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2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8: Road Test and Review

Benjamin Hunting
by Benjamin Hunting
September 21, 2012
9 min. Reading Time

Some vehicles simply offer no logical reason for their existence, representing the end result of a product planner’s fancy, or the response to a perceived need to stand out in a crowd and draw the most attention possible to a brand.  The 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 is one such automobile – a high performance SUV that can stomp all over sports sedans in a number of categories thanks to a fire-breathing drivetrain that maximizes acceleration and grip to the race-ready levels.

Please don’t mistake our interpretation of the Grand Cherokee SRT8’s necessity in the grand automotive scheme of things as a dismissal.  Far from it: we are delighted that such a ridiculously overpowered truck exists, and even more intoxicated with the fact that it is priced at a level that brings it within the reach of mere mortals who don’t count a country club membership amongst their most prized possessions.  You will never hear us complain about the incongruity of attempting to give an SUV sports car-levels of performance, especially when the vehicle in question is as practical on a daily basis as the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8.  And even if someone on our staff did voice an objection to the concept, you wouldn’t be able to hear it over the sound of exhaust and squealing tires, anyway.

2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8: Competition

One wouldn’t think that there would be much competition for the title of the ‘world’s fastest SUV,’ and there was once a time when this would have been a correct assumption: trucks were used to haul people and cargo from one place to another, with little thought given to how many g’s they could pull on a skid pad.  In 2011, however, a different picture of the high performance sport-utility scene has developed, one that caters to those seeking to spice up their people movers with gobs of horsepower and trick suspension systems that can disguise the massive bulk of their heavy-duty platforms. 

Notably, the vast majority of the world’s ultra-fast sport-utility vehicles hail from Germany, where in-house tuners AMG and the M Division have crafted a number of boisterous and over-powered trucks.  The Mercedes-Benz ML63, the BMW X5 M, and the BMW X6 M are all capable of posting horsepower and acceleration numbers within the same neighborhood as the Jeep – and so is the Porsche Cayenne.  The only problem that arises when contrasting the Grand Cherokee SRT8 against these particular rivals has to do with price: in order to get the same level of performance from almost any other muscle SUV, you have to spend significantly more money; in some cases, close to double its MSRP.  This makes the SRT8 not only a world-class automotive athlete, but also something of a bargain, which is an unusual combination in any segment of the market.


2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8: Pricing and Trim Levels

The 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 comes in a single trim level that retails for an MSRP of $54,670.  Although the vehicle is fairly well-equipped out of the box, there are a number of packages that can be ordered with the SRT8 that boost its price up a little bit further.  Indeed, it may be difficult to actually find an example of the SUV that hasn’t already been loaded up with some of the more popular available feature.  The model that we drove for a week was a Canadian-market Grand Cherokee SRT8 that, when its options were tallied up, presented a final price close to the $60,000 mark.


2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8: Exterior

The 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 benefits from a redesign that introduces less brutal, smoother flowing lines compared to the model that came before it.  It’s easy to pick the SRT8 out from a lineup when parked beside more sedately-styled Grand Cherokee trim levels, thanks to not-so-subtle differences like functional hood vents, aggressive front and rear bumper aerodynamics, and the presence of new dual exhaust outlets that move from their original center position and now jut out from underneath either side of the Jeep’s rump.  This repositioning was done at the behest of first-generation SRT8 owners who were disgruntled by the lack of tow hitch options that would fit their vehicles.  LED lights set into the Grand Cherokee’s lower fascia, a monochromatic paint scheme, and unique 20-inch wheels round out the changes that set the SRT8 model apart from its Jeep siblings.

Despite offering more refined styling than in years past, the 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 still does an excellent job of conveying to anyone who happens to glance up and see the vehicle filling their rearview mirror that this is one very fast truck - and that maybe it’s time to put on the blinker and move out of the left lane.  Really, what more could one want from a performance SUV?


2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8: Interior

The 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8’s passenger compartment has also benefited from a refresh, and the results inside are more of a mixed bag compared to the attentions paid to its exterior.  There are aspects of the SRT8’s cabin that we liked very much, including the well-bolstered, heated leather sport seats, the ample legroom afforded to rear passengers, and the quick-folding back bench that opened up a sizable amount of cargo space when needed.  The Jeep’s carbon-fiber dash trim also received praise from those riding in the SUV, and our love for Chrysler’s Uconnect touchscreen navigation, entertainment, and communications system – which was installed in our test vehicle – continues unabated.

