2009 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 Review
By Roger Boylan
The statement Credo quia absurdum, or “I believe because it is absurd,” often attributed to the Christian Roman theologian Tertullian (ca. 160-220 A.D.), is, most probably, a misinterpretation of the original Latin, but it can still serve nicely as an introduction to this review of the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8. Consider an SUV that, in these times of economic hardship, fluctuating oil prices, and grassroots anti-SUV, pro-hybrid sentiment, costs north of $40K, gets a posted 14 mpg, pumps out 420 horses, and does 0-60 in 4.7 seconds. Absurd, no? Which is precisely why, at the end of a week with the brute, I grudgingly came to admire, even covet it: because it’s absurd.
But it’s also a superbly crafted machine as well as something of a paradox, a combination of seemingly irreconcilable opposites that Chrysler’s Street and Racing Technology (SRT) engineering division somehow managed to reconcile. They started with a respectable family hauler, the Grand Cherokee, one of the industry’s most venerable SUVs, with bloodlines that go back to the ancient Wagoneer and beyond, with all-wheel-drive (this is the first all-wheel-drive SRT product) and room for a family of five and their belongings. They juiced it up with a 420-hp Hemi V-8 (and matching 420 lb.-ft. of torque), twin center-mounted chrome rear exhausts (where the tow hitch in a more banal JGC would go), a yawning front air dam, matte-black mesh grille inserts, sport-tuned suspension, modified steering, and 20” forged aluminum five-spoke wheels, sheathed in 20″ runflat tires and coyly displaying between their spokes the glossy red calipers of Brembo anti-lock brakes. Result of all the foregoing effort: a comfortable, solid road monster that, with the ease of a lion on the veldt, can devour Mustang GTs and the like for lunch, but needs a stiff drink afterward. Estimated mileage is 14 on the highway. I managed a little more, 16 or so, by dint of (mostly) steady driving and judicious application of cruise control, when possible. In town, you’ll get a little less. But this is a performance car, and a pretty magnificent one, so who cares?
And yet, from a distance, or to the majority of the car-indifferent public, the JGC SRT8 looks like just another SUV: a wolf in Jeep’s clothing, as you might say (or not). To the hard-core enthusiast sneaking up on an unsuspecting Porsche Cayenne, that anonymity alone is worth a lot. Actually, both this car’s identities meld so well that it’s hard not to wonder where Chrysler would be today if they’d put the considerable talents of the SRT team to use on developing a high-performance hybrid vehicle, or a zippy and appealing small car like a Mini or Fiat 500 (too late now). They’re brilliant engineers; that much is obvious as soon as you drive the JGC SRT8 like the high-performance car it is. It delivers, and then some. I drove it fast down Interstate 35 and through pelting early-summer downpours on winding roads in the Texas Hill Country, and even in the heaviest semitropical cloudburst–wipers thrashing wildly, poor visibility fore and aft– I felt nary a shimmy, not the slightest deviation from true, even at the margins of the speed limit (well, all right, slightly beyond). The steering is superb: neutral but not numb, responsive rather than overboosted. The splendid V8 rumbles quietly at cruising speeds. Then of course there’s the pièce de résistance: the acceleration. From a standstill, on a drier day, on a quiet, straight country road, I hit 60 mph in 4.7 seconds; this nail-to-the-seat acceleration happens despite the vehicle’s weight of 4,819 pounds. It’s extraordinary. Incredible. So I did it again. Wow.
Incidentally, I know the 0-60 time so exactly because the car itself told me. The SRT8’s dashboard info readouts, tucked into neat slots inside the chrome-ringed standard gauges, regale you with all kinds of fascinating trivia, from 4-tire PSI readings to acceleration times through the 1/4 mile to how much fuel you have left–all very interesting stuff, if you can figure out which of numerous settings to select. (Caveat: Get those distractions worked out before you set off, or you might wander into the tailgate of Billy Bob’s F-250, or over a cliff.) (And turn off that cell phone, while you’re at it.)
Overall, the JGC SRT8 inside is a very nice high-end SUV. Mine was furnished in low-key gray and black with (I think) carbon-fiber and brushed-aluminum accents, a leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel, soft-touch instrument panel cowling, XM radio, DVD screen, and superbly comfortable leather-and-suede front seats that provide sufficient lumbar and side support for all but the widest driver and passenger through all but the most treacherous switchbacks. Air bags, I’m assured by the brochures, proliferate in the event of impact: front and side, head and abdomen. The SRT8 also has electronic stability control and, as mentioned, Brembo anti-lock brakes. It’s bank-vault solid, too. I felt quite safe. The back seats, although comfortable, are more constricted spacewise than the ones in front, but they fold flat, and their headrests fold under with a single tug on the latch, opening up the cargo area with its multiple tie-down points, hooks for grocery bags, and storage bins of varying sizes. Voilà: The ideal family hauler, proceeding docilely home from the supermarket.
But once he’s dropped off the groceries Dad remembers another “errand,” one that will take him out to a quiet, straight country road, where for one brief shining moment he can relive all those boy-racer days he never had. I loved it. Tertullian would understand.
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