If you were to tell a friend that you were taking your Jeep to the race track, they might assume that you were either using it as a tow vehicle for your sports car or were simply going to park it in the lot and sit in the grandstands. If you were to correct them by saying that no, you fully intended to run your SUV through the S curves and down the main straight at full throttle they will probably look at you like you are crazy – unless they know what the three little letters spelling ‘SRT’ slapped on the side of your truck actually mean.
Street and Racing Technology is now into its third generation of transforming the standard Jeep Grand Cherokee into the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT, a muscled-up, stiffly-sprung monster that threatens to clobber everything in its path on the way to the finish line. The 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT demonstrates the evolution of the beast from hayseed hot rod to a high horsepower, high tech showcase that fights its own weight, the incredulous stares of onlookers, and the laws of physics in order to beat up on sports sedans from stoplight to stoplight (and sometimes, through the corners).
The 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT has been afforded the same visual refresh given to the standard Grand Cherokee for the current model year, which means a taughter grille, more extensive use of external LED lighting, and a new set of 20-inch wheels. Badging has also been updated in order to further separate the SRT from the base SUV, and for the very first time the go-fast Grand Cherokee features LED-ringed HID headlights that are unique to the model.
Inside the Jeep potential customers will find a larger 8.4-inch touchscreen for the Uconnect system, which makes it that much easier to browse through the Performance Pages app that keeps track of things like acceleration times, braking distances, and g-forces. Performance Pages also offers a nifty full-screen digital/analog gauge that displays real-time horsepower and torque production based on current engine speed. Owners can upload and share their 'personal bests' with other SRT owners wirelessly.
Also new is the gauge set mounted directly behind the revised steering wheel. Analog readouts have been replaced by a seven-inch TFT screen that can cycle through a wide variety of customizable vehicle information displays, including analog and digital speed readouts and the tachometer readout. The system is quite easy to use, with big, intuitive buttons mounted on the wheel taking charge of all interactions.
The Grand Cherokee's one ergonomic sticking point is its revised console-mounted shifter. The same stubby T-shaped appendage that can be found in vehicles like the Chrysler 300, this unit doesn't offer the traditional click-through détentes that one is used to with an autobox but rather requires that drivers tap it up or down with a certain amount of force to access the desired gear. This makes it particularly difficult to go directly from Drive to Park or Reverse, with the unit frequently getting hung up in Neutral and risking a roll-away. The old shifter design wasn't broken, and there was no need to 'fix' it.
The upside of the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT's vestigial shifter is that it's connect to a long-awaited eight-speed automatic transmission. This unit is a veritable revelation when compared to the ancient five-speed autobox proffered by the 2013 SRT, and it plays a significant role in transforming the SUV's driving experience. Of particular note is its ability to smooth out the acceleration delivered by the Grand Cherokee SRT's 6.4-liter Hemi V-8, which carries over unchanged. 470 horsepower and 465 lb-ft of torque are a staggering amount of output to have to deal with, but the eight-speed automatic is a up to the task, particularly when accelerating at speeds of 30-mph and above where the old five-speed simply felt overwhelmed. Cruising is vastly improved as well, as the monstrous SRT now comes across as much more civilized when dipping only slightly into the throttle.
Another bonus that comes hand-in-hand with the eight-speed transmission is the presence of a new launch control system. Whereas attempting to pre-load the torque converter in the 2013 SRT model resulted in sluggish lurches off of the line, requiring drivers to instead lift from the brake and stab at the gas at the drag strip, the new system engages at the push of a console-mounted button and holds the revs at 2,000 rpm with the brake and accelerator simultaneously engaged. The system gives pilots five seconds to release the brake and rocket forward, dispatching the sprint to 60-mph in 4.8 seconds.
From a practical perspective, Jeep has also increased the towing capacity of the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee by a significant 44 percent. It now stands at 7,200 lbs, which is much more usable for those who would employ this monster 'ute as their track-day trailering vehicle.
Of course, there are some who would forgo the need for a dedicated track car and instead choose to campaign the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT itself. In order to prove just how competent the 2014 models is on the twisty bits, Jeep brought me to the newly-constructed Circuit of the Americas, located just outside of Austin, Texas, where a group of journalists were set loose to spend a morning turning in hot laps from behind the wheel of the hulking SUV.
Many would question the sanity of anyone interested in flogging a truck weighing in at 5,150 lbs around the flowing curves of a Formula 1 track, particularly when the vehicle in question also sports an SUV-level ride height. After a one-lap ride-along with SRT head Ralph Gilles, however, I felt confident that the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT would be able to handle what had been laid out before it.
The Circuit of the Americas is a very fast, and in some places very technical race course. The Grand Cherokee SRT - with its all-wheel drive system set to 'Track' mode - felt planted and secure during each and every lap, with the rear-wheel drive bias of its torque management featuring allowing for power oversteer and a reasonable amount of feel through its steering. Paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel allowed for manual gear selection (and the eight-speed auto rev-matches on downshifts), but I found it simpler to leave the transmission in 'Sport' and concentrate instead on my driving line. Frighteningly quick, with speeds approaching 130-mph on the back stretch that measures three-quarters of a mile, the Jeep was all-too willing to rotating around the corners after lifting off of the throttle before planting itself again in a straight line with the judicious application of horsepower. Perhaps most impressive was its braking, as despite the SUV's portentous mass I never once ran out of stopping power.
The 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT is a low-volume SUV hot rod that certainly doesn't need to exist - yet I am very glad that it does. The muscled-up stance of its reworked sheet metal and the rumble from its four-inch dual exhaust tips satisfy the eyes and ears, and the truck's willingness to claw at the pavement for traction via its four-wheel drive system further pleases the seat of the pants. The SRT is an amazing drag machine, and it's also as-practical as the standard Grand Cherokee when it comes to towing and interior space, which is not something that could be claimed by previous versions of the vehicle.
The fun stops, however, on the race track. Yes, the Grand Cherokee SRT can hang with some impressive machinery, and in the right hands its lap times will raise more than a few eyebrows. Unfortunately, its weight, its height, and its semi-detached driving experience are not conducive to providing the same kind of road course smiles that it so easily induces when tackling the 1320. This is one amazing piece of machinery that I would be perfectly happy pointing and shooting in a straight line - and then using it to tow my significantly-lighter and lower track toys to the local circuit.