2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee
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    $27,195 - $54,670
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    2 Owner Reviews
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    2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee Expert Review:Autoblog

    The Discount Choice For Super Ute Shoppers

    2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8

    The idea of a super ute has always been a crazy one. Of all the vehicle types on which to base a high-performance machine, one that was originally intended to go off road and later evolved into the towering family wagons we use today would not be our first choice. And yet, time and again we see that auto enthusiasts – even ones calling the shots at major automakers – will make anything go quicker and faster if given the chance. That's how the first Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 was born back in 2006, and Chrysler has again seen fit to apply this extreme treatment to its best-selling SUV – despite the fact that its mere existence seemingly violates every facet of Jeep's rugged off-road image.

    But the small segment of super utes to which the Grand Cherokee SRT8 belongs has gotten extremely competitive in the past few years while Chrysler clawed its way out of bankruptcy. Sport utility vehicles from BMW, Porsche and Mercedes-Benz have spawned unholy super utes with enough horsepower to embarrass supercars from just a few years ago.

    The 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 doesn't play by German rules, though. Despite its well-timed redesign that gives SRT guys and gals an opportunity to leapfrog their rivals, they instead practiced restraint, ignored winning the war on paper and upgraded their entry in the areas requested most by their customers.


    Styling was not a source of complaint from customers of the first-gen Grand Cherokee SRT8. The original model that sold from 2006 through 2010 was brutishly blocky, its design seemingly inspired by the head of a sledgehammer. This new SRT8 is forced to wear the smoother, softer lines of the all-new 2011 Grand Cherokee, so it loses that cast-iron quality of the original.

    2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 side view2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 front view2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 rear view

    That doesn't mean it's any less intimidating to walk up to in person. It actually might be moreso. The height, width and sheer verticality of its front end is just about the best impression of a brick wall we've ever seen an automobile make. And that deep front chin spoiler means this Jeep won't be Trail Rated for anything other than the freshest asphalt. The two air vents on the hood, however, are our favorite elements. These nostrils, which require tippy toes to even see, perform the real-world function of letting heat escape the engine compartment, but you can just tell people they shoot fire and sometimes claim small animals that get too close.

    That deep front chin spoiler means this Jeep won't be trail rated for anything other than the freshest asphalt.

    One thing customers did complain about was the last generation model's center-mounted rear exhaust. Despite being eminently cool to spew your fumes out the middle of the rear bumper, the twin pipes' location was not very practical for loading up the rear cargo area or figuring out a towing solution. In the best-case scenario they would blast your legs with hot exhaust, and in the worst burn them like a branding iron. The Mini Cooper S has garnered complaints for its similar set up, but unlike Mini's solution of just shortening the pipe length, Jeep decided to split them up and put a single four-inch diameter outlet on each side.

    The rest of what makes this Grand Cherokee look like an SRT product is more subtle. The grille and door handles are body-colored, in this case a Brilliant Black Crystal Pearl, instead of chrome; the roof rack has been shaved and the liftgate topped with an SRT-specific spoiler; and the front fascia features a pair of slim LED daytime running lights. As a whole, the visual changes clearly communicate that this Grand Cherokee was made for going quickly, not crawling rocks, and nothing screams that louder than its new wheels. A set of five-spoke, 20-inch forged aluminum wheels wearing P295/45ZR20 Pirelli Scorpion Verde All-Season run-flats, these steamrollers avoid the polished look with a smokey, anthracite-like finish, and their thin spokes offer the least obstructive view of the bright red Brembo-spec braking system.

    2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 front fascia2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 hood vents2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 wheel2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 rear fascia

    The inside of the Grand Cherokee SRT8 is less aggressive and intimidating than the outside, but it still tries to pull off that veneer of performance despite its original purpose as a functional and semi-luxurious SUV interior. To that end, gone is the warm and inviting two-tone beige and brown color palette available on a standard Grand Cherokee. In its place is the same monochromatic theme of the exterior played out in black Napa leather and suede, dark plastics, satin chrome and carbon fiber accents. While certainly muted, the interior isn't gloomy thanks to the bright trim work, a set of aluminum pedal pads that greet you on entry and that ribbon of surprisingly convincing carbon fiber across the dash and doors.

    Second-row passengers will have a hard time hanging on when you show off what the GC SRT8 can do.

    Any driver will become intimately familiar with the two parts of the interior we like best: the steering wheel and front seats. The Grand Cherokee SRT8's steering wheel is a thick and meaty ring with a flat bottom covered in attractive satin chrome. Already beefy, the steering wheel bulges with palm rests in just the right places, giving your hands something to grab when sawing away at the helm. It's also heated, and the integrated controls for operating the stereo, Electronic Vehicle Information Center (EVIC) and adaptive cruise control system are easy-to-use and difficult to engage by accident.

    SRT seats have always been high on our list of favorite thrones for their ability to both coddle and secure at the same time. These new ones upholstered in premium leather and grippy faux suede maintain the tradition, and are as equally great for long hauls as they are for hauling ass. Front seat passengers are treated to both heating and cooling, while the rear bench will only warm the backsides of passengers not quick enough to call shot gun. Second-row passengers are also given not nearly the same amount of bolstering, which means they'll have a hard time hanging on when you show off what the Grand Cherokee SRT8 can do.

