Jeep regains its old swagger

We’ve been here before. Jeep launched the 420bhp Grand Cherokee SRT-8 in 2006. It wasn’t bad but didn’t get a fair crack of the whip because the press was in a “kick Jeep at any opportunity” mode and the SRT-8 was savaged.

The intervening years were tough on Jeep, the merger with Daimler failing in 2007, then the filing for bankruptcy in 2009. Then came a partnership with Fiat and what has amounted to an almost miraculous recovery in sales volumes. You can feel the confidence around Jeep now and the SRT reflects this new-found bullish attitude. A bit of the old swagger is back.

Where the old SRT-8 had to make do with a mere 6.1-litre Hemi V8, the latest SRT model teases the engine out to 6.4 litres, with quite a few essential modifications. There’s an active intake manifold system and a high-lift cam with cam phasing to help broaden the amount of power and torque across the rev range. Specifically, 90 per cent of peak torque is available between 2,800 and 6,000 rpm, allowing for inspired standing starts and improved straight-line performance.

It’s certainly rapid, getting to 62mph in just five seconds and running onto a maximum of 160mph. Impressive as they are, those figures aren’t a match for the more costly super-SUVs like the BMW X6M or the Porsche Cayenne Turbo, but then Jeep isn’t charging as much. What’s a little more surprising is that they aren’t quite as good as the old Grand Cherokee SRT-8 either, which had a 41bhp power shortfall. The reason why is weight. This Jeep has become a bit of a porker, tipping the scales at 2,360kg and it’s not really helped in its sprinting ability by the tall gears of the rather old-fashioned five-speed automatic gearbox.

The Auto setting on the Selec-Track system continually adjusts the car’s set-up to suit the road, but keener drivers will probably prefer to leave it in Sport mode. The Track setting will probably be too firm for most UK roads. Selec-Track interacts not only with the stability control, the transmission shift strategy and the active damping, but also manages transfer case torque proportioning, electronic limite-slip differential performance, throttle control and cylinder de-activation. Clever stuff.

Some powerful SUVs carry their potency extremely subtly. The Grand Cherokee SRT is not one of them. If one of these pulls up in your rear-view, you’ll know right away that this isn’t something packing a wheezy diesel. It sits low to the road, thanks to a 30mm drop in ride height, and the 20-inch alloy wheels are shod with huge 295 section tyres. Beady LED daytime running lights bookend the iconic, body-coloured seven-slot front grille. This now features a black screen background and chrome bezel inserts while the lower front grille is painted in gloss black. Other exterior highlights are a tailgate spoiler, a dual exhaust and a bonnet with twin black heat extractors.

The supportive SRT sports seats are perhaps the most impressive thing inside the car. The front pair are heated and ventilated and are finished in Nappa leather and suede, while the back seats have to make do without ventilation. The Electronic Vehicle Information Centre (EVIC) is a bit of fun too, with its SRT-exclusive Performance Pages displaying instant feedback on steering input measurements, horsepower, torque, 0-62mph time, 62-0 mph braking distance, g-forces, and covered distance times, along with 
additional engine information.

In case you were wondering, SRT stands for “Street Racing and Technology” and it’s Jeep’s go-faster division. The pricing of this model is interesting as, at just under £60,000, it looks a positive bargain compared to the mid-£80k mark that the likes of BMW, Mercedes and Porsche charge for their hotted up trucks. It’s also notably well equipped.

Standard features include a dual-pane sunroof, adaptive cruise control and an infotainment and navigation system with a 6.5-inch touchscreen and 30 gigabyte hard disk. The Harman 
Kardon stereo system nearly has the engine licked, with 825 watts of peak power and no fewer than 19 speakers.

Here’s the kicker. Despite featuring fuel-saving technology which cuts the engine from eight to four cylinders when cruising, the Grand Cherokee SRT will still chew through fuel in a manic fashion. Jeep quotes a combined fuel figure of 20.1mpg for the car, but it would be more realistic to expect a figure of around 13.5mpg which will make for a very expensive ride.

Likewise, emissions are a top-of-the-shop 328g/km, which is put into perspective by the fact that the bigger, heavier and far more powerful Mercedes ML63 AMG emits just 
276g/km. Residual values will be a significant issue too, as you only need to see the trouble dealers have selling the old SRT-8 models for halfway sensible money. Consolations? It’s worth bearing in mind that the SRT’s huge equipment list means you won’t have to go anything like as mad with the options as you would to get a decently-specified ML63 AMG, 
Cayenne Turbo or X6M.

The Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT impresses easily. There’s precious little wrong with the product. The interior isn’t as well built as some and the styling may be a little gaudy, but it’s a fundamentally well-engineered vehicle. It’s also cripplingly expensive to run and that threatens to torpedo its customer appeal. Who are these customers who can’t run to a Porsche Cayenne Turbo yet would gladly buy a £60,000 SUV that requires a hefty bankroll to run? I’m not sure too many exist. I’d also wager that the superior residual values of the top German models would mean they didn’t cost any more to run than the Grand Cherokee over a typical three-year ownership period.

All of which is a bit of a shame. Jeep has built a capable, charismatic vehicle, imbued with a sense of fun, which trips over when head rules heart. For the few people for whom the SRT makes sense, I predict a very enjoyable time ahead.