track Experience and power heated memory multifunction mirrors, because we all need those.

Paying for the Beast
Trouble is, all the added spiff comes at a price. The old Jeep Cherokee SRT8 started at about $41,000. That's nearly $15,000 less than this new version. Then you add the options to our test truck, which include a panoramic sunroof, a 19-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, a power liftgate, a blind-spot monitoring system and additional leather, and the sticker price climbs to $60,780. Back in 2007 we tested a loaded example that cost about $45,000. Sure, the new one is better than the old one, but $16,000 better?

Apparently we're not the only ones complaining about the price. Ralph V. Gilles, president and CEO of Chrysler's SRT brand, wrote on a recent Web chat that the automaker plans on "decoupling" some of the features to reduce the price on the high-performance SUV.

"Grand Cherokee pricing has been sensitive," Gilles acknowledged. "We understand."

"We will look at decoupling some of the features in the future as the usual new product surge subsides," Gilles wrote. "We will start with immediately decoupling the DVD and sunroof."

Whatever. Life is too short to worry about money. This thing is cool. Make more, please.

The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.

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The Edmunds TCO® estimated monthly insurance payment for a 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee in VA is:

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