In the class of sub-5-second 0-60 mph supercars it’s the Sweathog. What it lacks in carbon-fiber body panels, exotic titanium trinkets, and low-flying avionics, it achieves with good ol’-fashioned American pushrod V-8 savagery, a full-time four-wheel drive system, and fat, sticky Pirelli tires. It’s a big, porky, 5,300lb man cave on wheels that bathes you in luxury while pummeling the quarter mile in just over 13 seconds, thanks to the laughably underrated 470hp baby elephant under the hood. And what of the euro-trash aficionados’ rallying cry: “But what happens when it gets to a corner?” Well, banana-hammock, it turns. Quickly, fiercely, violently, and with authority, thanks to full-time 4WD, active electronic rear diff, and race-tuned active Bilstein suspension. Up your nose with a rubber hose.
Yeah, there’s no low range. And the as-tested price of our loaner with dual panoramic sunroof, trailer tow group, and Jeep’s Luxury Group II that includes power tailgate, dead-cow wrappings, adaptive speed control, and other cool gizmos violates your wallet for almost $64,000. So why should you care? ’Cause, it’s a Jeep and for the arena in which it competes, it’s the underdog. And it’s a laugh-riot how well it holds its own. Besides, even if you’ll never purchase one, you can expect elements of its technology to eventually trickle down to more affordable Jeeps.
For starters, there’s the new 6.4L Hemi engine with VVT and cylinder-deactivation technology that answers all of our prior complaints about its 425hp, 425 lb-ft predecessor. The old 6.1L was peaky: it felt lacking in low-end grunt and the top end hit violently like a two-stroke sledgehammer. But the 6.4L’s variable valve timing delivers 90 percent of the engine’s 465 lb-ft between 2,800-6,000 rpm. It’s the most powerful, fastest factory Jeep ever. And no matter when you put your foot down it goes, pulling sweetly to its 6,400 rpm redline while washing you with perhaps the best exhaust noise since Chrysler retired the 426 Hemi. If hairy-chested angels sang, this would be their song.
Then there’s the way it hangs to the road. The single-speed Quadra-Trac 4WD works in conjunction with an electronic limited-slip rear differential, 3.70 gears, adaptive suspension, and humongous six-piston front and four-piston rear Brembo brakes to reign in over 5,000 pounds worth of Hemi-slung inertia. The whole enchilada is controlled by a SRT8-tuned Selec-Trac system that offers five different settings: Auto, Snow, Tow, Sport, and Track. When in normal modes, the torque split is 50/50 front-to-rear, but when in Sport or Race mode, the shocks firm up, the stability and traction control become more unobtrusive (almost invisible), and the torque split changes to 35/65 front-to-rear for better performance.
So what’s all that translate to on the track? How the hell should we know? It’s all well and good for our sister magazines like Automobile and Motor Trend to play Stig, rallying their test vehicles against the track clock. But we’re shackled to the real world. There are no throngs of fans awaiting autographs when we step out of a vehicle, no helicopter chase cameras filming our every mile, and no big corporate checkbook to pay off Chrysler if we wad our borrowed SRT8 into a field of radishes. Instead, we did what any regular person lucky enough to afford one of these suckers would do with it. We drove it on the street. Editor Hazel loaded his family, pointed the nose north (’cause Mexico is the only place to the south), and logged about 1,400 miles under the tires.
Day 1: San Diego to Pleasanton: 454 miles
• An infant seat and toddler booster fit on the rear bench seat and there’s still room for the big kid in between. Cargo area easily swallows luggage for five people, a cooler, laptop valet, and expedition-sized camera bag without impeding rear visibility.
• Holy crap, the front seats are stiff and hard to adjust for comfort. I sure hope the wife doesn’t complain. At least they have built-in heaters and air conditioning.
• Hmm, switching the Selec-Trac from Auto to Sport really does firm the ride and reduce body roll. This sucker is rigid over big bumps in Sport mode. Back to Auto.
• The front suspension has extra camber dialed in for handling. Makes it a bit twitchy on the highway, but I’ll probably get used to it.
• What is that annoying drone from the exhaust at 70 mph? Oh, the four-cylinder deactivation mode thingy. Dropping the cruise control 2 mph gets rid of the drone, but now I’m only going 68 mph. Better bump it up to 75 mph and kick in the other four pistons. I’d rather eat the fuel economy.
• Floored it to get around a truck while doing 40 mph. Good gravy, this bitch accelerates! I’ll never need more power than this. All the wife could say was “wow.”
• Traffic was stop-and-go. The Brembos stop phenomenally but let out an annoying squeal every time just before coming to complete stop.
• The satellite navigation redirects you past traffic jams accurately. This Jeep does everything but wipe your butt for you.
• Stuck in LA traffic and needed to make break from I-5 to Hwy 101. Floored it from dead stop at a break in traffic. Superbly violent! Even with five people, luggage, and a full tank of fuel it’ll claw itself up to freeway speeds from a dead stop in seconds. All the kids could say was “wow.”
