2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8: Up Close

Jeep SRT8_1

Jeep SRT8 1A rightful throne for Chrysler’s 6.4-liter Hemi V-8, the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 looks best in person. Most press photos look down at the car, making the bumper look like it has a double chin. Viewed head on, the nose hangs snugly off the front fenders, and the lower bumper — with its piano-black inner frame — looks none too busy. The honeycomb bumper inserts, on the other hand, are mostly ornamental. Maybe half of them actually allow air in; the rest are covered.

The SRT8’s 20-inch wheels house a tour de force of braking, with massive 15-inch front discs with six-piston Brembo calipers — as big as the wheels on the Nissan Versa debuting at the stand next door. I like that Jeep stuck with dual tailpipes in back. Quads may have been justifiable given the SRT8’s monster drivetrain, but they often look cheesy.

I’m not smitten with the Grand Cherokee’s interior — it’s handsome in many areas, but Chrysler’s full-size sedans have more consistent materials on the whole. The SRT8 adds some carbon fiber trim and a positively badass steering wheel, complete with paddle shifters and a flat-bottom rim. The seats bear Chrysler’s customary SRT badging, plus suede inserts and larger bolsters. The seats are stiffer than those on the regular Grand Cherokee, but they don’t feel as hip-hugging as the seats in SRT8 Chrysler and Dodge products.

That was intentional, chief engineer David Cottrell told me. “We wanted this car to have a really comfortable road appeal,” he said. “Past customers [of the Grand Cherokee SRT8] complained about being pinched.”

Cottrell doesn’t expect many Grand Cherokee SRT8 customers to take theirs to the racetrack, though he said the adaptive suspension’s Track mode goes full-tilt toward the performance side. That suggests the car will appeal to SUV drivers who just want serious power.

The 465-horsepower SRT8 should deliver just that. Jeep says it hits 60 mph in 4.8 seconds, which beats the 5.7-liter Grand Cherokee by nearly 3 seconds, Cottrell said. That’s about even with the outgoing Grand Cherokee SRT8, but given the 2012 model weighs another 331 pounds — and should get 2 mpg better on the highway — it’s impressive.