By Bruce Caldwell
The Jeep image has always been one of ruggedness. The brand is so synonymous with off road performance that people unfamiliar with a particular SUV’s identity are most apt to call it “a Jeep type vehicle.” Jeep’s stellar reputation was established during World War II and maintained and enhanced in both civilian and military markets ever since.
In addition to their underlying toughness, modern Jeep products have become increasingly sophisticated and luxurious. Among the various Jeep products the Grand Cherokee is the outright leader in combining high tech performance, luxury, utility, and all-weather safety with legendary off road capability. The Grand Cherokee comes as close as any current vehicle to being a true all-purpose vehicle.
One irony of the current Grand Cherokee is that its luxury content makes most owners leery of tapping its off road potential. We’ve driven Grand Cherokees on steep, muddy, rock strewn, and rut filled terrain that we never would have attempted if the factory rep hadn’t been in the passenger seat urging us on. The Grand Cherokee never hesitated or even breathed hard.
Validation for the Jeep Grand Cherokee has come in the form of many impressive media awards including top honors at the Northwest Automotive Press Association’s 2013 Northwest Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year event. The 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland won the Best Luxury category and the Best Overall award.
The Grand Cherokee is available in a wide range of trim levels and engines all the way from the little 2.4-liter I-4 to a thrifty 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6 to the super quick SRT. We tested the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT with a thundering 470 horsepower 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 under the scooped and vented hood.
Walkaround: The 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT is a handsome, muscular SUV. It has a lower, more aggressive stance than other Jeep products, because it’s designed to hug the highway rather than dirt trails. The huge Pirelli P295/45ZR20 tires and 20×10-inch polished aluminum 5-spoke wheels contribute greatly to the sporty styling. Bright red Brembo six-piston (front) and four-piston (rear) calipers look great and stop even better. Huge dual exhaust tips protrude from the lower rear valence. The SRT badging is very subtle, but there isn’t any doubt that this is more than an average SUV.
Interior: The interior is a great blend of sporty and functional. The excellent leather and suede front seats are heated and ventilated. Large side bolsters keep you planted while carving curvy back roads. The rear outboard seats are also heated. Our tester had the optional Command View dual-pane panoramic sunroof with a power shade. It really lightened up the interior. State-of-the-art electronics and entertainment features are on par with any luxury vehicle.
Rear seat room is fine if the front seats are up a little. Headroom is excellent. Cargo space is very good. The floor is flat with handy rub rails. We easily carried a bulky lawnmower in the cargo area.
Under The Hood: The Hemi V-8 is the heart and soul of the Grand Cherokee SRT. The smooth, powerful engine produces 465 lb-ft of torque, which gives the SRT muscle car performance. The power is transmitted to the 3.70 ratio rear axle via a slick 8-speed automatic transmission.
There is a dial in the center console that allows for various performance mode selections including track, sport, auto, snow, and tow. In track mode the SRT is capable of sub-five second zero-to-sixty times. Quarter mile times are in the mid-13s and top speed is 160 mph. Sixty-to-zero stopping times are less than 120 feet thanks to massive four-wheel Brembo brakes. There is a Launch Control switch that looks like a miniature drag racing “Christmas Tree.” Torque split is 70/30 to the rear wheels, so the SRT roars off the line. The all-wheel-drive does an excellent job of controlling all the available horsepower.
Even with all its high performance capabilities the SRT can still tow up to 7,200 pounds.
Behind The Wheel: The first thing you notice when you get behind the wheel of the SRT is how thick and substantial the contoured leather wheel is. It’s loaded with auxiliary controls and backed by a pair of paddle shifters. Given the incredible performance and superb exhaust note drivers will want to use the paddle shifters a lot. The steering wheel is heated for cold mornings.
The SRT has an Econ mode, which seems a little superfluous. This isn’t a vehicle for fuel misers. Our mileage figures varied from 15.8 to 18.0 in mostly highway driving. That agrees with the EPA estimates of 13-mpg city and 19-mpg highway.
The Grand Cherokee SRT begs to be driven aggressively. The engine, transmission, and suspension are beautifully integrated. It’s hard to believe such a spacious, comfortable SUV could be so sporty.
Whines: This is not an economy car, either from a fuel consumption perspective or its MSRP, but those factors aren’t likely to deter SRT customers.
Bottom Line: The 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT is either a very expensive Jeep (compared to other Grand Cherokee models) or an incredibly inexpensive super SUV compared to competitors like the Mercedes ML63, Range Rover, and the Porsche Cayenne.
The 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT is great fun. It always put a smile on our face. Performance, handling, comfort and utility are all outstanding — it’s a great blend of sports car performance with SUV practicality.