Let's talk asses for a moment. What do they have to do with the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT, you ask?
Well, we're here to tell you that this SRT can haul some. Lots of them, as a matter of fact: Jeep has increased the towing capacity of its most powerful SUV to 7,200 pounds. Assuming the average donkey weighs about 400 pounds, the Grand Cherokee SRT can haul ass to the tune of 18 burros, give or take a covered trailer or so, which is significantly more than it could in previous years. In 2013, the machine could manage 5,000 pounds, while the first generation was rated at just 3,500. The increase is mostly attributable to a new eight-speed automatic transmission and beefier rear axle, and it's a welcome update for those who'd like to use their SUV as, well, an SUV with an emphasis on utility.
You'll be pleased to know that this isn't the only kind of ass hauling the 2014 Grand Cherokee SRT is capable – it can also accelerate really, really quickly – 0-60 in 4.8 seconds to go along with quarter mile times in the low 13-second range and a top speed of 160 miles per hour. That's extraordinary for a vehicle of this ilk – and the run to 60 matches that of the last-gen model despite an extra shift taking place due to the new gearbox. Passing performance is even more impressive, as evidenced by a 35-75 mph sprint that's almost four seconds quicker than it was last year, again, thanks to the extra three gears in the transmission. It goes without saying that the 470 horses grazing on premium unleaded and spitting out 465 pound-feet of torque are also responsible for these accelerative antics, along with the full-time four-wheel-drive system called Selec-Track, which provides more traction than the most stubborn mule in the animal kingdom.
We've been rather fond of previous versions of this menacing machine, and with a slew of meaningful enhancements on the menu for the 2014 model year, we took to the track at the brand-new and most excellent Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas at the invitation of Jeep to find out just how Grand the iconic Cherokee nameplate has become.
We'll start with the styling. "Aggressive" is the word that best describes the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT, from its massive 20-inch wheels – a different pattern than last year's controversial "Spider Monkey" alloys is now available – wrapped in Pirelli P-Zero P295/45/ZR20 tires (Pirelli Scorpion Verde all-seasons are also available) to the unique blacked-out front fascia dominated by Jeep's traditional seven-slat grille. Viewed in profile, there aren't too many clues to the casual onlooker, besides the massive wheels, of course, that this isn't your average SUV. But look a little closer and you'll see details like blacked-out headlight clusters with LED surrounds and a deeply scooped hood with functional heat extractors – telltale signs that this mule is built to haul.
Ralph Gilles says SRT is "Unapologetically selling high performance."
Even if you happen to be behind this brutish 'ute, it will be impossible to miss Jeep's SRT – if the unique rear fascia doesn't tip you off, the rumble emanating from the dual exhaust tips is sure to seal the deal. The soundtrack belted out by the massive 6.4-liter Hemi V8 will stir the souls of all those enamored with big displacement and natural aspiration – you can count us among that group – just as surely as it will irritate your grandparents on long highway slogs.
If nothing else, looking at and listening to the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT proves that SRT CEO Ralph Gilles isn't just blowing smoke when he says that the brand is "Unapologetically selling high performance."
It's also worth noting that the rear glass is no longer separate from the rest of the tailgate. Jeep says the change makes the piece lighter while improving rear visibility. That's all true, but the ability to stick long objects out the back without a fully erect lid is now lost, though that may at least partially be forgiven since the tailgate is now power operated.
The look inside the cabin has also been fine-tuned for performance drivers. Carbon fiber trim replaces the wood accents found in less powerful Grand Cherokee models, and the so-called Laguna leather and suede seating surfaces are nice and grippy. New for the model year is a dual-pane panoramic sunroof option. Oh, don't forget the bright red engine start/stop button. Racy!
SRT's new-for-2014 steering wheel deserves mention. According to Gilles, the automaker purchased wheels of high-performance models hailing from the likes of Audi, BMW and Porsche to make sure its wheel, one of the most tactile parts of the driving experience, is truly world class. As far as we're concerned, SRT has nailed it – the wheel is nice and meaty where your hands want to rest, and the buttons and controls don't get in the way while driving. Similarly, the big metal paddle shifters on either side of the wheel are easy to locate and feel good to the touch.
