Warning: Members of the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Defense Fund may want to turn the page right now-that is, if any one of you actually reads this magazine-because what you are about to read may not be suitable for anyone with a lifetime REI membership or who has walked the length of the AT or PCT (or who even knows what those acronyms mean). Here goes: Jeep has built a Grand Cherokee that is not trail-rated. In fact, we would advise you to not drive it off-road at all. That's because the Grand Cherokee SRT8 is Jeep's first high-performance, asphalt-crunching, tire-hooking bruiser.
Its ability to gobble mountain twisties or slurp up a drag strip is fun enough to make you choke on your granola. This was the hands-down acceleration king in the group. Not that we should be surprised. It's barely heavier than the SSR and powered by a 6.1L SRT Hemi V-8 that is mated to a five-speed automatic and full-time 4WD, and cranks out 420 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque. Lots of rear-end squat proved that this SUV was actually launching, and not simply driving, off the starting line. On the track that all amounted to a time of 5.15 sec from 0 to 60, and 13.81 sec at 100.93 mph, placing the Grand SRT8 as the leader of the pack.
That performance comes at a cost, however. We mentioned that the Grand SRT8 is not trail-rated. Heck, it hardly feels road-rated when that lowered and tuned-for-twisties, independent coilover front and five-link live-axle rear suspension smack like a cast-iron pan on any significant bump that you may hit on the highway.
The new WK body style lends itself to the on-road persona of the Grand SRT8. The front bumper cover and rear valance square off the Grand's normally trim, wedge-shaped outline, and the shorter windows, combined with the suspension height, make it look almost chopped. The 20-inch, five-spoke wheels look nice but could fill the wells a bit better. Dual center-exit exhaust punctuates the rear with a visible and audible exclamation point. It makes a raucous exhaust note that sounds exactly like what a performance vehicle should. (We confess it sounds better than even the Dodge Charger SRT we experienced during a press lead a few weeks before.)
The Grand SRT8 reminds us of the TrailBlazer SS that we evaluated for our "SUV of the Year" story in Issue 1. Both are more similar than different in their intent and execution in that they were fun to drive, and handle remarkably well for SUVs. It's ironic, however, that the Jeep-for all the brand's reputation for compact design that is better suited for tight turns on the trail than expansive passenger or cargo capacity-comes across as being the larger of the two. (In reality, they have almost the same dimensions.) This is the case from the standpoint of power, certainly, due to the larger engine, if nothing else; but it also owes to the styling of the body kit, the aggressive seat bolsters, and the authoritative exhaust note.
But back to the cost. The Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 comes in at around $45K. That's over $10,000 more than the Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 4x4 but in the same ballpark as the rest of the vehicles in this story and below the Range Rover Sport. For that you get the usual range of bells and whistles, too: traction control, Sirius satellite radio, navigation and flip-down DVD, Bluetooth hands-free cell phone interface, and more.
Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth; nor does lightning travel in a straight line. And neither must the fun-loving Jeep owner be consigned to the tyranny of the road less traveled.