    2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 interior2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 front seats2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 carbon fiber trim2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 speedometer

    Rear passengers do get more than three inches of additional leg room to stretch their lower limbs, and cargo capacity with the rear bench upright has also increased by nearly two cubic feet to 36.3 over its predecessor, though maximum cargo volume is down just a hair to 68.3 cu-ft. The Grand Cherokee SRT8 does keep things functional with a completely flat and expansive floor when the second row is folded, though the floor's four chrome accent strips, while attractive, look like magnets for scuffs and scratches. Jeep also gets kudos for thoughtful touches in the way back like a storage tray and flush-mounted flashlight located in an unused space behind the driver's side rear wheel, as well as four grocery bag hooks and a DC outlet.

    Demerits, however, should be handed out to whoever decided the Jeep Grand Cherokee wasn't ready for Chrysler's latest UConnect infotainment system. Like all Grand Cherokees, the SRT8 model missed the cut for Chrysler's new UConnect system that can be had in cars like the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger. Instead of that system's humongous touchscreen, dead-simple user interface and industry-leading response time, you get the old system with its cramped screen, yesteryear graphics and limited functionality. Fortunately, it appears the center stack was designed to accommodate the new, larger screen and it's probably just a matter of time before the system upgrade happens. If it were our money, we'd wait for it.

    2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 rear seats2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 rear entertainment system2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 rear cargo area2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 rear cargo area chrome trim

    We're fortunate, though, that the Grand Cherokee SRT8 didn't have to wait for Chrysler's newest SRT-spec powerplant. Like the latest SRT editions of the Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger and Challenger, the Grand Cherokee SRT8 has been upgraded with the automaker's new 6.4-liter HEMI V8 that replaces the tried-and-true 6.1-liter. Producing 470 horsepower at 6,000 RPM and 465 pound-feet of torque at 4,300 RPM, the 392 adds an extra 50 hp and 45 lb-ft on top of what the 6.1-liter was already producing.

    It isn't much quicker than the last generation, sprinting to 60 miles per hour in a factory-claimed 4.8 seconds.

    The Grand Cherokee SRT8 does carry around an extra 362 pounds (5,150 versus 4,788), which means it isn't much quicker than the last generation, sprinting to 60 miles per hour in a factory-claimed 4.8 seconds. The "old" Grand Cherokee SRT8 could do sub-five-second runs out of the box as well, so all that extra power from the new 6.4-liter V8 isn't creating a much quicker SUV, at least according to the performance meter in the EVIC. Capable of measuring speed, braking, g-force, 0-60, 1/4-mile and 1/8-mile times, the performance meter told us that this particular Grand Cherokee SRT8 could reach 60 mph in 5.2 seconds, at least with yours truly as the particular person behind the wheel.

    That's still impressively quick for an SUV, but start comparing it to the current crop of German super utes and you begin to see where the Jeep ranks. In addition to the Grand Cherokee SRT8, this motley crew consists of the BMW X5 M, Porsche Cayenne Turbo and Mercedes-Benz M63 AMG. The X5 M and and Cayenne Turbo both feature twin-turbo V8s in the 4.0-liter range producing 550 and 500 hp, respectively, while the M63 AMG used to be offered with a naturally aspirated 503-hp 6.2-liter V8 (it's on hiatus this year while an all-new M-Class gets fitted with Mercedes' new twin-turbo 5.5-liter V8 producing well over 500 hp). The point is that these Germans come packing more powerful, sophisticated and efficient powerplants than the Grand Cherokee SRT8.

    2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 engine

    This isn't to say the Jeep is slow, but there is a deficit of low-end grunt that you won't find in the turbocharged BMW and Porsche, and the Jeep's standard five-speed automatic transmission is anywhere from one to three cogs down compared to the competition. Thankfully, the transmission can be manually operated by a pair of nicely placed paddle-shifters that feel premium to the touch and engage with authority when you want full control. Unfortunately, you have little control over when the engine's cylinder deactivation system, called Fuel Saver Technology, kicks in and removes four cylinders from the equation. This usually happens during steady state cruising approaching freeway speeds, and it's accompanied by increased noise, vibration and harshness levels from the engine compartment. The system kicks in early and often to save fuel, which it does to the tune of 12 miles per gallon in the city and 18 mpg on the highway. We achieved around 14 mpg in mixed driving that skewed more city than highway.

    Less power compared to the competition can be effectively countered with a higher level of handling, but here the Jeep again falls behinds its European classmates despite feeling quicker on its feet compared to the last generation. In addition to the aforementioned 20-inch wheels, the new Grand Cherokee SRT8 brings a 146-percent stiffer body to bear on its independent front and multi-link rear suspensions, Bilstein adaptive damping system and front and rear stabilizer bars. Jeep's Quadra-Trac four-wheel drive system does mute burnouts to a chirp at most, while the new Selec-Track system ties everything together and offers five preset modes: Auto, Sport, Track, Tow and Snow. Selec-Track has dominion over everything from the stability control and adaptive damping systems to the transmission shift points, division of torque front to rear, throttle sensitivity and cylinder deactivation.

    2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 paddle shifter2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 Selec-Track System

    We didn't feel significant differentiation between Auto, Sport and Track while driving on public roads, but expect what differences there are would appear in sharper relief on a track. Considering how few owners actually drive their SUVs off-road, we suspect most SRT8 owners won't regularly take their Grand Cherokee for on-track excursions, either. That means they'll be saddled with a stiff and bouncy ride over imperfect roads, even when the Selec-Track system is set to Auto, its most compliant setting.

    The Brembo brakes have excellent pedal modulation and know the difference between slowing and stopping.

