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2014 Grand Cherokee SRT. Sun, Swamp and SRT

Posted in cars, Reviews on July 4th, 2013 by admin

Only 45 miles west of Miami’s South Beach lies a narrow gravel trail that feels centuries removed from the bright lights, flashy cars and shiny shirts of Ocean Drive. The trail, named Loop Road, veers away from one of the few paved east-west roads that spans the south Florida Everglades. Rather than being built with barriers that prevent wildlife from playing in traffic, Loop Road, in places, is only a foot above the swamp it is built on. There is very little traffic on the road, but nearly every car we saw did belong to a rental car agency that probably would have preferred their vehicles avoid this trail. It was clear that the reptiles ruled the swamp around us, but we had come out here to find out if the 2014 Grand Cherokee SRT could rule a gravel road as well as it does a paved one.

Before setting course for the ‘gator infested swamp lands, we needed to test our Jeep’s ability to perform on south Florida’s paved surfaces. These highly scientific tests included parking beachside along A1A in Fort Lauderdale on a blue skied Friday morning, followed by a sprint down I-95 to a hole-in-the-wall sandwich place in Coconut Grove, and into the early hours of the morning, inching along in the notorious South Beach traffic.

While at the beach, we had an opportunity to fully appreciate some cosmetic enhancements – which SRT had made to our Bright White Grand Cherokee. Ralph Gilles and his team at SRT (Street and Racing Technology) have managed to set their version of a Grand Cherokee apart from all others. Thanks to the addition of massive 20-inch wheels, huge Brembo brakes with red calipers, blacked out front fascia and 4-inch black chrome exhaust tips, these visual changes distinguish the SRT from other Grand Cherokees, but it is what’s under the hood that leaves the others in its dust.

Under the unique Viper inspired, heat extracting hood lays the same 6.4-liter, naturally aspirated, 470-horsepower Hemi found in the 2012 and 2013 Grand Cherokee SRT8. Except now, it has been fitted to an 8-speed automatic transmission, rather than the old 5-speed found in prior years. The three additional gears and cylinder deactivation means the Jeep is capable of 13 mpg in the city and 19 mpg on the highway, which is slightly up from last year. Those are as to be expected numbers from a 5,150 pound, all-wheel drive Jeep that can go 0-60 mph in about 4.5-seconds and complete the quarter mile in the sub 13-second range. (Note: effective 2014, SRT vehicles are no longer badged as SRT8 or SRT10, to signify number of cylinders, instead, they will all be known as SRT.)

On the road, the 2014 Grand Cherokee SRT can be completely civilized. A rotary style knob on the center console, cleverly named ‘Selec-Track’, offers five driving modes: Auto, Sport, Track, Tow and Snow. With the knob and transmission set to Auto, the suspension, engine mapping and transmission are sensible and civilized. Setting Selec-Track and the transmission to Sport firms up the steering, tightens the suspension, adjusts shift points, quickens shifts and allows the driver to grab gears via the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters. One more click to the left sets the Grand Cherokee SRT into Track mode. In Track mode, the ride becomes harsh, as it should, the shifts become instant and brutal, as they should and the power sent to the four wheels becomes rear-wheel drive bias with a 30/70 split. Under the right conditions, that rear-wheel drive bias will allow for entertaining over-steer slides; a trick usually considered insane to try and nearly impossible to achieve in any Jeep. The Tow and Snow modes make adjustments to aid in each of those duties; however, we did not have the opportunity to test either in Florida. It is worth noting that the 2014’s towing capacity has now increased to 7,200-pounds, from its previous max of 5,000-pounds.

After a couple of days of vetting the 2014 Grand Cherokee SRT on paved roads around south Florida, we headed west, deep into the Everglades. We knew that large portions of Loop Road are often closed, for months at a time, due to seasonal flooding and animal migration. To avoid a wasted trip, we spent a lot of time searching the Internet for reliable, real time road closure information – so much time was spent searching that the good folks at the NSA must have been on heightened alert.

Although the Uconnect infotainment system provides access to Internet searches, streaming music via apps like iHeartRadio and Pandora and has an 8.4-inch navigation screen, it does not provide critical information needed to safely and smoothly traverse certain areas of south Florida. Thankfully, we have spent enough time around south Florida to know what areas to avoid, what gas stations to skip, which road signs have been removed by the locals just to make things harder on the tourists and where the speed traps are. Even with our familiarity of the area, nothing prepared us for what we saw after we made a left turn onto the poorly marked beginning of Loop Road. The further we traveled down the road, the further we went back into time. It started off paved and lined, on one side, with old wooden houses painted in bright colors that had long ago faded. As we traveled west, houses became fewer and fewer and the vegetation lining the road got thicker and thicker, until finally, the road narrowed significantly and the gravel began.

