This is a review from the March/April 2017 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this story, plus features on the making of Martin’s one-of-a-kind two-millionth guitar, Ricky Gervais and the return of his guitar-playing alter ego David Brent, plus GA’s annual motoring section, including features on the Doobie Brothers’ Pat Simmons and his antique Harley-Davidsons, John Oates and his life-long fascination with cars and racing, and the untold story behind Led Zeppelin's McLaren M8E/D racecar, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking here.
Weekday Warrior: 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT
by Mike Daly
Connoisseurs of automotive history often wax rhapsodically about the racing triumphs of marques like Ferrari, Porsche, and Alfa Romeo. But if such competition histories were measured in terms of sheer significance, few automakers could compare to Jeep. After all, the original Willys-Overland Jeep was the winner of a U.S. government contract to provide the best all-around utility vehicle for American soldiers, entering production in 1942 after beating out entries from Ford and American Bantam. The car that people now associate with weekend adrenaline junkies and soccer moms actually cut its teeth helping to mow down Nazis. And let’s face it: The 24 Hours of Le Mans, while grueling, is nothing compared to the rigors of D-Day.
Ever since that strong debut, Jeep has proficiently built rugged off-road vehicles, but the company has never been known for challenging the luxury performance SUV market currently dominated by European outfits like BMW and Audi. That perception may soon change with a new Grand Cherokee lineup launched in late 2015. Among trim lines named Laredo, Overland, and Trailhawk, one flagship Grand Cherokee presides above them all: the SRT (Street & Racing Technology). Enthusiasts will already be familiar with the Chrysler competition nomenclature that has long decorated many of the brand’s performance variants. We relished a weeklong opportunity to test the 2017 Grand Cherokee SRT, and it’s difficult to recall such a deft combination of power, pamper, and polish.
There’s no design brief or press release stating it outright, but it’s obvious the Grand Cherokee SRT is envisioned as the ultimate street Jeep. The clearest evidence is found in the powertrain programming, which lacks editable 4x4 functions like most other Jeeps but instead includes a full track package complete with launch control, adjustable suspension and engine attributes, and lap timers that measure 0–60 mph, 0–100 mph, quarter miles, and braking distances.
And what in God’s name would prompt one to put a Jeep on a track for some version of hot laps? Pop the SRT’s hood and you’ll find the answer in a 6.4-liter Chrysler V-8 with an aluminum-alloy head famously shaped in a hemispherical chamber. Or as the ads used to say, “It’s a Hemi”—which kind of makes the Grand Cherokee SRT feel like a Challenger crossbred with a M1 Abrams tank. The venerable hemi engine develops 475 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque, taking the SRT from 0 to 60 mph in just 4.8 seconds, with a top speed of 160 mph. With a classic American V-8 thrum resonating through dual chrome-tipped exhaust pipes, the motor requires just a stab of the accelerator to pounce in traffic, sometimes even surprising fellow drivers with how quickly the big car gets where it’s going.
Stopping so much mass at such velocity is no simple matter, so Jeep went all the way to the top, sourcing red-painted Brembos with 15-inch rotors up front, 13.8-inch discs in the rear, and six-piston calipers all around. An optional $1,295 high-performance brake package adds directionally slotted two-piece aluminum performance discs for even better anchoring. Performance nods continue with a rear electronic limited-slip differential and wheel-mounted paddle shifters for actuating a torque converter–based ZF automatic eight-speed transmission.
But performance is just part of the Grand Cherokee SRT’s game. In addition to a meaty four-grip leather-stitched SRT-badged steering wheel and two-tone leather/alcantara multiway adjustable seats, our test car was optioned with a $1,995 Harman Kardon 825-watt, 19-speaker premium sound system and an identically priced rear entertainment package with DVD player and headrest monitors (including RCA, HDMI, and SD card inputs), making the SRT a luxury cruiser of the highest proportion. The suspension is remarkably smooth even for an American SUV, with smart dampers and an intelligent stability system that mimics the attenuation of European GT cars. And our test car’s optional $2,095 dual-pane panoramic sunroof leant it first-class appeal and really opened up the cabin.
An average day of use may best illustrate the Jeep’s impressive versatility. Parents schlepping their kids off to daycare in the morning will love the entertainment system, which can entrance little ones with their favorite DVD. The Grand Cherokee’s height and luxury make traffic a far more bearable reality for the driver, too, providing great vision, quiet power, and ultimate comfort. It is a car to be used around town, if nothing else.
But if one can manage to steer through the gridlock to a local switchback, a flip into Sport mode is all that’s required to transform the cruiser into a powerful curve hugger, as our test car amply proved on the hairpins of Mulholland Drive. Even without a full off-road package, it was impossible to resist the lure of an otherwise off-limits fire road that extends to Mulholland’s western reaches, where the STR unwittingly defied local ordinances for several hundred yards of exploring.
Point being, the Grand Cherokee SRT functions beautifully as a family car, comfortable commuter, off-road explorer of sorts, and best of all, a damned fast, extremely well-balanced SUV for attacking your favorite motoring byways. With its unique low-riding bumper fascia pocked with sporty vents, the SRT also gets a surprising amount of attention, even drawing a compliment from a Beverly Hills parking attendant for our test car’s unusual Red Velvet Pearl paint. You can bet that old woman’s seen some pretty unusual rides, so to go out of her way to point out such a detail spoke volumes about the SRT’s presentation.
Today’s Army Rangers and Deltas ride armored Hummers and Bradley carriers into battle, relegating the iconic Jeep to consumers like you and me. But after living in the Grand Cherokee SRT for a week, I’d venture to say they may want to reconsider.
MSRP: Base, $66,795; at tested, $78,355
This is a feature from the March/April 2017 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this story, plus features on the making of Martin’s one-of-a-kind two-millionth guitar, Ricky Gervais and the return of his guitar-playing alter ego David Brent, plus GA’s annual motoring section, including features on the Doobie Brothers’ Pat Simmons and his antique Harley-Davidsons, John Oates and his life-long fascination with cars and racing, and the untold story behind Led Zeppelin's McLaren M8E/D racecar, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking here.