    The Grand Cherokee SRT8 is also nerve-shredding to park. The long, flat and level hood obscures where the front end's corners are. Whether pulling into a traditional spot or performing the parallel kind of parking, we were constantly afraid of tapping the car in front of us or scraping those wheels on the curb. Fortunately, there is a backup camera and rear parking sensors, though we'd argue a set of proximity sensors up front would be even more helpful. The Grand Cherokee SRT8's traditional all-hydraulic steering system is thankfully accurate and feels nicely weighted at speed while offering plenty of assistance at parking lot speeds to easily turn those 20-inch wheels.

    Another area where the Grand Cherokee SRT8 doesn't fall down is its Brembo braking system with six-piston calipers up front clamping 15-inch rotors and four-piston rears squeezing 13.8-inch rotors. Besides the bright red Brembo calibers providing a trumpet blast of color in a one-note ballad of black, the system can transition from 60 mph to sitting still in just 116 feet. They're not carbon ceramic or high-tech in any special way, but they got the job done with excellent pedal modulation.

    2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 rear 3/4 view

    The one thing we've yet to discuss is the Grand Cherokee SRT8's ace in the hole: price. With a starting price of $60,960, Jeep's entry in the super ute class undercuts the German competition by tens of thousands of dollars. The BMW X5 M starts at $86,900 and quickly rises with options. The Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG isn't on sale this year, but began around $93,000 when it was for sale. And the Porsche Cayenne Turbo doesn't kid around with an MSRP of $107,100. So, you can see why Jeep doesn't care much if the Grand Cherokee SRT8 isn't the quickest, fastest, most superlative super ute on paper: It's the cheapest, by far.

    The best values in the super ute segment are made by the world's two most famous off-road brands: Jeep and Land Rover.

    The only super ute that may upset Jeep's bang-for-the-buck strategy is one we've yet to mention. It's not German and has been around a year longer than the Grand Cherokee SRT8. Give yourself a point if you guessed the Land Rover Range Rover Sport. Debuted as a 2005 model, the latest iteration offers your choice of a naturally aspirated 375-hp 5.0-liter V8 or a supercharged version producing a super ute-worthy 510 horsepower. It has an equally low $60,495 base price, though that rises to $75,390 for the supercharged version, and it comes standard with the cachet of being built by a surviving British automaker. It also pampers with luxury like only a Land Rover can, which is to say more and better than any Jeep.
    The curious thing is that it's possible to argue that the two best values in the super ute segment are made by the world's two most famous off-road brands. Both have no business offering high-performance sport utility vehicles, and yet they do.

    The 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 deserves consideration if a super ute is what you crave, and we love it for being the only American offering in this silly segment that's otherwise all European. At times we wish it were as ridiculously quick as those other super utes, but something has to give with such a low base price, and anyway, where would you use the extra horsepower? These are still SUVs, after all, destined for a life of domestic service. At least the Grand Cherokee SRT8 can be had at a more approachable price.

    Jeep's Best Argument To Skip The Dirt

    2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8

    We've just returned from flogging the all-new 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 on the main 2.5-mile road circuit at Willow Springs Motorsports Park in Southern California. This particular Jeep is nothing like your great-grandfather's Willys, your cousin's lifted CJ or even your little sister's Liberty.

    Lacking anything close to resembling a Trail Rated badge, this lowered, two-and-a-half ton monster packs a massive 6.4-liter Hemi under its hood, 20-inch forged alloys at each corner and an adaptive damping system to keep body movement in check. Even from a distance, it's hard to miss this four-door's oversized brakes, cannon exhaust pipes and intimidating body cladding. This Jeep looks mean, sounds aggressive and picks fights with sports cars instead of mountains.

    But what is the point of the Grand Cherokee SRT8? Do its owners race it, or is this simply an exercise to antagonize cavalier Porsche Cayenne and BMW X5 drivers? What are the benefits – and drawbacks – to packing 470 horsepower in an SUV? Can this thing even tow?

    We found answers to all of those questions and more, during our day on the track and long drive back to Los Angeles.


    2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 side view2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 front view2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 rear view

    The Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 arrived on the scene in 2006 when the automaker dropped a 6.1-liter Hemi under the hood of the previous-generation (WK platform) body. Boasting 425 horsepower and a five-speed automatic transmission, the all-wheel-drive first-generation Grand Cherokee SRT8 was capable of sprinting to 60 miles per hour in the high four-second range and topping out at a redline-limited 170 mph. With twin center-mounted exhaust outlets and five-spoke alloy wheels, the monochromatic SUV had the looks to back up its bark.

    Five years later, the fourth-generation Grand Cherokee rides on a new chassis (WK2 platform) shared with the 2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class. After delivering its latest Trail Rated off-roader with competent but staid 3.6-liter V6 and 5.7-liter V8 powerplants, Jeep offering an SRT version of the Grand Cherokee was inevitable.

    Launched at the 2011 New York Auto Show, the second-iteration SRT8 is a vast improvement over its predecessor. According to the automaker, on the tarmac, it's the best performing Jeep vehicle ever, with a 0-60 mph time of 4.8 seconds, a top speed of 160 mph and the ability to stop from 60 mph in just 116 feet.

    2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 lower front grille2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 brakes2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 exhaust pipe2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 badge

    As mentioned, the Grand Cherokee SRT8 version is unmistakable. Lowered one inch compared to the standard models, the SRT8 wears unique wheel flares, side cladding and a one-piece front fascia with new multi-function LED daytime running lights. The standard hood is replaced with a sculpted unit complete with functional ducts serving as heat extractors for the engine compartment. At the rear, there is a high-mounted liftgate spoiler to reduce drag and aerodynamic lift. A one-piece lower rear diffuser separates the new dual-sport exhaust pipes - while they looked wicked, its predecessor's twin center pipes were a nightmare for those who chose fit a trailer hitch.

