Performance is a popular catchphrase being used by every car and truck manufacturer, however, there are varying methods of engineering, marketing, and eventually delivering that seat of the pants feel we all desire. No better example of this different ideology is apparent than in the new 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 and Dodge Durango R/T. Think of the SRT8 as the All-Pro linebacker with freakish speed and strength, while the Durango R/T is the all-purpose running back that does every task well, but won't be dropping any jaws in the scouting combine. After a week with each SUV, we came away impressed to see the direction and definition of performance from the Chrysler family tree.
JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE SRT8
$63,975. That's the as-tested price of our SRT8 press fleet mule. Now that you've been hit in the gut by that staggering blow, here's what that price will get you: 470 awhp, 0-60 mph in a mind-blowing 4.6 seconds, luxurious cabin that outclasses its competitors, and a chassis that will inspire so much confidence you'll look in the rearview mirror expecting to see Jimmie Johnson behind the wheel. If Sir Isaac Newton were alive today, he'd have to go back and review his laws of gravity and motion. This 5,223-pound SRT8 shouldn't be this quick, agile, or invigorating—but it is.
A drastic improvement upon the uncivilized first generation SRT8, the redesigned chassis is more compliant when desired and track-ready when needed, thanks to its on-the-fly Selec-Track suspension system. Traction control can be manually overridden, and when "Track" is selected on the suspension rotary dial, the SRT8 turns into an all-out, fire-breathing, Hemi-powered machine that boys grow up dreaming about. When it's time to load up the family, turn the dial to "Auto" and cruise in comfort. Never has transforming the attitude and performance of a daily driver been so easy. We've officially renamed it the "Fun Dial."
Inside the cabin, Jeep's class-leading interiors are on full display with splashes of real carbon fiber adorning the door panels and dash, real brushed aluminum providing the contrast against a black vinyl-lined dash, and a thick leather-covered steering wheel with paddle shifters for the five-speed auto, featuring audio and cruise control buttons flanking the horn button. Always a joy to occupy, the Nappa leather and suede-covered SRT8 seats are both comfortable and supportive—a combination which is a must for this machine. A 19-speaker, SRT-specific Harman Kardon surround sound system tries its best to overpower the sweet sound of the 392ci V-8. It does an admirable job of reproducing the Top Gun theme music before unleashing the Hemi in a very uneventful AWD launch from stoplight to stoplight. Speaking of that Hemi engine, it's amazing.
An impressive 90 percent of the 465 lb-ft of torque is available between 2800 to 6000 rpm, making it an ideal freeway cruiser, with passing power always on tap. That endless power comes from an SRT-tuned 6.4L with Fuel Saver Technology, though you'll feel all those ponies in another area, primarily your wallet. Our week-long tester returned 11.2 mpg. Poor mileage doesn't bother you once all 470 hp transfer to the Pirelli run-flat–equipped 20-inch forged SRT-specific wheels. Via a torque vectoring, electronic limited-slip differential, it keeps the power planted in all conditions. From a dead stop, most "performance" cars and especially SUVs will only see the LED taillights, and at the drag strip, the Jeep hits the lights in 13.3 seconds at 103 mph. Velocity like that requires an equally impressive braking system, and with six-piston Brembo calipers clamping 15-inch rotors up front, and matching four-piston pods units out back, the SRT8 comes to a halt from 60 mph in a neck-snapping 106 feet.
Styling cues are aggressive, yet not over-the-top boy racer. LED daytime driving lights provide high-end European flair, which is only amplified by the HID lamps, dual-scoop heat extractor hood, and large dual exhaust. Safety was also a top priority with the SRT8, which includes blind spot monitoring, ready alert braking, and optional adaptive speed control.
Driving the SRT8 induces a virtual split personality as your normal, everyday-self takes a backseat to your fun side that your ex-girlfriend was always bringing up during fights. Speed unlike anything else made by an American SUV manufacturer, handling bewildering the mind, and grip that is addictive, the SRT8 was described in the logbook by one editor as, "A wolf in wolf's clothing." The SRT8 takes Hemi power, mixes in smart AWD, and forces its competitors to keep up. Eating dust isn't fun, just ask all the other sports car drivers we left in our wake.
"Behind the wheel of the SRT8, visions of a high-end sports car come to mind, not a 5,223-pound SUV.
