2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 First Drive

Jeep Grand Cherokees are known for boulder-bashing (at least in ads) and being used to pick up the kids from school (more likely). But sliding around Willow Springs Raceway in full snarl? As Wayne Campbell would say: scheah, right.

Yes, there was an SRT8 version of the previous-generation Grand Cherokee. But that was known as a novelty, a toy, something that sounded awesome, left rubber on the pavement, and got from point A to point B in a hurry. Sure, it could handle, but it wasn't making its way in the world based on how it dealt with late apexes and decreasing radius turns.

It was a lot of fun, an exercise in doing something just because you can. Not so the 2012 iteration.

Yes, it's stupid fast, as the kids say these days. It sounds like it wants to kick your ass right now, even at idle. A lowered ride height and scooped hood give it cruise-night cred. But there's more to this SRT8 Grand Cherokee than meets the eye.

Some of the surprise comes from what happens when you're not in full-on hoon mode. On the highway or in around-town driving, this Grand Cherokee is so sedate it would fit right in at the school pick-up line, with the exception of the scalloped hood, hot-rod styling, and burbling exhaust note.

But take it to the track, flick the Selec-Trac dial (more on that in a bit) into "Sport" or "Track" modes, and suddenly you're playing with the big boys. Usually, "track duty" for an SUV means that the safety crew will be using it for the utility part of the acronym. Not in this case.

For that, you can thank the 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 that puts out 470 horsepower (50 more than before) and 465 lb-ft of torque, which mates to a five-speed automatic transmission. Those who like to shift for themselves (at least as much as possible with an automatic) will like the heated flat-bottomed steering wheel with shift paddles.

Jeep uses an active-valve exhaust system along with cylinder-deactivation to achieve a 450-mile range (manufacturer estimated fuel economy stands at 12/18 mpg) and unlike the last SRT8 Grand Cherokee, this one can tow up to 5,000 lbs. That means no more center exhaust outlet.

The Selec-Trac system works with the adaptive damping suspension and has five modes: Auto (for everyday driving), Sport (for a sportier street ride), Track (firms up body motion and suspension, also automatically turns off traction control) for track duty, Snow (for inclement weather (duh), can transfer 100 percent of the available torque to one rear wheel), and Tow (self-explanatory). The SRT8 rides on 20-inch wheels.

Performance numbers are more than respectable--a 0-60 time of 4.8 seconds, a .90-g skidpad number, a 160-mph top speed and a quarter-mile time in the mid 13s.

Braking comes from Brembo calipers (6-piston up front, 4-piston in back) with 15-inch vented rotors in front and 13.8-inch vented discs out back.

The SRT8 looks the part, thanks to a one-inch lowered ride height and body-colored wheel flares and side-sill cladding, along with a unique front fascia with DRLs. A body-colored grille with a black-screen background and chrome bezel inserts are also part of the look.

A lower grille is painted black, and an integrated body pan has brake ducting. The aforementioned scooped front hood has dual heat extractors to help keep the Hemi cool.

The rear of the Jeep gets a liftgate spoiler, a new rear fascia with an air diffuser, 4-inch exhaust tips, and a cover for the trailer hitch. Cargo haulers take note: This Jeep can tow, but there are no roof racks, for aerodynamic reasons.

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