    The Grand Cherokee SRT8's interior features SRT-styled Nappa leather and suede upholstery, with sculpted bucked seats for the driver and front passenger. Carbon-fiber accents are splashed throughout the instrument panel and door trim, and an all-new heated leather-wrapped steering wheel arrives complete with transmission shift paddles. Jeep's center-mounted Electronic Vehicle Information Center (EVIC) also features performance pages – software that displays instant data about acceleration, horsepower, torque, wheel angle and so on.

    2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 interior2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 front seats2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 gauges2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 instrument panel

    Mechanically speaking, Jeep has made a lot of changes to transform its Moab-climbing Grand Cherokee into an asphalt-eating track star.

    The hawkish hood hides a 6.4-liter Hemi V8. With a cast-iron block and aluminum-alloy heads, the 90-degree pushrod-operated 16-valve engine has a compression ratio of 10.9:1. Running on premium unleaded fuel, it is rated at 470 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque (down five pound-feet when compared to its other SRT8 siblings due to exhaust packaging). The transmission is a traditional five-speed automatic (W5A580) with a ZF electronic limited-slip differential, while permanent all-wheel drive is handled by a single-speed electronic proportioning transfer case (MP 3010). Properly equipped, the 2012 Grand Cherokee SRT8 can even tow 5,000 pounds, which is about average for this segment.

    2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 engine

    The Bilstein Adaptive Damping Suspension (ADS) is managed by Jeep's new Selec-Track system. In a nutshell, its electronics interact with multiple subsystems (stability control, adaptive damping, transmission shift points, transfer case proportioning, throttle control and cylinder deactivation) to automatically tune vehicle dynamics. However, drivers are also able to manually override the system and select one of five settings on the center console: Auto, Sport, Tow, Track and Snow.

    As expected, Auto delivers the smoothest ride while Track is primarily designed for closed-course performance. Torque is variable under the Auto setting, but it is fixed at specific ratios while in the other modes (e.g., 50/50 front to rear in Snow mode and 35/65 in Sport and Track mode). Like the many lesser Grand Cherokee models, the SRT8 is also equipped with the Quadra-Trac system that uses sensors to determine and correct tire slip by transferring torque before it becomes a handling issue.

    Those big brakes are sourced from Brembo. Painted bright red, the six-piston front calipers clamp on 15-inch front ventilated rotors while the four-piston rear calipers bite into 13.8-inch ventilated rotors. Standard wheels, meanwhile, are five-spoke 20-inch forged alloy units wearing 295/44ZR20 tires (all-season Pirelli Scorpion Verde rubber is standard, Pirelli P Zero three-season tires optional).

    2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 drive modes

    We picked up the Grand Cherokee SRT8 trackside, in the hot pits, when it was already running. Our first task was to wring a handful of laps out of it on Big Willow, the so-called "Fastest Road in the West," before driving it back to the Los Angeles Basin on speed-controlled roads.

    Strapped into the front left seat with a closed-face helmet securely buckled under our chin, we were snug and comfortable in the cockpit. Despite the brain bucket, there was plenty of headroom and the seats were very supportive with excellent bolstering. Then a quick twist of our right wrist moved the Selec-Trac indicator to "Track." We followed that by a tap on the stability control button (located just below the driver's climate controls) to suppress some of the electronic nannies – the system is never completely off. After the track marshal's signal, we hit the accelerator and moved onto the hot track.

    Full-throttle acceleration in a 470-horsepower all-wheel-drive vehicle is always exhilarating. Thrown hard against the seatbacks, we held the thick steering wheel straight as we accelerated towards Turn 1. Expecting a slight delay as the chassis reacted to the new angle of the front wheels, we turned in a bit early. Instead, and to our surprise, the SUV followed our commands immediately and we arced beautifully around the first corner without screaming tires or any drama from the stiff chassis.

    2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 side view

    Whether you like high-performance SUVs or not, it is amazing to experience just how well a good one can handle elevated speeds on a professional road racing circuit. The Grand Cherokee SRT8 weighs 5,150 pounds (the equivalent of a standard Porsche 911 with a Fiat 500 strapped to its roof), yet it hung with tenacity around the corners in pursuit of smaller vehicles on the track. It is impossible to defy the laws of physics, but the big Jeep sweats it out in an effort to do just that.

    Massive sticky Pirelli tires on all four corners give the truck a huge contact patch, while its all-wheel-drive system delivers the grip of caterpillar tracks pulling out of the corners. It is a real hoot to stomp the pedal and hang on as the torque is distributed around the platform. While the rear-wheel-drive cars tip-toed gingerly on the tightest bends, those were the moments the Jeep SRT8 put down its power and shined.

    The Jeep's brakes also impressed us, as they seemed oblivious to the amount of work they were doing. We found ourselves diving deeper and deeper into each corner, shaking our heads in amazement that the pedal wasn't getting softer with subsequent repetitions. To say they were un-Jeeplike is an understatement. To call them almost Porschelike would be a well-deserved compliment.



    There is always something oddly demented about driving an SUV around a race circuit, but the memories remain vivid. This author's recollection says the Grand Cherokee SRT8 is the third SUV he's have truly enjoyed on the track – putting the new Jeep in prestigious company. Seemingly equally as agile as the BMW X5 M (5,368 pounds), the SRT8 is still down on both handling and power compared to the much lighter Porsche Cayenne Turbo (4,784 pounds). But remember, those two enemies will lighten your wallet far more than the flagship American.