• North of LA and finally engaged the active cruise control. Weird at first, but the vehicle really does slow down as car in front slows. So incredibly nice! Really cuts down on driver fatigue. Just don’t forget it won’t come to a complete stop for you, dummy.
• Averaging 70 mph and fuel economy stuck around 15.5 mpg. Premium fuel only. Man, I could never afford to own one of these things.
• Sun went down and boy, are these headlights bright! These are like the Ritz crackers of headlights.
Day 2: Pleasanton to Muir Woods to San Francisco, R/T: 155 miles
• Cold morning and that heated steering wheel sure is nice. This Jeep would turn me into a wuss.
• Do those jewel lights under the headlights stay on all the time? Yup, they do. Fancy.
• I’m fully used to the “twitchy” handling. This vehicle demands your attention, but I’m happy to give it. What a fun ride.
• Man, these seats are stiff but that’s the best exhaust noise ever.
• Finally, off the freeway and onto twisty back roads to Muir Woods. Selec-Trac from Auto to Sport!
• No body roll in the turns. This pig likes to be manhandled. Stab the brakes, get the weight transferred opposite-side, then boot the throttle and let it claw and chew its way out of the turn. Then get yelled at by the wife.
• Rear back-up camera is a neat feature, but I still prefer mirrors and looking over my shoulder. Guess I’m old-fashioned.
• Stopped for vehicle photography and got the third “nice Jeep” comment of the day. Chicks dig this thing … or the money it costs to buy one. Probably the latter.
• Opened up the panoramic sunroof while driving over the Golden Gate Bridge. Really cool, but how much better would this Jeep be without a heavy 4x8 sheet of insulated glass on the top of it?
• Back roads through San Francisco. Is that hot lady in the Audi smiling at me?
• Another MILF in a Range Rover smiling at me. And then that chick in the Cadillac SUV waved and winked. Definitely the Jeep. That never happens when I’m driving something I own. Boy, lots of shallow women around here.
• Found primo parking spot at the Embarcadero. Guy ran up and enthusiastically grilled me about SRT8 for 10 minutes. People notice this vehicle, that’s for sure.
• Man, that exhaust sounds sweet bouncing off the buildings.
• Fuel economy in the low 13s. Ugh, that’s a big fuel bill.
Day 3: Pleasanton to Sacramento, R/T: 190 miles
• There’s that annoying four-cylinder exhaust drone again. Fuel economy up to 16.1 mpg.
• I love this cruise control system.
• These seats suck.
• It seemed like a gimmick at first, but the power tailgate is such a nice feature. Push a button and it closes even if your hands are full of stuff.
• Train museum was fun but all I wanted to do was get back in the SRT8 and drive!
• This thing is a sweet road trip machine. Need a detour to extend the drive. How far to the Jelly Belly factory tour!
• If this Jeep were human it would wear a horned Viking helmet everywhere it went.
• I think I’m starting to get used to this much power. Still feels fast, but I could use another 30 horsepower to maintain my buzz.
Day 4: Pleasanton to Monterey: 99 miles
• No matter how many times I start the engine the little round “Start” button in the dash that you push instead of turning a key will never get old. And neither will that exhaust note. I could kiss whoever designed the exhaust system on this thing. Unless it was a dude. It’s not that good.
• Fuel economy at 16.7 mpg.
• That drive was not long enough.
Day 5: Monterey to San Diego: 445 miles
• I can’t wait for Highway 1 to begin, I can’t wait for Highway 1 to begin, I can’t….
• When the road is curvy, Sport setting doesn’t seem jarring at all. The 2-year-old even fell asleep in back.
• Wife and kids out of car. Where the twisties?
• An Audi up my trumpet. Is that guy wearing racing gloves? Tool. Let’s see if he can hang. Race setting and go! Brembos hold phenomenally entering corner. Chuck the wheel hard into the turn and then mat the throttle before the apex. Front end claws in the direction it’s pointed and rear pushes without washing out. There’s no understeer if you’re on the power and man are those 295/45ZR20 Pirellis sticky. This is warfare, not driving. Audi boy didn’t expect that. He can enter faster but I can carry much more speed through and I annihilate him on the exit. Only the speed limit keeps me from completely destroying him. I can’t believe how fast this thing changes direction for a 2.5-ton box truck. I shoulda gone to Laguna Seca while in Monterey.
• Back to the family and Auto mode.
• I don’t really like these flappy-paddle shift levers behind the steering wheel. Letting it shift itself is much better. Either way, I’d rather have a manual tranny … if one could survive this engine.
• If this were my Jeep I’d rip out these seats and put in some regular Grand Cherokee Limited leather seats.
• Almost home. This thing needs another 100 horsepower.
• Average mileage for the whole trip came in at 15.8 mpg.
• I can’t believe Chrysler is coming tomorrow to take the SRT8 back. Think they’ll notice if I put the SRT8 badges on my ’78 Cherokee Chief and tell them to take that one instead?