In a world that seems to be intent on downsizing engines, upping fuel economy and trying to convert the buying public to diesel power, it is refreshing to see that Jeep has kept its wildest Grand Cherokee - the SRT - alive and has injected even more life into it.
In the Metal:
Those that are familiar with the Jeep Grand Cherokee might not find a huge amount of change with the latest model; indeed Jeep is adamant that it didn't require a whole lot of change. It is fairly easy to spot the SRT version over the more conventional model though, thanks firstly to the two huge bonnet vents that suck vast amounts of air into the radiators in an attempt to cool that HEMI engine.
Other unique SRT details around the front include a black grille and headlight surround. This gives an even more aggressive appearance and wouldn't surprise me if owners of the standard model try to replicate it. There are also larger air intakes for improved cooling and additional fog lights, which again are specific to the SRT.
Lurking behind the 20-inch alloy wheels are some substantial six-pot Brembo brake callipers that help to haul the SRT to a stop when needed. Naturally they're painted bright red and really do stand out from behind the wheels, helping to drive home the fact that this Jeep is something a bit special. Towards the rear are two exhausts that surprisingly don't look too over-the-top, but what they lack in appearance is more than made up for once they engine is running.
On the interior the SRT has gained a more upmarket feel. Virtually nowhere will you find cheap plastic materials; instead it is all a blend of good quality leather and Alcantara. Much of the centre console's switchgear has been moved to an 8.4-inch colour touchscreen unit that is clear and easy to use. A smaller, re-designed gear selector helps free up additional space but drivers still have paddle-shifters behind the steering wheel should they want to change manually. Behind the wheel an optional seven-inch TFT liquid crystal screen takes the place of traditional clocks and can be configured one hundred different ways to suit the driver's preferences.
It's always going to be a bit of an engineering struggle when you fix a 6.4-litre V8 into the nose of a big SUV and try to give it some handling ability, but to be fair Jeep has done a lot to make the SRT fun to drive. Gone is the air suspension found in the standard Grand Cherokee and in its place are some coil springs with Bilstein adaptive dampers. On most roads they give just a marginally firmer ride but do a better job of reducing roll mid-corner.
Naturally one still must pay attention to the laws of physics, but the Jeep does manage to do a fairly good job of giving the driver enough confidence at higher speeds thanks to the relatively good feedback from both the front end and steering. You won't have Porsche 911 GT3 levels of precision but the SRT is well able to hustle when called upon.
The HEMI engine is capable of running on just half of its cylinders when the engine is not under heavy load, which does help give slightly less scary fuel consumption figures. The switch between four and eight cylinders is almost imperceptible when driving.
Power is evenly spread across the rev range and there's up to 624Nm. Given the weight it has to pull the result is a surprisingly rapid drive. Thanks to the free-revving engine with a throaty exhaust note you have yourself an SUV that might just feel like more fun than its German rivals. That said, even when driving the SRT that bit harder you are always acutely aware of how much mass you are moving, which is fine on straight motorway runs, but when it comes to more challenging sections of road, causes you to hold back that little bit.
One very welcome addition to the new SRT is the eight-speed automatic gearbox. The ZF-sourced unit makes far better use of the Jeep's engine and offers smoother gear shifts when in full automatic mode. Should the urge take you at any point, pulling on the well-placed and sized paddle-shifters gives you the ability to swap cogs manually. Those changes are crisp and only when downshifting at higher speeds do you notice any real hesitation from the gearbox.
What you get for your Money:
As yet we don't have confirmed prices for the Grand Cherokee SRT, though it is expected to closely match the previous model. That said, given the substantial price jump from the standard car the only real difference that buyers will get is the bigger engine. Jeep has done such a good job with the specification of the standard Grand Cherokee that it has left itself little room to make the interior of the SRT feel special enough.
As with the new Grand Cherokee, the SRT version features over sixty safety features including Forward Collision Warning with Crash Mitigation, Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop functionality as well as Blind Spot Warning, which illuminates a warning light in the side door mirrors when it detects a vehicle driving in your blind spot.
Like most range-topping models, Jeep does offer a premium sound system should you ever tire of that engine note. The 19-speaker Harman Kardon surround sound system delivers high-definition sound through a specially designed system. It offers 19 High Performance, High Efficiency GreenEdge Loudspeakers in a 7.3 speaker playback architecture including nine tweeters, five mid-range speakers, two mid-woofers and three subwoofers.
Despite being a 6.4-litre high-performance SUV, the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT does have an increasing number of competitors. The Jeep badge might not carry the same level of prestige as some of its European rivals, but it has now caught up with some of them in terms of quality and finish. It is no longer just a loud, brash American SUV with a huge engine; it's also now a comfortable and refined autobahn cruiser. Just keep an eye on the fuel gauge...