    After lunch and a quick photo shoot on the paddock, it was time to head back to Hollywood. The trip would take us 75 miles south as we followed major highways for most of the route. The Jeep was a whole different animal in this civilian environment. While our noggin was suffering from a severe case of helmet hair, our body remained comfortable thanks to cooled seats and dual-zone climate control. And, we can't fail to mention the audible pleasure of hearing static-free satellite radio tunes out of the new 7.3 Harmon Kardon Logic 7 surround sound system.

    Power on the open road was strong, as one would expect. The five-speed automatic transmission was smooth under normal throttle applications, but shifts seem to be more delayed and abrupt the harder it was pressed – not to the level of annoyance, but it was noticeable. Steering is good (great steering wheel, by the way), wind noise is low and the SUV tracks well at highway speeds.

    2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 rear 3/4 view

    Our two gripes about the Grand Cherokee SRT8 are both directly related to its performance mission. Despite the new standard fuel saver technology and active valve exhaust system, both credited with a 13-percent improvement in highway fuel economy, the Jeep is thirsty (EPA fuel economy rating of 12 mpg city and 18 mpg highway). We also noticed a lot of road noise permeating the cabin at highway speeds. but neither issue would stop us from putting the SUV in our driveway.

    So, what's the point of the Grand Cherokee SRT8?

    Without question, it will do a magnificent job antagonizing the occasional Porsche Cayenne, BMW X5 and supercharged Range Rover at the stoplight - there's a bona fide muscle car hidden within. But more than that, the 2012 Grand Cherokee SRT8 is a benchmark example of American high-performance engineering. The SRT team at Chrysler Group LLC has packed the five-seater with innovative technology, both under the hood and within the passenger cabin. With decades of skill and knowledge behind them, these people have taken a very capable off-road vehicle and transformed it into an adept track star. While it may have lost its off-road aptitude and natural lust for dirt, it has gained immeasurably entertaining talents through SRT's metamorphosis.

    New SRT8 joins recently redesigned lineup.

    Introduction

    The Jeep Grand Cherokee has very good road manners, five-passenger capacity, more cargo room than its predecessor and, if properly optioned, can be taken off the highway. 

    Grand Cherokee was thoroughly redesigned for 2011. For 2012, Jeep has made a few notable changes, brought back the SRT8 high-performance model, and added an Overland Summit to the top of the luxury range. 

    2012 Grand Cherokee models also get changes in packaging and pricing. While the least-expensive version appears about $3,000 less than last year's base model, it isn't really because it doesn't include power seats and other features that were standard for 2011. Every 2012 Grand Cherokee above the base model has seen a price increase. 

    Jeep Grand Cherokee continues to evolve toward luxury wagon and away from the utility vehicles that made the name famous. Many Grand Cherokee models come with piped leather, and the list of features includes a heated, power tilt-telescope steering column, ventilated front seats, and collision warning system. 

    Two-wheel drive is standard across the board. Four-wheel drive, low-range gearing, and a full-size spare tire required for genuine off-road activities are optional. And while you can get tow hooks, they're optional on most and chrome plated on the top of the line. A variety of all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive systems and suspension arrangements are available. A 3.6-liter V6 engine is standard and more than sufficient for anything but heavy towing. For that, they offer a 5.7-liter V8. A 5-speed automatic goes with the V6, and mileage has improved slightly for 2012. 

    The Grand Cherokee interior is stylish and made with high-quality materials. The luxurious Overland Summit model is as stitched-and-piped as any Chrysler and similarly expensive. The 60/40 rear seats recline for comfort, enabling passengers to look up at the sky through the optional panoramic sunroof that extends over both rows of seats; and the front seat folds flat for kayaks or two-by-fours. 

    The styling of the Grand Cherokee is uptown, with a sloped windshield and backlight, sculpted sides, and clean lines everywhere. The development of the Grand Cherokee goes back far enough that it paralleled the Mercedes-Benz M-Class. If there's a safety feature you want that isn't standard you can probably get it as an option. 

    The Jeep Grand Cherokee competes against a spectrum of vehicles including four-wheel drives, including the Land Rover LR4, Mercedes-Benz G-Class, Toyota 4Runner and Land Cruiser, any number of mid-size crossovers and niche models, and with the Chevy Tahoe and Ford Expedition. 

    The 2012 Grand Cherokee SRT8 is a street bruiser performance wagon like the Porsche Cayenne, BMW X5 and X6 and Mercedes-Benz AMG utilities. It's the fastest, most expensive, thirstiest Grand Cherokee, and the last one you want to take to a trail. 

    Lineup

    The 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee comes in five models, all but one with a choice of two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. 

    Grand Cherokee Laredo ($26,995) comes with cloth seating, fold-flat front passenger seat, dual-zone air conditioning, AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo, separate rear glass/hatch open, fog lamps, 17-inch aluminum wheels, auto headlamps, power heated mirrors, rear wash/wipe, laminated front door glass, floor mats, tilt/telescope leather wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, cruise control, illuminated visor mirrors, trip computer and 12-volt auxiliary outlets. Laredo is available with all-wheel drive ($28,995). 

    Laredo options include trailer tow, all-weather, off-road and convenience packages, and a Laredo E group that essentially puts back what was removed from the standards list: keyless entry/start, 8/4-way power front seats, satellite radio and roof rails. The Laredo X ($6,805) upgrades to leather seating and shift knob, dual-zone climate control, heated power front seats, 18-inch aluminum wheels, nine-speaker 506-watt CD/DVD/HDD/MP3 audio, rearview camera, hands-free communication, 115-volt power outlet, and remote starting. 

