2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8

The idea of taking the suburb-conquering, Rubicon-busting Jeep Grand Cherokee and turning it into a star of your weekend track club is somewhat akin to putting sneaks on L. L. Bean and asking him to win the New York Marathon. One has to wonder, “What’s the point?”

You could attach Chrysler’s 470hp 6.4-litre HEMI V8 to a John Deere and be impressed with its performance. The Grand Cherokee SRT8 runs from 0-60 mph in 4.8 seconds and hits a terminal velocity of 160 mph. Those figures make it the quickest Jeep, ever. Its paddle-shifted five-speed automatic transmission makes the most of the engine’s prodigious thrust, while multi-displacement technology shuts down cylinders when the full fury isn’t needed. Still, with the SRT8 offering only 12/18 mpg city/hwy, you’d never call it frugal.

Asking stylists to turn the big n’ boxy Grand Cherokee into a performance beast worthy of this HEMI engine must have caused some soul searching within the studios of Chrysler’s design center. Being consummate professionals, they lowered the SUV an inch, attached monochrome wheel flares, and installed massive 20” alloys. A nose job includes LED running lamps, front splitter, and functional heat extractors in the hood. Though to be honest, most fellow highway travelers will only see the Jeep’s liftgate spoiler that improves downforce, and dual 4” chrome exhaust tips as the SRT8 streaks away.

Behind the steamroller wheels and Pirelli P Zeros are giant Brembo discs with red calipers. They’re capable of stopping the Grand Cherokee from 60-0 mph in only 116 feet. Much of the chassis was co-developed with the Mercedes M-Class, giving it a German heaviness, four-wheel independent suspension, and a full array of stability control electronics. Five modes of suspension adjustment control the handling for touring, track performance, snowy conditions, or towing. In Track mode, this bruiser serves up .90g on the skidpad – on par with many top-shelf sports cars. Quadra-Trac AWD shifts power to wheels with grip, though all drive modes bump and tug the steering wheel. It gets the job done, but you’re better off looking elsewhere if you want a luxurious ride.

Inside, the SRT8 is a pretty cozy place to travel. The heated/cooled leather front seats and heated rear perches grip your sides with thick bolsters and hold your rump with suede inserts. Carbon-fiber trim complements large analog gauges, and a heated steering wheel, power steering column, and touchscreen for navigation and audio are nice touches. There is also a handy rear camera. The 19-speaker harman/kardon audio system kicks out 825 watts of power to thump just about anyone within a ten-mile radius. Adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, and blind-spot monitoring systems are available. Enthusiasts will swoon over the SRT-exclusive Performance Pages that provide feedback for your steering input, horsepower, torque, acceleration, braking, and cornering. Take a pic (not while driving please!) and post it on your Facebook wall.

On the way to my parents’ for Christmas, I blasted by a long line of Conestogas clogging up the left lane. Those who didn’t respect the Jeep’s sinister snout soon bowed to its gathering wake. That’s pretty much the point of this truck. A Grand Cherokee SRT8 will never conquer the Rubicon Trail, and it’s barely adequate for hauling groceries. But it will make you laugh and scare the hell out of everyone else.

2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8
Five-passenger, AWD SUV
Powertrain: 470hp 6.4-litre V8, 5-speed automatic transmission
Suspension f/r: Adjustable Ind/Ind
Wheels: 20”/20” f/r
Brakes: Disc/Disc fr/rr with ABS
Must-have feature: Style, performance
0-60mph: 4.8s
Top speed: 160mph
Fuel economy (city/hwy.): 12/18 mpg
Manufacturing: Detroit, MI
As tested price: $55,295