2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT

While critics argue that high-performance versions of SUVs make about as much sense as a turbocharged brick wall or an elephant outfitted with a rocket booster, the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT is a well-executed example of this somewhat illogical but highly enjoyable vehicle type. It features a 470-horsepower HEMI V8, secure handling and a finely trimmed cabin, all at a significantly lower price than other examples of the hyper-SUV breed.

Along with the rest of the Grand Cherokee lineup, the sport-focused SUV received a refresh for the latest model year. One of the updates is a slight name change - Chrysler has decided to ditch cylinder-specific badging, so what was once the SRT8 is now simply the SRT. More substantive changes include updated styling inside and out as well as a new eight-speed automatic gearbox that improves acceleration, fuel economy and towing capacity.

Based on the fourth-generation Grand Cherokee, which uses a platform that was co-developed by Chrysler and Mercedes-Benz, the SRT trades the standard SUV's off-road focused chassis setup for a lowered and stiffened sport suspension.

Outside, the SRT features a restyled front bumper that slopes upward towards the front corners of he 'ute, and Jeep's familiar seven-slot grille is surrounded by a new body panel that extends under the headlights. Around back are new LED taillights and a mildly refreshed tailgate. Aggressive front and rear fascias, blacked-out trim and stylish five-spoke wheels set the SRT apart from the rest of the Grand Cherokee lineup, although

Power continues to come from a 6.4-liter HEMI V8 that produces 470 horsepower and 465 lb-ft of torque. An active intake manifold and high-lift camshaft with cam phasing helps to optimize high-end power while also delivering good low-end torque - 90-percent of peak twist is available between 2,800 and 6,000 rpm.

The V8's former partner in crime, an aging five-speed automatic, has been replaced with a state-of-the-art eight-speed unit for the latest model year. In addition to increasing towing capacity from 5,000 to 7,200 pounds, it should shave a few tenths of a second off of the old SRT's 4.8-second zero-to-60 mph sprint time. Fuel economy should also see an improvement from the five-speed model's 12/18 city/highway mpg ratings.

The new eight-speed boasts rev-matched downshifts and Launch Control as well as three driver-selectable shift modes - Drive, Sport and Eco - to tailor shift parameters. It sends power to all four wheels via Jeep's Quadra-Trac SRT transfer case - which can act as a torque vectoring system by apportioning output between the front and rear axles to create more neutral handling dynamics.

To help the big SUV maintain traction, the transfer case can sense quick movement in the throttle from a stop and maximize traction before slippage occurs. Additionally, there's a Selec-Track traction control system that coordinates the stability control, adaptive damping, transmission shift strategy, transfer case torque proportioning, electronic limited slip differential, throttle control and cylinder de-activation. Five modes - Auto, Sport, Tow, Track and Snow - ensure ideal traction for any situation.

Brembo brakes balance out the SRT's oversized HEMI, featuring six and four-piston front and rear calipers, respectively, along with 15-inch front and 13.8-inche rear vented calipers. Helping the V8 on the efficiency front is an active valve exhaust system cuts out four cylinders during light-throttle cruising situations to improve fuel economy.

Inside, the SRT is one of the most well-appointed vehicles to ever wear the Jeep badge. The seats are upholstered in Nappa leather and suede, while carbon fiber trim and leather-wrapped door trim panels, instrument panel and center console give the SUV a decidedly upscale feel.

The latest refresh brought a new three-spoke steering wheel and a redesigned gauge cluster that includes a configurable 7-inch LCD screen. A new multimedia input includes a USB port, a SD card slot and an auxiliary jack, while a 12-volt outlet lets passengers charge mobile devices.

Uconnect Access
New to the Grand Cherokee SRT for the latest model year is the availability of Chrysler's Uconnect Access infotainment system (for a complete description of Uconnect Access, check out Leftlane's Spotlight On: Uconnect in-depth article).

Generally regarded as one of the more user-friendly infotainment setups on the market, Uconnect Access integrates most of the truck's audio, navigation and climate control functions into one unit. An 8.4-inch touchscreen mounted on the dashboard is the central component of the system, but redundant buttons and knobs for climate and audio volume and tuning are also included.

Uconnect Access features a voice command system that allows the driver to place phone calls, use the sound system, input navigation destinations and more without taking his or her hands off the wheel. Other notable aspects of the system include the ability to function as a Wi-Fi hotspot over a 3G network - for an additional monthly fee - and downloadable applications such as Bing search.

Standard and Optional Features
The SRT comes lavishly equipped with a navigation system with a 8.4-inch touchscreen display, a nine-speaker, 506-watt AM/FM/CD/SiriusXM audio system, heated and ventilated front seats, heated second-row seats, a heated steering wheel, a proximity key, a power liftgate, sonar and camera rear parking aids, leather and suede upholstery, adaptive cruise control and 20-inch forged aluminum wheels.

Options include a 19-speaker, 825-watt Harmon Kardon premium audio system, a dual-pane panoramic sunroof and a rear seat entertainment system that is packaged with a standard-sized sunroof. Also available is a trailer tow package that adds a seven and four pin wiring harness, a class IV receiver hitch and a full-size spare tire.

Occupant Safety
All Grand Cherokee SRT models come standard with dual front, dual side and full-length side curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems.

Also standard is a blind-spot warning system, a forward collision warning system that warns the driver when the SRT is approaching another vehicle too rapidly and a rear cross path system that alerts the driver of approaching traffic when backing out of a parking spot.

Key Competitors
The only SUVs that share the Grand Cherokee SRT's focus on all-around performance are much pricier (albeit more powerful) machines like the BMW X5 M, the Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG, the Range Rover Sport Supercharged and the Porsche Cayenne Turbo.