    Grand Cherokee Limited 2WD ($36,795) and Limited 4WD ($39,295) go beyond Laredo X with more chrome exterior trim, panoramic sunroof, bi-xenon smartbeam headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, driver memory, heated seats front and rear, 8-way power passenger seat, and rear camera and park sensors. Limited options include V8, Quadra-Drive II 4WD, air suspension or milder off-road package, front sunroof with rear-seat DVD entertainment, power liftgate and tilt/telescope steering wheel, ventilated front seats, adaptive cruise control with collision warning, blind-spot monitors, cross-path detection, and two towing packages. 

    Grand Cherokee Overland ($39,495) comes with air suspension system, real wood trim and leather seating with piping, ventilated front seats, wood and leather power tilt/telescope heated steering wheel with memory, power liftgate, cargo net, navigation with voice-recognition and SIRIUS travel-traffic information, 20-inch aluminum wheels, black mesh grille and trailer tow package. Overland is available with Quadra-Drive II 4WD ($42,995). Options include V8, rear-seat DVD, advanced warning package, and off-road package. 

    The new Overland Summit ($43,095) and 4WD ($46,595) get a chrome mesh grille, unique paint selection, wheels and stitched saddle and black cabin with black olive wood, chrome tow hooks, and the advanced warning package. Only the V8 and rear DVD system are optional. 

    Grand Cherokee SRT8 ($54,470) is all-wheel drive and comes with a 470-hp 6.4-liter V8, 5-speed automatic, Brembo brakes, unique steering and suspension, Bilstein adaptive damping, paddle shifters, 295/45ZR20 tires on forged aluminum wheels, SRT specific seats and heated steering wheel, and a one-day track driving SRT experience. (We especially recommend that last bit.) Features roughly mirror a Limited, and options consist of a panoramic sunroof, conventional sunroof with rear DVD, 19-speaker 825-watt Harman Kardon sound system, three-season Pirelli P Zero tires, tow package, and a luxury group (advanced warning package, premium cabin trim and power liftgate). 

    Safety equipment on all Grand Cherokee models includes electronic stability control with roll mitigation, ABS with brake traction control system, trailer sway control, hill start assist, frontal airbags, front side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, active head restraints, and tire pressure monitor. Safety options include hill descent control, active cruise control with collision warning, blind-spot monitors and rear cross path detection. 

    Note: All prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices (MSRP), which may change without notice at any time. Prices do not include destination charge. 

    Walkaround

    Every inch of sheetmetal was new for 2011, although it's still quite easy to identify as a Grand Cherokee. Although fancier versions have more liberal chrome and polish (except for the SRT8) the basic shape has sufficient character that we prefer the simpler entry model appearance. 

    The lines are more fluid than before, and are 8.5 percent more aerodynamic, with a Cd of 0.37, lowered from 0.40 after 250 hours in the wind tunnel. (Note aerodynamic resistance also includes frontal area, so the taller, wider Jeep will not be as sleek as a typical car.) This brings better economy, with less wind noise. It has a wider stance and shorter nose with less front overhang, giving it a subtle look of substance. 

    And it definitely has substance. This latest generation, starting with the 2011 models, is wider and longer, but most of the added length comes between the wheels for better handling and more interior space. 

    The seven-slot chrome grille is defined by six chrome slats over the black slots, while the headlamps sweep like winglets out from the top corners. Smooth frontal fascia with black airdam, recessed to lessen drag, and tidy small foglamps in trapezoid pockets. Aerodynamic bellypans run the full length of the chassis, chasing fuel mileage. 

    The sides have big rectangular concave sculpting, as if it's a place where Jeep meets BMW, and slightly trapezoidal wheel arches, a distinctive if still subtle touch. The side glass is straight and unaffected, with black B pillars, darkly tinted glass and bright trim. 

    Jeep says the rear styling gives a nod to the 1963 Wagoneer that started it all, and it's true (although we wonder how many besides us will remember Mom's '63 Wagoneer in high school that we snuck to the drag strip in the next state, one Sunday afternoon, and ripped off crowd-pleasing 4-wheel-drive holeshots). 

    The backlight balances the slope of the windshield, although, retro touch notwithstanding, the entire rear view looks like that of a thousand other full-size SUVs. That's because function rules, as it should; when SUV rear-end styling gets fancy, visibility is often lost. The taillamps are big and extend into the liftgate, with four backup lights whose beams improve the video view of the rear back-up camera, a detail where some cars are lacking. 

    There's an aerodynamic body-colored spoiler, level with the roof and over the sloped liftgate, and it looks good. We also like the flipper glass window in the liftgate, which has a convenient opening handle. The vehicle locks with the press of a button on the door handle, as at the tailgate. 

    The body-colored parts in the Laredo (mirrors, door handles, ding strip) look better than the chrome trim on the upscale Overland, whose 20-inch wheels with five thick spokes just look big and bright and unimaginative. Far more Jeeps will be Laredo models (65 percent, expects Jeep) with 17- or 18-inch wheels, which look better. 

    The SRT8 model has unique touches from the window-line down. A painted grille is flanked by bi-xenon headlamps and LED running lights, while a gaping maw below the bumper feeds cooling air to engine and brakes. The bulging hood has a pair of air extractors forward and you needn't worry about rain or snow given the copious amounts of hot air generated below. Clean wheel arches help cover foot-wide tires and menacing wheels, while extended rocker panels channel air and runoff. A deep rear bumper and substantial exhaust ports highlight the rear end. 

