The $63,000 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT is a strange creation. The interior is as nice as you’ll find on many fancy European cars. It can tow up to 7,200 pounds. It has 470 horsepower. It’s capable of speeds up to 160 miles per hour (without towing).
In other words, this Jeep is a strange, beautiful flower. Take a car like the Toyota Corolla, which is an inoffensive way to get from A to B. Its allure to customers is easily understood. With the Jeep, you have to drill down pretty far into the car-buying population to find the ideal purchaser. It’s one part mountain-busting SUV, one part muscle car and one part luxury people mover.
This version comes from Street and Racing Technology (SRT), now its own Chrysler brand. While the base Grand Cherokee can be had for less than $30,000, the SRT model starts at twice that. As driven, my Jeep cost $70,260. If you’re looking for a luxury product from Chrysler, in many ways this is it.
The Grand Cherokee nameplate goes back to the 1990s when SUVs began to rule the auto world. It has always purportedly, (and somewhat justly) been a rock-crawling off-roader, though it’s most often used as an able grocery getter.
As a mid-sized SUV which seats up to five, with a variety of engine choices and option levels, it is a major player in Chrysler’s arsenal. The truck has been steadily and substantially revised in the last several years, including a refresh of the latest 2014 model.
Changes include an even more upmarket interior and a major transmission change. The automatic transmission now has eight gears — a technological tweak which transforms the driving experience. The company has also released a diesel V-6 model, which gets up to 30 miles per gallon the highway and is good for 420 pound-feet of torque.
Whatever version, it looks like an all-American SUV. Big and bulky, it hasn’t bowed to the trend for sleeker forms that look more like crossovers. This is no Acura MDX or Lexus RX; the Jeep still screams rough-and-ready truck. You’ll step up to get in, and you can dump up to 68.7 cubic-feet of stuff into the rear.
Inside you’ll find the SRT model is easily as nice as the current Mercedes-Benz ML550 SUV, which has 402 hp and starts just under $60,000. The Jeep’s dash is leather covered and stitched smartly. Carbon-fiber inserts look modern and it has an optional panoramic sunroof. The GPS infotainment system, with a touch screen, is better than Mercedes’s tired rotary-operated unit.
Which is ironic, because at one point the two companies were one, as DaimlerChrysler, and this is exactly the kind of model we might have imagined coming from it. They had an acrimonious divorce and instead the latest Grand Cherokee comes to us as a product of a company partly owned by Fiat SpA.
Of course, you should expect great things considering the price, which puts it within the sphere of both the BMW X5 SUV and the Mercedes ML. The SRT’s floodgate of power, including 465 pound-feet of torque, comes courtesy of Chrysler’s big-bat engine, the 6.4-liter V-8 Hemi. The 470-hp outclasses the $65,000 X5 xDrive50i and all of the ML models except the $97,000 AMG version.
My test model had 20-inch wheels and Pirelli P Zero tires; all that shiny rubber helped to ensure maximum traction and handling on a sunny day.
But these are summer performance tires, and if you imagine driving them on mountain trails come winter, or even out of a snow-drifted driveway, you’re in for a rude surprise. If you live in colder climes you’ll either have to settle for all- seasons or, better, switch to seasonal snow tires.
I drove the Jeep in the coastal mountains of southern California, which are rarely beset by the vagaries of winter. If you live in Topanga Canyon you just might be the perfect buyer. Because that would also mean you’d have a chance to run roads like the infamously twisty Mulholland Drive, for which the SRT is well equipped.
Extremely balanced for an SUV, it whips around curves with little lean and great stability. The company claims you’ll get to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds and there’s even a launch control to make that happen. Silliness, but why not?
The new eight-speed transmission is brilliant and best left in automatic. There are behind-the-wheel paddles so you can shift yourself, but with all those gears you’ll find it busy and unsatisfying work.
There is still room for improvement. The seats are only so- so comfortable: not well bolstered enough for hard driving, not really comfy enough for long mileage. And the leather is a bit less convincing than I’d prefer from a $70,000 vehicle.
Will the company sell a lot of them? Not likely. It takes a certain kind of buyer to appreciate such an odd, beautiful flower.
The 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT at a Glance
Engine: 6.4-liter V-8 Hemi with 470 horsepower and 465
pound-feet of torque.
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic.
Speed: 0 to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds.
Gas mileage per gallon: 13 city; 19 highway.
Price as tested: $70,260.
Best feature: Versatility.
Worst feature: Leather quality is lacking.
Target buyer: Driver looking for an American-made performance SUV.