In some ways, however, the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 just doesn’t offer the full-on luxury experience that we were expecting.  The materials used on the door panels and dash simply didn’t feel as high end as we would have liked, given the SRT8’s position as the pinnacle of the Grand Cherokee lineup.  The worst offender in this category, by far, was the cheap-looking block-lettering emblazoned alongside the automatic transmission’s shifter.  We were also not pleased with how hard it was to read the Jeep’s speedometer, which featured tiny digits stacked one on top of another in such a way that we found ourselves relying on the LCD driver information display when monitoring our actual rate of travel.

Despite our misgivings about the SRT8’s gauge design, we did have fun with the full array of performance-measuring features that are part and parcel of the above-mentioned driver information screen.  Capable of timing quarter-mile and 0-60-mph runs (as well as eighth mile ETs and braking performance), the system worked flawlessly and was verified by our radar testing equipment to be extremely accurate.  Certainly, it’s much more satisfying to adopt a driving style that attempts to nail the cleanest and quickest launches off of the line – as chronicled by the dash display when departing from every stop – than it is trying to feed the dying leaves or angry green and yellow floating balls that serve as sad reminders of your inability to meet the efficiency expectations of your hybrid vehicle.


2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8: Powertrain and Fuel Economy

The 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 features an enormous, 6.4-liter V-8 engine under the hood.  This gargantuan unit – the largest eight-cylinder motor produced by either Chrysler or parent company Fiat – is tuned to provide 470 horsepower and 465 lb-ft of torque.  The Grand Cherokee SRT8 makes do with an old school five-speed automatic transmission (Chrysler promises that an eight-speed autobox is on the way for the Jeep), mated to a full-time four-wheel drive system.  Fuel mileage for the SRT8 checks in at an abysmal 12-mpg around town and 18-mpg on the highway – numbers that we found to be as accurate as they were irrelevant during our time with the SUV.  After all, no one is buying a Grand Cherokee SRT8 to make friends with the local Sierra Club.


2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8: Driving Impressions

The first thought that enters the head of almost anyone who dips into the 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8’s extremely wide powerband is, to borrow a catchphrase from legendary thespian Keanu Reeves, ‘woah!’  That’s because no matter how lightly one breathes on the SRT8’s throttle, the response from its 6.4-liter V-8 is immediate and authoritative.  The Jeep wants to surge forward, as quickly as possible, at all times, and it took us almost a full day to master the right foot discipline required to drive the Grand Cherokee SRT8 at anything resembling proper highway decorum.

Once learned, this hard-earned discipline was thrown immediately out the window.  The Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 wasn’t built to putter sedately around town – it was designed to scare the living daylights out of its driver, its passengers, and any pedestrians who happen to be within earshot when the loud pedal is kicked to the floor.  This is one of the fastest trucks on the planet, checking in behind such luminaries as the infinitely more expensive Porsche Cayenne Turbo and the slightly less pricy BMW X5 M when it comes to all-out performance.  The Jeep’s Selec-Track four-wheel drive system, which offers five adjustable settings (Track, Sport, Auto, Snow, and Tow), transforms the vehicle into a land rocket thanks to the oodles of traction it provides when launching from a cold start.  Strangely, the SRT8 doesn’t feel as fast as a comparable sports sedan, as the driver is well insulated from the outside world by its raised suspension system and sheer bulk, but there’s no question you are going to get wherever you need to be in a hurry: 0-60 mile per hour times are listed as just under five seconds for the truck.

The Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 certainly wants to ‘go,’ but it’s also pretty sure that it wants to get there in a straight line.  The SUV can pull an impressive 0.90 g before giving up the ghost, yet tilting the SRT8 into a corner at a high rate of speed instantaneously triggers a response from the brain that isn’t quite panic, but definitely is not that far off from it.  It simply feels wrong to be piloting such a tall vehicle along a twisty road as it leans from side to side on its adaptive suspension.  Copious amounts of all-wheel drive traction are available, of course, but overexcited drivers can easily erase the advantage provided by the front drive wheels via exuberant application of the throttle, resulting in a surprising amount of hooliganish oversteer.  The Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 is only too happy to do donuts on a low-friction surface, or perform 180-degree turns in the middle of the street just like a rear-wheel drive muscle car, if that’s what you’re after.