    Interior

    No Jeep has ever felt this high-quality inside (especially when it gets rolling). The interior was totally redesigned for 2011, headlined by four more inches of legroom in the rear seat, with 19 percent more cargo space. The Grand Cherokee would make a good family vacation vehicle. 

    A fold-flat front seat is standard, adding to the 68.7 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats flat. The rear seats recline 18 degrees, and with the added legroom, life is easy back there. There's also an abundance of storage pockets and bins, including two bins under the cargo floor. A new rear suspension allows the spare tire to be stored inside the vehicle under the cargo floor, as opposed to underneath it. 

    The front door openings are 2 inches wider and 2 inches higher, and the rear doors open 78 degrees compared to 67 degrees on the previous (pre-2011) model. That increased convenience is just one of the many details that made the 2011 Grand Cherokee such an improvement. 

    We found the leather seats in our Laredo X test model to be just right, almost sigh-inducing, with excellent bolstering, not to mention total adjustability with lumbar support. We haven't examined the cloth seats, but Jeep has always done good rugged cloth. The stitching on the Overland Summit's leather dashboard straddles the fence between subtle luxury and Cowboy Cadillac. 

    The instrument panel features clean white numbers and needles and clear lighting. The tachometer adds a blue area, from 800 to 2500 rpm, a reminder of the best fuel-mileage range. 

    The three-spoke steering wheel tilts and telescopes, and includes cruise control with audio buttons at the back of the spokes. The Overland steering wheel is wood from about 10 o'clock to 2, and, with the internal heating elements, makes a very thick wheel perhaps better suited for yacht helm duty. 

    The LED lighting in the cabin works well, to erase the yellow harshness of the old days. There's an optional giant dual-pane panoramic sunroof that opens wide to the sky. So you can see the stars, maybe better than you can see out the rear window through the rearview mirror. The sloped backlight and rear headrests pinch the space for visibility. 

    The location and operation of things on the center stack, such as the electronic switchbank and HVAC controls, is all good. Except for the position of the shift lever, which does not lend itself to manual shifting in the Sport mode, because your elbow hits the center armrest. You have to cock your elbow high and bend your wrist too much. If you do much shifting like that, you'll be screaming for paddles on the steering wheel. 

    The SRT8 comes with a special steering wheel with paddles. The SRT8 also comes with sport seats to keep you in place working them. Gauge graphics are revised for the SRT8 and the electronic vehicle information center adds functions not found on other Grand Cherokees such as performance parameters. 

    Underway, the Grand Cherokee cabin is very quiet, even with the throttle floored, even over rough pavement. There are three layers of noise insulation, adding to the weight but the quiet is impressive. 

    Driving Impression

    We've driven several versions of the Grand Cherokee and came away most impressed with the Laredo X with the V6 engine. 

    The Overland with the Hemi V8, with its teen fuel economy and base price of more than $43,000 with 4WD and before options, would have been more of a hit in 2006. About the only thing you'd need that big Hemi for is its 390 pound-feet of torque for towing more than 5000 pounds beyond rolling hills (maximum is 7200 pounds with 4WD, 7400 with 2WD). And for that, the Grand Cherokee would not be our first choice. 

    Compared with the Laredo V6, the Overland V8 ride is firmer on 20-inch tires, steering is heavier and less responsive on the highway, and the chrome trim detracts from the cleanliness of the styling. Plus, ours had a vibration we felt in the small of our back while accelerating in second-gear Sport mode. That's the only time it appeared, but it wasn't our imagination, our passenger felt it, too. We can't say what it means, but it shouldn't be there. 

    There are two automatic transmissions with manual modes. The unit matched to the V6 is called a five-speed and, like most, offers a single overdrive. It is calibrated for fuel economy (up one city mpg on 2WD and one highway on all-wheel drive for 2012). As a result it is quick to upshift and frequently kicks down out of overdrive, so in rolling terrain or varying traffic we often shifted ourselves. 

    For the 5.7-liter V8 it's now called a six-speed automatic, but it has the same gears in it as last year's five-speed. Confused? The old five-speed automatic had two different ratios for second gear, a 1.67:1 as it up-shifted and a 1.50:1 as it down-shifted. Now that you can (for 2012) manually select either one Jeep is calling it a six-speed automatic, but we're calling that marketing; a real six-speed automatic has benefits in performance that this one won't. The 5.7 V8 does offer two overdrives and lopes down the highway but its highway economy is matched by some midivan city ratings. 

    Though heavy, the chassis is quite rigid, one key to the feel of overall quality. When you combine a rigid chassis with a well-executed independent suspension, the result is a vehicle that feels like a Mercedes. In fact, design of the Grand Cherokee began in Germany years ago, when Chrysler was still Daimler-Chrysler, and some components are shared with the Mercedes M-Class SUV. 

    We put our Grand Cherokee Laredo through the paces, on patchy San Francisco freeways, city streets, and through some curves on the Pacific Coast Highway, and the vehicle knocked off each challenge with ease, comfort and control. We were highly impressed with the chassis and suspension. 

    The Laredo base model has near-ideal weight balance front to rear, and its among the nicest to drive. You'll hear Chrysler say in their marketing that quality craftsmanship has returned to the Pentastar, and the Grand Cherokee backs up the boast. The chief engineer for the Grand Cherokee worked with the Mercedes engineers in Stuttgart to gain ideas for the architecture and suspension geometry. Then the Grand Cherokee went through more final testing than was done in the past to refine the vehicle to as close as perfect as they could get it. 

