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2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT: Factory hot rod SUV

by: CHRYSLER LLC - The 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT - yes, it's got a HEMI, and a lot more, too.At first glance, the idea of a large high-performance SUV seems ridiculous.

And at second glance, third glance and fourth glance, too.

I mean, who really needs a two ton-plus vehicle that is as fast as a sports car, gets terrible mileage, and you can't really be driven off road because it has fancy wheels, even though it comes with all-wheel-drive?

The answer, of course, is nobody. Which hasn't stopped manufacturers from BMW to Mercedes to Porsche and Range Rover from offering them. But apparently there enough hot rodding-loving professionals and soccer moms in the world to justify their production.

So now Jeep has decided to join the fun with the 2015 Grand Cherokee SRT. And just to make sure everybody understands the game, it has dropped all pretense at subtlety. For starters, it has stuffed a 6.4-liter HEMI V8 with 470 horsepower and 465 foot pounds of torque into its largest SUV. Then it lowered it, improving stability but reducing the vehicle's off-road capabilities. Wide alloy wheels are a must, of course, as are 15-inch Brembo disc brakes. And just to be sure nobody misses the point, the hood is modified to feature two large air vents up front.

But why stop there? How about adding an eight-speed automatic transmission with a Sport mode and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. And for the final touch, a big button on the console labeled "Launch" for consistently reducing zero-to-60 times to under five seconds.

So how does all this work in the real world? Pretty remarkably, actually. With only a little bit of care, it is easy to drive the 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee STR gently down even the busiest streets. School crossing guards don't need to panic when they see you coming. And, except for the blacked out front air dam, most police officers won't take much notice of you either, unless you buy a red one. Our Billet Silver Metallic test vehicle easily blended into surrounding traffic.

But step hard on the gas and everything changes. Despite weighing around 5,200 pounds, the big Jeep lurches forward as the exhaust explodes. The shifts never seem to end as the speed just keeps building, but the low center of gravity and all-wheel-drive system keeps everything together. And when you hit the brakes, it stops right now.

In fact, the actual driving experience isn't as exciting as that might sound. The SRT is so stable, it doesn't seem to be going all that fast. Even using the Launch button is anti-climactic. That's not a complaint. Being scared out of your wits in such a vehicle is not a good alternative.

SRT stands for Street and Racing Technology. It is essentially a group with Chrysler (or is it Fiat now?) that tunes select vehicles for better performance. Earlier models that got the SRT treatment included the subcompact Dodge Neon, compact Dodge Caliber and two-seater Chrysler Crossfire. Current vehicles include the Dodge Challenger, Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300, and the Viper.

Although hot rodding an SUV may seem unusual, Chrysler has done it before. In 1998, it dropped 5.9-liter V8s into the Jeep Cherokee Limited. It 2000, it did the same thing with the Dodge Durango R/T. There was also an STR version of the Jeep Grand Cherokee from 2006 to 2010 with a 6.1-liter HEMI V8 that produced 425 horsepower.

Aside from the SRT components, the rest of the 2014 Grand Cherokee is pretty familiar by now. Jeep's biggest SUV has won numerous award for its quality construction and available features. It was tweaked last year with an improved interior and redone front end, but retains the pluses that have made it a best seller, including ample interior room, luxury appointments and wealth of safety features. Ours came with special front leather bucket seats with unique SRT stitching.

Perhaps the only drawback is the lack of an available third row of seats, but not everyone who buys an SUV has a large family.

As expected, the gas mileage in the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT is painfully low. And the price — over $70,000 for our test vehicle — is way above all the other Grand Cherokee models. But it is less than some its high performance SUV competitors, even though it bests them at the track and in the real world.

Facts and figures (all models)

• Model tested: 2014 Grand Cherokee SRT.

• Manufacturer: Jeep.

• Class: Large SUV.

• Layout: Front engine, all-wheel-drive.

• Style: Four door, five passenger car.

• Engine: 6.4-liter V8 (470 hp, 465 ft-lbs).

• Transmission: 8-speed automatic with manual shift mode and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

• Fuel Economy: 13/19/15.

• Price: Starting around $62,995 ($71,830 as tested).