Eager to indulge the SRT8’s preference for straight-line speed, we took our test vehicle to the local drag strip in Napierville, Quebec in order to see if we could match the manufacturer’s advertised quarter mile time of 13.5 seconds.  Rolling in fresh from the highway with a full complement of passengers aboard, we ripped off a 13.9 second pass on our first run.  In order to see if we could improve on that time, we experimented with the vehicle’s drive control settings.  Sport introduces a more aggressive shift pattern, while turning the console-mounted dial to Track completely eliminates traction control (but leaves the Jeep’s undefeatable stability control active). 

After realizing that brake-boosting the transmission only confused it and bogged us down instead of launching us hard, we eventually discovered that the most effective method of extracting sub-two-second 60-foot times was to release the brake a millisecond before stabbing the throttle abruptly while in Track mode.  This gave the SRT8’s gearbox time to figure things out before being asked to deliver 470 horses all at once, and after letting the truck cool down for 30 minutes it allowed us to turn in a time slip of 13.5 seconds @ 101 miles per hour.  This is beyond impressive for a truck that weighs in at over 5,000 lbs, and even more satisfying than the quick ET was the fun involved in dispatching competitor after competitor with our very consistent – and explosive – launches.  Hauling ourselves down from such lofty speeds was accomplished without a hint of drama thanks to the 6-piston front and 4-piston rear Brembo brakes that are standard with the SUV.

How does the Grand Cherokee SRT8 fare during the daily grind?  Surprisingly, other than its horrendous fuel consumption, there’s really no reason why the Jeep couldn’t serve as a docile commuter, if driven with restraint.  The engineers at Chrysler have made sure that the 2012 edition of the SRT8 really only comes unhinged at the request of the driver, which means that traveling in the wet or the snow can be transformed into a perfectly placid experience for those capable of ignoring the siren call of 465 lb-ft of instantaneously-delivered twist.  The 6.4-liter motor even boasts cylinder deactivation technology, allowing it to buzz along on four-cylinders at cruising speeds and causing perhaps the world’s most inappropriate ‘ECO’ light to illuminate on the dash.

One complaint we do have is that the Jeep’s retuned exhaust system simply isn’t loud enough.  First-generation SRT8’s sounded as though they were going to skin you alive as they leapt off of the line, but the 2012 edition’s howl is more muted.  It’s also impossible to rev the engine past 4,000 rpm while in neutral, greatly reducing the SUV’s ability to intimidate every living thing within a thousand-foot radius.


2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8: Safety

The 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 offers electronic stability control and traction control to enhance the added security provided by its standard Selec-Track four-wheel drive system.  Forward airbags, seat-mounted front side airbags, and side curtain airbags that protect passengers in all outboard positions of the SUV are also included free of charge with the vehicle.  The SRT8 is additionally provided with active front headrests that work to prevent neck injuries in the event of a collision.


2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8: Final Thoughts

The 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 is the nuclear option of the SUV world: a truck with this much power simply doesn’t need to exist, but now that it does, it’s not going anywhere, and you had better respect it.  The mutually-assured track-day destruction philosophy espoused by the SRT8 and its Porsche and BMW competitors has created a performance SUV arms race that shows no signs of stopping.

In comparison with its exceedingly tony rivals, the 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 provides incredible value.  While it might lack the guided-missile precision of the German SUV set, it doesn’t give up much in terms of output or acceleration, and the price differential between the SRT8 and its closest enemies is enough to buy a Prius or two to park in the driveway for those days when you don’t feel like dropping $100 at the gas station.  Combined with its practical interior and world-class styling, the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 is a ludicrous and wonderful solution to a problem that simply doesn’t exist.

What We Like About The 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8

  • It’s extremely fast, all the time
  • Looks great
  • Lots of room inside for hauling tires to the track, or family members to their non-performance related commitments
  • Intoxicating attitude
  • Did we mention it’s fast?
  • Very affordable for its segment
  • Excellent four-wheel drive system
  • Now you can tow with your SRT8

We Aren't So Hot On

  • Depressing fuel mileage numbers that can be met only by driving with an egg under the gas pedal
  • Too-quiet exhaust system
  • Use of some sub-par interior materials mar an otherwise acceptable cabin


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