" –Editor Dan Ward
2012 Grand Cherokee SRT8
Year Make Model: 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8
Base Price: $60,960
As-Tested Price: $63,975
Type: 6.4L OHV V-8
Compression Ratio: 10.9:1
Horsepower: 470 @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 465 @ 4300 rpm
Recommended Fuel: Premium Unleaded
Layout: Front engine, AWD
Transmission: Five-speed Auto W5A580
Brakes: 15-inch front/ 13.8 rear disc
Wheels: 20x10-inch forged
Tires: 295/45R20 Pirelli run-flat
Tow Capacity: 5,000 lbs
0-60: 4.6 seconds
¼-mile: 13.2 @ 103 mph
60-0: 106 feet
Observed Gas Mileage: 11.2
"The R/T is the ideal road trip cruiser for the whole family, while providing a spirited driving experience when the road calls for it." –Feature Editor Maxwell Matthewson
2012 DURANGO R/T
Reborn with a completely new design and chassis for the 2011 model year, the 2012 Durango is the best evolution of Dodge's sole fullsize SUV. Checking all of the Dodge performance boxes is the R/T model, complete with monochromatic paint, lowered and beefier suspension, interior trim upgrades, and much like its platform-sharing Grand Cherokee cousin, a Hemi V-8 under the hood. Responding to its drivetrain critics by receiving a new six-speed automatic transmission, the new R/T also features improved fuel mileage, quicker steering, and specific R/T badges to separate it from the more mundane Durango models. All of that sounds fine and dandy, but how does it compare to the no-holds-barred SRT8? The answer may surprise you.
We've condemned the Durango in the past for having a thirsty 5.7L Hemi mated to a sluggish four-speed auto, and even in 2011, the revised Durango could only be had with five cogs. For the new Durango, we welcomed the six-speed auto with manual mode as it boosted fuel mileage by a full mile per gallon. It may not sound like much, but combine that with shorter, crisper shifts, and the trans doesn't eat up the Hemi's power—meaning a quicker Durango, and one that has an extended fuel range. Progress indeed.
Seat time in the R/T was a pleasant surprise as the cheap materials from the previous generation Durango were tossed in the waste bin and replaced with softer, more pleasant textures including perforated red and black R/T-specific seats, red-stitched door panel armrests, and thick leather-wrapped steering wheel. A 40GB media center plays all of the popular media formats, and a 6.5-inch Garmin-based navigation screen makes getting to new destinations a breeze. Other interior accoutrements include a power sunroof, revised gauges, and Uconnect hands-free system. Second row seating is comfortable with plenty of legroom, while the third row doesn't induce claustrophobia from average-size adults. All in all, the R/T's cabin is a good combination of luxury meeting livability.
"As a fan of the previous generation Durango's versatility, I'm pleasantly surprised with the new interior materials, fit and finish, and closer attention paid to the details." –Editor Dan Ward
Handling was also addressed, with the most obvious change being the new unibody construction. Despite the 0.8-inch lowered ride height and stiffer coil springs, the Durango does an excellent job of providing a smooth ride with confidence when the road begins to get twisty. Thanks to a 50/50 weight bias and rear load-leveling air suspension, cornering doesn't induce truck-like body roll, rather a certain amount of flow is introduced that is more commonly found in the crossover market. With the Hemi under the hood, the Durango can tow up to 7,400 pounds, making it a truly versatile SUV, and outmatching the sportier SRT8 by 2,400 pounds.
The Durango's 5.7L Hemi produces 360 hp and 390 lb-ft and propels the rear-wheel-drive R/T to 60 in 7.0 seconds, while going down the quarter-mile in 15.1 seconds at 93 mph. Not too shabby for an SUV marketed as a family hauler with attitude. Given the Durango R/T's $38,065 as-tested price, we'd have a hard time arguing against an SUV with HID headlights, two-tone leather-trimmed seats, and a thirst-conscious Hemi. Whereas the SRT8 is chock-full of performance inside and out, if your appetite doesn't hunger for a sports car cloaked in an SUV's body, the well-rounded and sporty R/T may just edge the Jeep for family bragging rights.
Year Make Model: 2012 Dodge Durango R/T
Base Price: $35,795
As-Tested Price: $38,065
Type: 5.7L OHV V-8
Compression Ratio: 10.5:1
Horsepower: 360 @ 5150 rpm
Torque: 390 @ 4250 rpm
Recommended Fuel: Regular Unleaded
Layout: Front engine, RWD
Transmission: Six-speed Auto 65RFE
Brakes: 13.8-inch front 13.0 rear disc
Tires: 265/50R20 Kumho
Tow Capacity: 7,400 lbs
0-60: 7.0 seconds
¼-mile: 15.2 @ 93 mph
60-0: 122 feet
Observed Gas Mileage: 17.1