Photos by Sean Klingelhoefer
Any question over RACER testing a Jeep is half answered within five seconds, which is more than enough time for the SRT Grand Cherokee to hit 60mph from standstill. The rest of the answer comes at the first turn. With suspension – and body movement – reined in by having the dial in the center console turned to “Track,” the Jeep pivots into the apex with the alacrity of a performance car. Then, just as suddenly, the corner is dismissed and the all-wheel-drive traction sends this 5,150lb monster snarling off into the distance.
Er, did that just happen...?
“Pretty incredible, right?” grins Tommy Kendall as he dances his four-wheeled partner around Riverside, Calif.'s sinewy Adams Motorsports Park as if it was an overgrown sports car. “It's one of those vehicles that can do anything and everything you want of it, anywhere, any time.”
Which is why, as a member of the SRT Motorsports Viper GTS-R ALMS squad, he chooses to drive one of these as his company vehicle. Quite a perk.
“I think all but one of my teammates chose this,” muses Kendall. “Sure, everyone's going to say I'm biased, but I think this is a fantastic daily driver to the extent that, even if I didn't have ties to SRT, I'm not sure I'd find a better way to spend $63k on a five-seater that can get up and go hard.”
SRT, of course, is the performance brand of the Chrysler Corporation, and its badge can be found on the most powerful models of the Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger, Dodge Challenger, Jeep Grand Cherokee and, of course, the Viper. Uniting the first four in that list is a common powertrain, a 6.4-liter (392 cu.in.) Hemi engine, which delivers 470hp and 465lb-ft. of torque.
And while the SRT nomenclature is relatively new, first seen on 2004 models, the Hemi – named after each cylinder's hemispherical combustion chamber – is steeped in Chrysler Corp. lore. The first of its cars to use this engine design emerged in 1950, when the unit was given the dramatic name FirePower. But by the mid- to late-'60s muscle car boom, the word “Hemi” was synonymous with a combo of power and reliability. Kendall, a hot-rodder at heart, is pleased SRT embraces its parent company's heritage.
“Hemi is almost a brand in itself, and evokes performance,” he observes. “Over several decades, it's earned the reputation of delivering potency and durability, and SRT is smart to promote that history. You know, the fact that the basic engine design has endured so long and can still be made efficient enough for SRT vehicles to meet regs and take on major rivals is something to be very proud of.”
So the Grand Cherokee SRT's pace isn't in doubt, but if all it could boast was a 0-100mph time of under 12 seconds, it would have very one-dimensional appeal. A vehicle at the upper end of the SUV market has to satisfy a broad range of people and perform a variety of roles well. The aim of this car is to deliver the proverbial iron fist in a velvet glove, while the other hand massages and pampers – and doesn't reach for your wallet too often. That's a tricky blend to get right.