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2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 - First Drive

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author photo by Colin Ryan

Most car companies have some division that takes their normal product and gooses it for the enthusiast. In the Chrysler group's case, it's SRT, or Street and Racing Technology. This badge has a currency that really hasn't been maximized in the past. Most notable might be the rare - but raring to go - 2010 Dodge Viper SRT-10, with an official quarter-mile time of 11.7 seconds. That's a good three seconds less than most sporty street cars can muster.

To bring the SRT brand more into focus and frame, Chrysler has now produced hot versions of the Dodge Challenger and Charger, the 300, and this: the 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8.

The idea of turning an SUV - with its lumbering weight and high center of gravity - into a sports machine is not exactly an obvious step. Yet BMW has done it with M versions of the X5 and X6, and Mercedes-Benz with AMG iterations of the M-Class and G-Class. And somehow they seem to work.

So does the Grand Cherokee SRT8, although it still feels odd to be sitting high up and approaching a bend at a rate that would usually mean disaster for a lesser vehicle. However, the Grand Cherokee SRT8 has a completely reworked suspension, which is also adjustable. It can be put into comfort or sport modes, but there's also a setting beyond, called "Track." Not even all of the SRT cars have that. It means the body stays flat through a corner; no leaning, which would shift the vehicle's weight more to one side and make it feel less "planted."

One big reason why the Jeep can attack a curve so quickly is the 6.4-liter V8 churning away beneath a bespoke aluminum hood that's all bulges and vents. This engine makes 470 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque, sufficient force to propel the whole 5,150-pound shebang from standstill to 60 mph in just 4.8 seconds, and on to a top speed of 160 mph. A five-speed automatic transmission sends power to all four wheels and drivers may select their own gears by way of two paddle shifters mounted to the steering column.

Sensibly, the brakes have also been upgraded. They're most welcome as well, because despite the trick suspension, there's no disguising the effect a heavy V8 engine over the front wheels will have when trying to turn into a corner - it's never going to be crisp.

Sport utility vehicles, even ones that emphasize the first part of the description, are not renowned for their aerodynamic qualities. But since this is an SRT special, on goes a body kit that involves a front air dam, side skirts, and a rear wing as part of the tailgate. If it has the pace, it might as well have the pants. Chances are, the kind of customer interested in this vehicle may not care about fuel consumption, but - for the curious - it's 12 mpg in the city and 18 on the highway, which is rather thirsty.

When the 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 comes out in the fall, the price in the windshield will be $55,295 (including $825 destination). That includes accessories like sports seats (not particularly comfortable) and 20-inch alloy wheels. It also covers a day's instruction in high-performance driving. Options include a 900-watt, 19-speaker Harmon Kardon surround-sound audio system for $1,995.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.