Finally, we had arrived. We had to travel all the way to Florida, we had to spend some time on the beach and we had to stay at an ocean front resort with pools, spas and tennis courts all just for the opportunity to put this 2014 Grand Cherokee SRT on this stretch of gravel.

As we approached the gravel, I pressed the gas down a little further. I figured, even though this thing has a top speed of 160 mph, it is still a Jeep, so it better handle gravel like a Jeep. The transition from pavement to gravel, at speed, was noisy but controlled and only got exciting when I stood on the brakes at the sight of an alligator moseying across the trail. The 6-piston front and 4-piston rear calipers bit down on the huge vented rotors and slid us to a halt just in time to see a seven foot alligator casually slip into the swamp. Before the dust cleared, we did the irrational and jumped out of our $70,000 Everglades inhabitant protection vessel to get a closer look at half a dozen other alligators that now eyed us from the swamp. As much as I would like to say intelligence persuaded us to climb back into the safety of the Jeep, in reality, it was the mosquitoes and other enormous flying insects that pestered us back inside.

Unique to the SRT version of the Grand Cherokee are performance measurement apps, which are accessed through the Uconnect system. These apps can time 0-60 mph sprints, the 1/8-mile and the ¼-mile times, g-forces and breaking distances. On-road, we consistently ran 0-60 mph in 4.8-seconds; on the gravel, the huge Pirelli 295/45/20 tires somehow found enough grip to run 0-60 in 5-seconds flat. Off-road acceleration was not the only remarkable characteristic; off-road handling was also impressive.

After plowing our way through hoards of gigantic flying monsters and frequently stopping to observe countless prehistoric and hungry looking animals, it was finally time to link back to modern times. Now back on a paved road, we quickly appreciated how quiet the cabin of the 2014 Grand Cherokee SRT was. We also took note of the quality of the materials that surrounded us. The leather with suede lined seats were comfortable and supportive for our long drive and also held us in place when things got spirited. The carbon fiber trim on the doors, dash and center console looked good, felt good and most importantly, did not squeak or rattle off road. The audio, HVAC and other standard controls were easy to operate and the 19 speaker Harman Kardon audio system sounded great at all decibels. Additionally, the 7-inch screen that anchored the middle of the instrument cluster was sharp and vivid and could be customized to display a variety of vehicle vitals, including MPG, MPH, tire PSI and everything in-between.

Next stop was an oval dirt road that we had located using Google Maps, prior to setting off on this adventure. Upon arrival, we realized it was better than expected. The oval was built with the spoils from an excavated pit that was about the size of a basketball court. It was not exactly an oval dirt track in the middle of the Everglades, but had someone tried to build one, they could not have built a better one. Three interesting looking locals, with no visible means of transportation, were fishing in the murky watered pit. With Selec-Track set to Track, to take advantage of the 30/70 power split, the transmission set to Sport, so I could select my own gears, and traction control off, for obvious reasons, we pulled onto the “track.” Rather than stopping to inquire what the locals could possibly be hoping to catch, we drove around the oval several times, progressively quicker and quicker; each time with the rear end of the Jeep further and further out and throwing larger and larger of a rooster tail. It was all very manageable and steering angle was easily adjusted by regulating the throttle.

After arriving back at our beachside hotel, we expected our filthy Jeep to be shunned by the same valets who had been treating it with respect in the days prior. To the Grand Cherokee SRT’s credit (or perhaps as a result of generous tipping), the bug splattered, dirt covered Jeep maintained its prime parking spot amongst spotless Ranger Rovers and Porsche Cayennes.

We already knew the 2014 Grand Cherokee SRT was a very impressive on-road vehicle that can outrun almost any car, has room for five and can tow 7,200 pounds. The time we spent off-road made us appreciate it even more. This second generation is truly a capable multipurpose SUV.

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3 Responses to “2014 Grand Cherokee SRT. Sun, Swamp and SRT”

  1. ToddS says:

    The new body style has a nice look to it. Thanks for the good read.

  2. Rogerb says:

    Good stuff. Sounds like a good machine and a good time.

  3. Brian Maher says:

    I drove this Jeep SRT @ the Daytona SRT Experience last May and it is an AMAZING Vehicle that seems to defy Gravity and the Laws of Physics !!! I drive a 2011 SRT Challenger but if I needed an AWD SUV this would be it !!! The Best Part is “Imported from Detroit” !!!

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