The SRT8 gets its considerable 2.5-ton self from zero to 60 in about 4.5 seconds. That astonishing number means it is significantly faster than its more costly Teutonic cousins. (Yes, there are quicker versions of the Porsche and BMW SUVs, but the hotter Bimmer is $30,00 more than the $54,470 SRT8, and the peppier Porsche is almost twice as much.)
Besides imitating a gazelle at a stoplight, the SRT8 handles well for a hefty SUV, thanks to its huge, 20-inch Pirelli performance tires. And it shuts down with remarkable rapidity. Six-piston calipers pinch massive 15-inch brake discs up front, and four-piston calipers squeeze 13.8-inch rotors out back. The result, according to Motor Trend testing, is a vehicle that goes from 60 to zero in just 106 feet, which is seven feet shorter than the last Cayenne and X5 xDrive the magazine tested.
This kind of performance does not come cheap, either in the showroom or at the pump. The all-wheel-drive SRT8 I tested, at $54,470, was almost twice as much as the base, all-wheel-drive Grand Cherokee, the $28,995 Laredo.
Similarly, the new 3.6-liter V-6 employed in all Grand Cherokees save the SRT8 delivers EPA mileage ratings of 16 city and 22 highway when equipped with all-wheel drive. (Rear-drive models are 16 and 23.) The SRT8, on the other hand, has EPAs of 12 and 18, a grim it shares with a drinking buddy of equal thirst: the 2011 Lexus LX 570.
All of which raises the question: If you're going to spend these kinds of bucks for performance, why not get a Corvette? I guess the answer is that this guy combines a delightfully realized all-weather people-mover and trailer-schlepper with a high fun-and-games quotient. Also, you'll have the only toy of its kind at the country club.
It's also true that the SRT8 is more than an athlete. The test vehicle I drove had a truly luxurious standard-equipment list.
When it debuted as a 2011 model, the Grand Cherokee represented the first new vehicle fielded by Chrysler since it emerged from bankruptcy. Its success was crucial to the automaker's renaissance, and happily for the company, it has sold pretty well.
The Grand Cherokee's remodeling began while Daimler still owned Chrysler, and the cooperative design work continued under a shared engineering agreement. The vehicle is essentially all-new, including its body, structure, 290-horse V-6, and its first completely independent suspension.
New touches include Quadra-Lift, an air suspension system that allows you to adjust the ride height to specific on- and off-road driving situations. Another new wrinkle is Selec-Terrain, which interfaces with up to 12 vehicle systems to provide the best response to driving conditions ranging from normal to snow, sand, and mud.
The new Grand Cherokee is prettier and more aerodynamic than its predecessor - and quieter, thanks to a stronger structure and more sound insulation. Because the new car is a tad bigger than the old one, the interior-design team led by Mercedes-Benz expatriate design chief Klaus Busse was able to solve the Grand Cherokee's rear legroom problem and to boost cargo space 19 percent.
Busse's team also came up with a particularly clean and lovely interior. Indeed, Bob Lutz, who serves as a General Motors adviser after retiring as vice chairman, recently told Charlie Rose that the new Grand Cherokee's interior is "the best I've ever seen in any product from any car company."
Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8
Base price: $54,470.
As tested: $55,295 (including shipping).
Standard equipment: 6.4-liter engine, five-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive, and a truckload of safety and comfort gear that includes such out-of-the-ordinary features as adaptive suspension damping, 20-inch performance rubber, and the heating of everything from the power memory mirrors
to the steering wheel and rear seats. Also, it boasts a navigation system with voice command, and a 506-watt audio system.
Fuel economy: 12 m.p.g. city and 18 highway.
Handling: Quite agile.
Engine performance: Epic.
Ride comfort: A smoothy.
Styling: Macho and smart.
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles bumper to bumper.
Contact columnist Al Haas