Along with the new transmission comes a new shifter. Shaped like a traditional T, the lever is now fully electronic, with separate detents when moving from Park to Reverse, Neutral or Drive. As with all such doohickeys, this one takes some time getting comfortable with, but it eventually becomes a non-issue. Directly behind the shifter is a rotating knob with settings labeled Track, Sport, Auto, Snow and Tow, and just to the right of that is a button labeled Launch. We'll talk more about these bits and pieces later.
The biggest changes to the interior are the new 8.4-inch Uconnect central infotainment system, of which many Autoblog staffers voted tops in its category when it won the AOL Technology of the Year Award for 2012, and the seven-inch customizable display in the gauge cluster.
The biggest change to the interior is the new 8.4-inch Uconnect central infotainment system.
For the 2014 model year, Chrysler is introducing Uconnect Access Via Mobile, which includes navigation and apps like Aha Radio, Pandora, iHeart Radio and Slacker, plus safety features that include an embedded cellular chip that can contact emergency services; remotely lock, unlock or start the car; and alert the owner of a possible theft.
The entire Uconnect system can now be activated using voice commands, from switching radio stations, changing climate settings, answering or making phone calls or calling upon the cloud using Bing search for directions, places of interest or phone numbers. Drivers can also send and receive text messages if they have connected their phone via Bluetooth.
Since this is an SRT model, the center screen also displays performance data. For instance, the driver can call upon a series of gauges to monitor the vehicle's vital signs, a graphic display of the car showing the g-forces from every direction, lap times or current and best acceleration and braking figures.
You won't be lighting up the rear tires as with other SRT products. Instead, instant all-wheel-drive traction is the name of the game.
Directly in front of the driver is a new seven-inch instrument cluster screen that can electronically display things like the car's speed, current powertrain and suspension settings, trip information, fuel economy, radio settings and plenty more.
Now that we're familiar with our surroundings, it's finally time to hit that big red button to start the engine.
You might think that driving the 2014 Grand Cherokee SRT is all about the engine... and you wouldn't necessarily be wrong. The grunt underhood does indeed dominate the driving experience, and we mean that in the best way possible. Acceleration from a dead stop is effortless up to freeway speeds and beyond, though you won't be lighting up the rear tires as with other products from SRT. Instead, instant all-wheel-drive traction is the name of the game, and holeshot starts are as easy as touching the Launch button we mentioned earlier.
One press puts the car into a predetermined mode that optimizes everything for straight-line acceleration. The suspension hunkers down, the transmission goes into its sportiest programming mode and the engine settles into a 2,000-rpm hum. Let your foot off the brake while mashing the throttle, and you'll be to 60 mph in well under five seconds, each and every time, so long as you're not driving on something as slick as snow, mud, snot or marbles.
If you're driving at a track, there's a dedicated mode that takes as many of the electronic nannies away as Jeep's engineers felt was safe.
Assuming you're interested in more than just pin-your-passengers-back antics, we suggest you investigate the dial to the right of the Launch button. If you're driving at a track, there's a dedicated mode that takes as many of the electronic nannies away as Jeep's engineers felt was safe, including the removal of anything that would take full power away from the engine, along with a torque split that sends 70 percent to the rear tires. There's still roll mitigation and some small level of traction control, however, and that's likely a good thing for everyone but professional race car drivers.
Sport mode adds some of those failsafe features back into the mix, but still allows enough wheelspin to make an aggressive driver feel fast while still being under control with a 65-percent rearward torque bias. This is probably where you'll want to keep the knob pointed on the street. Auto mode is self explanatory, as are Snow and Tow, but you may be interested to know that Auto provides the cushiest ride while Snow and Tow modes lock the torque distribution at 50/50 front to rear.
