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|Behind the Wheel: 2010 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8|
|Written by Rich Truesdell|
|Thursday, 04 February 2010 11:47|
This Jeep that thinks it's an imported all-weather sports wagon has but two shortcomings: a thirst for dead dinosaurs and an interior that could have been designed by Fisher-Price
Let's get the negative stuff out of the way right up front. If you're looking for an SUV or crossover that gets 30 miles to the gallon, look elsewhere. This isn't it. And if you're looking for a luxury SUV with the interior fittings of a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, then the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 is going to come up short in that department, too. But if you want a wickedly fast, reasonably priced vehicle (if any factory-built Jeep with a sticker price of nearly $50,000 can be so qualified), then your ride has arrived. Think of the 2010 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 as a bargain-basement alternative to the higher-priced Teutonic spreads, the Porsche Cayenne Turbo and the BMW X5 M. In fact, in almost every objective performance measurement, it's the on-road performance equal of its esteemed rivals from Stuttgart by way of Leipzig, as well as Bavaria by way of South Carolina.
Since the current-generation Grand Cherokee was introduced in 2005, I have joined many others in the automotive press in carping about the overall cheap-looking interior fittings. At a Camp Jeep that summer, I cornered the interior designer of the then-new Grand Cherokee and asked her, "What were you thinking when you signed off on this?" This was clearly an area where corners were cut--with some even suspecting it was done on purpose to position it below the Mercedes-Benz M-Class. Whatever the reason, the Grand Cherokee's interior is clearly below class standards. Its appearance is the area where it falls shortest when compared not only to its high-priced imported competitors, but to mainstream SUVs and crossovers priced under $40,000. This has been reflected in its downward sales spiral, from 115,439 in 2005 to just 50,328 units in 2009--all while parent Chrysler went into and out of bankruptcy and into the Fiat orbit.
And then, when the steroid-injected Grand Cherokee SRT8 was introduced, I initially watched in horror as the gas gauge took a turn to the left every time I pushed the right pedal to the floor (which seemed to be at every highway on-ramp I came to, where such fun could be indulged without losing my driver's license). The only way to improve the fuel mileage is to drive like my 80-year-old mother (and, to be honest, she still has something of a heavy foot, so maybe that's not the solution either). That kind of defeats the purpose of owning a vehicle with the SRT8's performance capabilities, so you just have to decide to live with it. (In reality, its mileage is no worse than its competitors, it just seems so because they typically cost twice as much; so, using perverse logic, it seems more justified.)
Okay, we've gotten the ugly out of the way. Once you get beyond those two aspects of the vehicle, and its generally bland exterior styling shared with lesser Grand Cherokees (GC), there's really a lot to like here. And in that regard, I'm not alone in singing the virtues of Jeep's hot rod. First of all, in a four-way comparo published last year, the editors of Car and Driver picked the GC SRT8 over a much more expensive--by $35k--Range Rover (priced at $85,000) and not all that far behind the Porsche Cayenne Turbo ($127,000) and the ultimate winner, a BMW X5 M whose as-tested price was almost double that of the American icon ($90,000). How does zero-to-60 in just 4.4 seconds sound? Or the ability to cover the quarter mile in just over 13 seconds? Or a Jeep with a top speed of 155 miles per hour? Makes it a bit easier to live with 13 miles per gallon around town, right?
And while the quality of the interior plastics might leave something to be desired--they're certainly not class competitive with its competitors in the C&D test--the comfort of the heated seats are. For my five-foot-eight-inch frame, they're just about perfect. While the leather surfaces feel more like vinyl, the suede-style inserts do their part in keeping you planted--a hallmark of any SRT vehicle--as this Jeep is capable of almost 0.9 Gs when flung around corners, verified by the in-dash performance gauge.
The ride is firm, with noticeable feedback, courtesy of the Goodyear Eagle RSA run flats, 255/45-R20s up front and 285/40-R20s in the rear. The attractive forged-aluminum wheels are nine inches wide up front, 10 inches wide in the rear. On a 2008 trip to Europe, I had the opportunity to exploit the upper reaches of the SRT8's performance on my favorite ribbon of Autobahn, which runs south between Karlsruhe and Baden-Baden. I hit a GPS-verified top speed of 155 miles per hour. This in a "truck" with the aerodynamics of a school house. Pretty impressive.
What's more impressive is the symphony, at almost any rpm, produced by the Grand Cherokee's 420-horsepower Hemi. Especially at idle, the exhaust note is nearly perfect and only gets more melodic as the engine approaches its 6,200 rpm redline. Whether in this or other SRT8 applications, like the Chrysler 300 or Dodge Daytona, this engine is a thoroughbred--which is all the more surprising given that it is essentially a pushrod design, lacking the sophisticated overhead camshafts found on its competitors.
With just seven inches of ground clearance up front--make sure you watch for low-flying parking-lot barriers, speed bumps, and driveway entrances--this Jeep is not Trail Rated. It's an all-weather tool designed to get you from point A to point B quickly and in relative comfort. Driving position is excellent, and the seats are well designed to keep you in place as you explore the upper limits of its performance envelope (especially in the turns or any large parking lot you find that can double as a skid pad). With a 0.87 G number on a 300-foot skid pad, according to the C&D test, it is in the same ballpark as the BMW X5 M (0.89 G) and the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S (0.91 G), which is remarkable considering its comparatively modest price.
So, what would it take to make the Grand Cherokee SRT8 truly class competitive? First of all, upgrade the interior materials. Simply wrapping most of the cheap-looking plastic surfaces on the dash and door panels in something closely resembling a dead cow (like what's already employed on the hood over the instruments) would go a long, long way towards giving the cabin a much more upscale look. How much would that cost? In the aftermarket, at a good trim shop, less than $2,000 I would imagine. Integrated as production components? Far less, I'm certain.
Hypothetically, if the appointments were upgraded, the Jeep Grand Cherokee could easily justify a price hike of $5,000. The good thing to know is that an all-new Jeep Grand Cherokee is just around the corner for the 2011 model year. As Jeep traditionally uses the New York Automobile Show to preview new models, it wouldn't surprise me to see the non-SRT8 2011 model in New York in April.
In fact, undisguised, non-SRT8 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokees have been spotted doing final validation testing at Jeep's favorite playground, the Rubicon Trail. And many details were leaked during the federal-bailout process and at a recent news conference in Auburn Hills. What hasn't been said is whether there will be an SRT8 version. We certainly hope the baby isn't thrown out with the bathwater. Even though it has only sold about 10,000 units over the past four years, the Grand Cherokee SRT8 represents an unorthodox halo vehicle for the marque. It shows that when the abilities of Jeep's engineers are unleashed, the guys and girls in Auburn Hills can build a world-class performance vehicle--especially when not encumbered by their former German partners--and offer a high-performance, all-weather crossover that will be competitive with the best that BMW, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, and Porsche can offer.
While $50,000 for a Jeep may seem steep to some, if the next-gen version is upgraded in key areas, I don't think that $60,000 will seem extravagant for what you're getting. In the meantime, in the final months of its production run, with some factory incentives thrown in, the outgoing version may very well represent the best production vehicle bargain in the market.
Be sure to check out high-resolution images of the 2010 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 in the Automotive Traveler image gallery.