First Look: Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8

First Look

The Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 is a high-performance luxury SUV that can be had at a much lower price than all the rest.

Even with this new generation, the Grand Cherokee SRT8 isn't as good a vehicle as other performance SUV's like the BMW X5 M. It's not as fast, not as refined, and not quite as luxurious. The thing is though, it comes very close in all of those areas, but for tens of thousands of dollars less. In designing this new SRT8, Jeep realized that they could afford to give it a bit more refinement and luxury while still making the niche's clear bargain vehicle.

To start with, the SRT8 has a much-improved interior, a trend we've seen across Chrysler's product line since they ceased to be Daimler's redheaded stepchild. This means a new infotainment system and much more supportive seats, even in the back. There is also optional leather, suede and carbon fiber. Under the hood, the HEMI V8's displacement has been increased from 6.1-liters to 6.4-liters, bringing an additional 50hp with it. This means the total output is up to 470hp and 465lb-ft of torque. All that power will carry the SRT8 up to 60mph in 4.8 seconds, through the quarter mile in 13.5 seconds and on to a top speed of 157mph.

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If you're obsessive about numbers, you may very well have noticed that the ones I've just quoted weren't quite as impressive as the ones produced by the previous-generation SRT8. This is true, the new SRT8 isn't quite as fast as the last one, which is the result of its weighing more than 500 pounds more than the old one did. Make no mistake though, 0-60 in 4.8 seconds is still scary fast in a vehicle with such a high driving position. There is a new suspension setup as well, one which allows for some truly spectacular handling.

The SRT8 handles in ways that would do justice to a pure sports car, and are therefore staggering to behold on an SUV. The looks are somewhat more elegant than they were on the old model, and to me it even looks better than the Europeans it competes with. Fuel economy has also been improved, but it's not likely to be something you'd notice. More noticeable would probably be that the only available transmission is a five-speed automatic. That number of ratios just doesn't quite cut it anymore, although word is that we'll have a new eight-speed sometime in 2013.

The old SRT8 was a serious beast, as track-ready as an SUV is ever likely to be, and while this generation is a bit softer, a quick look at the vehicles it's up against will easily explain why. The vehicles in this niche are all luxury items, even the very cheapest one, and people expect a certain level of refinement when buying a luxury item. This new SRT8 is a much better compromise, and as such is a much better competitor to the Europeans. In fact, it does such a good job of this that it really shows just how much you're paying for the badge on those other vehicles.