We already talked a bit about how the eight-speed transmission improves performance, but it's also worth mentioning that the gearbox now includes rev matching, meaning the throttle is automatically blipped when downshifting for smoother and quicker shifting. All in, Jeep says its test drivers shaved six-tenths of a second off their lap times due to the upgraded transmission at Nelson Ledges Road Course in Ohio. That's a massive improvement when talking all-out hot laps.
This Jeep is still fitted with a hydraulic steering system in lieu of the electronic units that are becoming commonplace.
Braking performance is also very good. Jeep quotes a stopping distance of 116 feet from 60 mph along with a 0-100-0 time of 16.3 seconds. We were only given the opportunity to take the SRT around COTA for two laps at a time, so we can't say if brake fade will be a significant issue. We can say, though, that the 15-inch rotors with six-piston Brembo calipers at the front and 13.78-inch rotors with four-piston Brembo calipers stopped the heavy SUV with authority over the course of our track time, limited as it was.
Steering the Grand Cherokee SRT, we were reminded how polished the final generation of hydraulic power steering systems have been... because this Jeep is still fitted with one in lieu of the electronic units that are becoming commonplace. As such, you won't find driver adjustable steering feel or any changes in ratio, which is locked in at 17.5:1. That's just fine and dandy, though, because the settings chosen by SRT's engineers for the rack-and-pinion work perfectly well.
Throwing the 2014 SRT into a corner demonstrates a few interesting points. First, there's hardly any body roll when the vehicle is in Track mode, and second, there's quite a bit of grip available to be exploited by the driver. It's easy enough to set the car into a controllable four-wheel drift around sweeping corners, and it's just as easy to scrub a bit more speed for the sake of quicker exits and lap times. Pick your poison – either way, you'll be having way more fun than should be lawful in a block-shaped vehicle weighing 5,150 pounds.
You'll be having way more fun than should be lawful in a block-shaped vehicle weighing 5,150 pounds.
On COTA's long back straight, the Jeep's heft and general lack of aerodynamic efficiency becomes apparent as acceleration slows once into triple-digit speeds. That's not to say it's actually slow, it's just not accelerating as fiercely as it does at lower velocities. In any case, we'd wager a paycheck or two that high-speed acceleration significantly improved with the three additional ratios for 2014 compared to previous years, saddled as it was with an aging five-speed unit.
Fuel mileage is not going to be at the top of the target buyer's list of concerns, but we're happy to report that the 2014's estimated ratings of 13 miles per gallon in the city and 19 on the highway are each one mpg better than before. Click the car into Eco mode and those figures improve, according to Jeep, by around six percent. Fear not, hot shoes, full throttle in either Eco or normal modes is the same.
Interior dimensions mirror those of other Grand Cherokee models, with 40.3 inches of legroom up front and 38.6 in the rear. Cargo capacity maxes out at 68.7 cubic feet, or at 35.1 with the rear seats in their full upright and locked positions. You'll be able to fit four adults inside comfortably, or five if you have to, and they will all enjoy heated seats (cooled up front, too), an attractive and airy cockpit with reasonable visibility and even an optional rear-seat Blu-ray/DVD entertainment system with monitors that swing up from the front seatbacks.
Choosing the Jeep saves you more than $20,000 off the price of anything else that might be called competition.
Put another way, strip all the go-fast goodies from the SRT and you're left with a highly competitive sport utility vehicle. But why in the world would you want to do that? If you're in the market for a super 'ute, put your local Jeep dealer on your must-visit list, and make sure you bring at least $62,995 (plus $995 for that pesky destination charge) along with you.
By choosing the Jeep, you'll be saving more than $20,000 off the price of anything else that might be called competition, vehicles including the BMW X5M or Porsche Cayenne Turbo, and the European contenders boast option prices that will easily put you into a second mortgage if you're not careful. Yes, those vehicles, along with the Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG and Land Rover Range Rover Sport Supercharged, may be a little quicker, faster or more powerful. They might boast more brand cachet and they may be more refined than the beast from Jeep. But they won't be any more practical, and we're not sure they're that much more fun, either. Besides, when the automotive discussion turns toward track-biased super-performance sport utility vehicles, fun thrown in the face of conventional wisdom really is the name of the game, don't you think?