    Despite the new model's added width and wheelbase, the turning circle remains at the same 37.1 feet as the old Grand Cherokee. This is better than the same-size M-Class or most seven-seat utes, and within inches of the 4WD seven-seat Land Rover LR4 and many minivans. On or off the highway the Jeep is maneuverable, though the ever-rounder bodywork makes it more difficult to see corners on the trail. 

    For 2012, the V6 adopts electro-hydraulic power steering, usually an aid to fuel economy, and it has not compromised steering feel at all. 

    The V6 is a double-overhead cam 3.6-liter with variable valve timing, making 290 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, delivering an EPA-estimated 17 city and 23 highway miles per gallon with 2WD, or 16/22 mpg with 4WD. A huge fuel tank (24.6 gallons) allows a range of 500 miles. The V6 engine feels like a winner, silky smooth and powerful. The horsepower is welcome but a shortage of torque is why it shifts out of overdrive a lot. 

    We went to an off-road course during our one-day drive, and, needless to say, the Jeep was fairly dazzling. We climbed over rocks and through gulleys and crept down radically steep hillsides, terrain far more challenging than owners will want to put their pretty new Grand Cherokees through. 

    The Jeeps we drove were equipped with the optional Quadra-Lift air suspension that adds up to 4.1 inches of lift, using controls on the console. There are five settings: Normal ride height, with 8.1 inches of ground clearance; Off-road 1, with 9.4 inches; Off-road 2, with 10.7 inches; Park, which lowers the vehicle to 6.6 inches for loading and unloading; and Aero, at 7.5 inches, for freeway driving and better fuel economy. 

    An important note here that the air suspension and low-range four-wheel drive are not available on the $29,000 base all-wheel drive; plan on spending nearly $40,000 minimum for that level of trail ability. The all-wheel-drive system on base models is meant for mild off-road use and inclement weather; low-range gearing is available as an option on that model, standard on V8s. 

    On the off-road course, Selec-Terrain electronically coordinates 12 different powertrain, braking and suspension systems, including throttle control, transmission shift, transfer case, traction control, and electronic stability control. What this means is that a monkey could have driven the Jeep over these terrain challenges. The computers did it all. For example, down the dizzying steep dirt trail, with hill descent control, all we did was keep the steering wheel straight, using no feet at all; the car's computers did it all. And all we did to get over the rocks was gently apply the gas, and wait until the sensors made adjustments to allow the slipping wheels to find their traction. Where a dead battery in the original Jeep was merely an inconvenience it will render this one a fancy umbrella. 

    The SRT8 uses a 6.4-liter V8 like that in the Challenger 392 and other rear-drive SRT sedans. With 470 horsepower, 465 lb-ft of torque, a crisp-shifting automatic, full-time all-wheel drive and foot-wide sticky tires it goes quickly. Acceleration lifts the bow and braking brings some nosedive, both tradeoffs for the solid roll control to keep the big, 5200-pound box stable. Don't even think of driving it off road. 

    Virtually every component that affects performance, be it bodywork, cabin pieces, electronic or mechanical is addressed by SRT, resulting in a package that isn't overpowered, underbraked or unable to use its power. On the contrary, the SRT8 likes to be pitched into a turn where it takes a set and you simply stand on the gas and let the all-wheel drive sort out the traction; the dynamics are impressive at this price. Like BMW's X5M and Mercedes' AMG M-Class not to mention the Porsche Cayenne, the Grand Cherokee SRT8 proves a utility vehicle can make good time on the pavement. 

    Like most other 2012 SRT products the Grand Cherokee gets adaptive dampers from Bilstein, meaning a choice of Touring comfort, which is fine even for unknown winding road, and Sport, in which things are buttoned up tighter. If your race car tends to break down and you want to keep running for the weekend, this might be the best way to tow the race car to and from the track. Just use your tow vehicle as your back-up race car. And since we complained at the introduction of the last Grand Cherokee SRT8 that center exhaust outlets are useless for towing they now are at the sides where they belong. Clearly, they were listening to us. 

    Of course the SRT8 carries penalties typical of super-sport utility vehicles. Gas mileage is usually closer to the EPA city rating of 12, and the tires, easily used up making a heavy truck work like a sports car, are more than $440 each. 

    Summary

    The Jeep Grand Cherokee boasts a capable chassis, comfortable interior that's utility useful or fashion friendly, competitive powertrains. It offers the off-road capability that mid-size SUVs should offer. It offers serious towing capability. The new SRT8 puts the Germans on notice that there are super-ute alternatives, and this one costs a lot less. We were particularly impressed with Laredo with a V6 and think it offers the best value proposition. 

    Sam Moses reported from San Francisco after his test drive of the Grand Cherokee near San Francisco, with G.R. Whale reporting from the Mojave desert after his test drive of the SRT8. 

    Model Lineup

    Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo ($26,995); Laredo AWD ($28,995); Limited ($36,795); Limited 4WD ($39,295); Overland ($39,495); Overland 4WD ($42,995); Overland Summit ($43,095); Overland Summit 4WD ($46,595); SRT8 ($54,470). 

    Assembled In

    Detroit, Michigan. 

    Options As Tested

    Laredo X package ($6,805); Laredo E group ($2,000); Off-Road II package ($2,125); trailer package $695; Media center w/navigation ($395). 

    Model Tested

    Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo 4x4 ($28,995). 

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