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2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 4x4 On The Road Review By Steve Purdy

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2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 4x4


By Steve Purdy
Michigan Bureau

This is my first experience with the redesigned Jeep Grand Cherokee (on the market for about a year now), and it just happens to be time for a good, long road trip – 600 miles, door-to-door – from our southern Michigan headquarters to a relaxing condo on the Cumberland Plateau, about 45 minutes west of Knoxville, Tennessee. I see by the window sticker that our SRT8, high-performance, high-zoot SUV, is rated at only 18 mpg on the highway. We’ll see if we can beat that number.

This is the fourth generation of the Grand Cherokee that has always been a uni-body design rather than the typical SUV with a body-on-frame design. This mid-size, 5-passenger, four-wheel drive CUV (usually considered to be an SUV) without extras starts a bit over 27 grand. Our loaded “SRT8” with all the power and panache you’ll ever need plus a couple of costly packages comes in at a solid 61 grand.

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Our trip to the Cumberland Plateau, with a day trip to the Smokey Mountains, will offer a variety of driving environments and experiences, from the nearly non-stop freeway jaunt each way to the challenging serpentine forest roads in the mountains. We’re expecting to catch the tail end of the rich fall colors as we make our traditional visit to Cades Cove high in the Smokey Mountain National Park.

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The SRT designation refers to sreetable raceablity enabled by technology. This Grand Cherokee SRT8 has the new, 6.4-liter Hemi V8 making a solid 470 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque (without resorting to artificially boosted aspiration) enhanced by suspension and handling characteristics that make it competent on a race track as well as limited off-road circumstances. The 5-speed automatic transmission, an older unit, is tough but not particularly efficient.

We began this adventure on a colorless late fall day entering the fast-paced rural freeway near our Michigan base. Our fall colors are long gone. Acceleration down this generous ramp felt subdued and entirely civilized until I buried the go pedal. It launched like a rocket with a roar and a rumble. My pretty wife reminded me that it sucks a lot of gas when I do that. I assured her, though, that you, our astute readers, need to share that experience. So it’s my responsibility to experience that for you, and report. Let’s just call it “adrenalin on demand.”

We also have “on demand” four-wheel drive and an electronic limited-slip differential, along with every conceivable electronic control to keep you out of trouble – ABS, traction control, Adaptive Dampening Suspension and stability control. And, we have a Selec-Trac that prioritizes all of the electronic controls for five different driving modes from “Track” to “Snow.” With the former engaged you can achieve .90 g on the skid pad and a 0-to-60 time of 4.6 seconds. Road and Track tested it against competitors and the SRT8’s lap times and quarter-mile times beat the Porsche Cayenne S and BMW X5. Not bad credentials. Those both cost considerably more than this Jeep.

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This kind of 600-mile cruise can acclimate one to a vehicle quickly. Nine hours in this pleasant, exceptionally quiet, well-designed and well-executed cockpit passes quickly on this familiar drive. Controls, readouts and gauges were reasonably intuitive but a long way from the best in the market. The standard adaptive cruise control didn’t always readout what I told it to do, and the trip and performance computer systems were a bit awkward to scroll through. Just about everything we needed was there, though, including the cumulative mpg readout that continued to disappoint me - with the message, not the presentation. By the end of the trip we knew where to find everything and how to use it. The learning curve was a bit excessive.

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Among the high-performance elements of the Grand Cherokee SRT8 are Bembo brakes and Pirelli run-flat, 20-inch, Z-rated tires. The lower stance and low, sexy sport cladding will limit off-roading by reducing ground clearance. The flashy, 20-inch by10-inch-wide, five double-spoke cast aluminum wheels fill the wheel well nicely on this big trucky thing. Driving though Cincinnati on I-75 became a real challenge. Our big, fat, wide tires wanted so badly to follow the exaggerated grooves in the pavement that the whole truck thrashed back and forth like an angry gator.

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Not far north of Knoxville we began to see increasingly intense colors remaining in the autumn woodlands – bright red sumac, multiple shades of oak leaves and plenty of remaining soft maples in their yellows and oranges. Our day trip to the Smokey, and Cades Cove in particular, revealed even more color interspersed with a variety of evergreens. Even better, each time we stepped out of the car, and cruising around Cades Cove with the windows open, we were treated to wafts of leafy autumn aromas.

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Passing back through the National Park to Gatlinburg we have 25 miles of twisties where, if you push it hard, you might make 50-mph on some sections. Out of consideration for my pretty wife’s comfort I did not push as hard as I would have liked, but I can say without equivocation that this thing handles great with its revised fully independent suspension – tight, just enough feedback, under control and exhilarating. I’m not going too fast, though, to enjoy watching the swift mountain streams beside the road roil and gush through their rocky beds with just a few fly fishermen snagging their lures in the overhanging trees.

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In spite of not having a full frame under it we find a towing capacity of a decent 5,000 pounds and payload of 1,350. We can load it up with 69 cubic-feet of stuff with the second seat folded and 35.1 cubic-feet with it in position. This would be a comfortable and accommodating way for two couples to travel even if they were all golfers hauling four sets of clubs.

Now – back to the fuel economy issue. The Grand Cherokee SRT8 features cylinder deactivation to boost fuel economy. We can feel it kick in and out going down the road. The EPA rates this 5,200-pound CUV at 12 mpg in the city and 18 on the highway with premium fuel. We maxed out at 16.4 mpg on a couple of our highway tanks and considerably less when more stop and go was involved. It has a 24.6-gallon tank, but with this kind of mileage we still have only about a 350-mile range at best.

Jeep’s new car warranty covers the powertrain for 5 years or 100,000 miles and the whole car for 3 years or 36,000 miles.

While we can say the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 is a great value at 60 grand compared to some of its German competitors, you’ll still have a considerable carbon footprint.

Built in Detroit (some would say, “as God intended”) you certainly get patriotic points.

Just keep that gas card handy.

ęSteve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved