AUSTIN, TX—“It’s not a race,” they tell you repeatedly.
The laps are not timed. The stands stand quiet and empty.
There are no pit crews.
No TV cameras. No paparazzi. No Carl Haas running after your car, waving his cigar and a racing contract.
No cup. No trophy. No champagne.
I know all this. We had already driven the surrounding roads and this was, after all, just a controlled venue to explore performance capabilities.
But what a venue!
The Circuit of the Americas was carved out of the Texas hills, designed to Formula One specifications and features a wide track with changes of elevation, hairpin corners, sweeping curves, challenging esses and long high speed straightaways along its 5.5 km length.
The pavement is fresh, almost virginal, marked with only a few of the rubber trails and tales of disaster that angle into the walls and runoff areas.
It would be easy to be cowed by a track like this and I am suitably respectful, especially after the “no race” lecture.
Until, of course, I catch sight of the vehicle ahead of me.
It is growing ever larger in my windshield. A few more turns and then the long 130 mph straight and you try to gain ground by holding your nerve longer than the other guy, roaring in at full-bore closer to the corner, outbraking, tracking through the apex and then back on the gas. The gap is shrinking.
The pace heats up, more corner squeals and then the home straight and an arm comes out of the vehicle ahead and waves me by.
It’s one of the young pups, which makes it even sweeter.
I mash the gas, blast past and crack my own windows to hear the distant cheers of a vivid imagination, along with the grandstand echoes of the Jeep’s engine and exhaust roar.
And, yes, you did read that right—Jeep.
As ludicrous as that may sound at first—a descendant of the original army offroad warrior lumbering about on a track designed for Formula One cars—anyone familiar with the SRT legacy will know that it really isn’t that much of a mismatch.
The 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT is the performance offshoot of Jeep’s premium flagship.
It makes its muscle the old fashioned way, with brute force and V8 power, but that classic combo has been stroked with technological changes made across the board for the 2014 Grand Cherokee lineup, modifications that make this the fastest Jeep ever.
The SRT promises performance times of 0-100 km/h in 4.8 seconds, 0-160-0 km/h in 16.3 seconds and it can cover the classic drag race quarter mile in the mid-13 second range. All of which is pretty impressive for a beast boasting a 2336 kg (5150 lb) curb weight. Top speed is rated at 257 km/h.
The standard 6.4-litre Hemi V8 carries over with 470 hp at 6,000 rpm and 465 lb/ft of torque at 4,300 rpm. But that power is now mated to an all-new 8HP70 eight-speed automatic.
This is a fully electronic transmission with an adaptive shift map that improves performance, enhances fuel economy and finally brings the SRT up to towing par with its other Grand Cherokee siblings.
The new tow rating, at 3,265 kg (7,200 lb), is a 44 per cent improvement over the 2,268 kg (5,000 lb) towing capacity from the previous model, giving the SRT practical application to match its performance Jones.
Working alongside Chrysler’s FuelSaver Technology, a system that deactivates four cylinders when conditions allow, the increase in the number of cogs makes a nod to better fuel economy.
There’s even a new Eco button on the centre-stack, that will adjust shifts and performance on those rare occasions when an SRT driver isn’t giving the gas pedal the full welly.
Fuel economy is now rated at 16/10.7L/100km (city/hwy). I last tested a 2012 SRT8 predecessor (rated at 17.1/11.4L/100km (city/hwy)) and averaged 17.2L/100km. My combined numbers are usually closer to the “city” rating so I would expect the new 2014 SRT to give you a real world average of around 16L/100km.
While I’m not too sure how often SRT drivers will engage the Eco button, I’m pretty sure they will be fascinated with the new Launch button designed to control initial acceleration. Stab the button, floor the gas and the big behemoth will optimize engine power and traction to hustle you down the road.
That power is put down to the pavement through an improved and retuned Selec-Track full-time four-wheel-drive system that adapts torque distribution through five driver-selected mode settings on the console—Auto, Snow, Tow, Sport and Track.
The front/rear power ratios for those different setting are 40/60 Auto, 50/50 Snow and Tow, 35/65 Sport and 30/70 Track.
After all this discussion about get-up-and-go, it wouldn’t hurt to mention that the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT also has some other impressive performance values, like 100-0 km/h braking in 35 metres (116 feet) and a taut and sport-tuned suspension designed to handle its mass and muscle.
All of this performance potential is wrapped in a handsomely revised package. The signature, seven-slot grille is shorter and gnarlier. New slimmer headlamps are set against a unique black background to distinguish SRT from other 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee models. LED light treatment is mirrored front and back. And a more aerodynamically efficient rear spoiler tops an all-new, one-touch powered liftgate branded with a new SRT badge (the engine cylinder number reference has been dropped).
Inside, the race-inspired interior features all the bells and whistles you’d expect from this premium trim level. New enhancements inside the 2014 Grand Cherokee SRT include the new Uconnect 8.4-inch display screen and multimedia controls with SRT-exclusive Performance Pages, including recent track times, lateral acceleration, 0-100 km/h times and much more.
There’s a new leather-wrapped, T-handle shifter, new gauge display and a redesigned, SRT-exclusive heated three-spoke steering wheel with a flat bottom, bigger paddle-shifters and comfort, convenience and connectivity controls on the spokes. Laguna leather, surround sound, I could go on and on.
But, the only surround sound I want switches on with a stab of the Start button.
On pit lane, I watch the SRT ahead of me start up the sharp incline towards Turn 1 as I wait for the track marshal’s “Go!”.
I start to wonder if I can catch him.
Even though this, uhh, isn’t really a race.
Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT 2014
Body Style: four-door, performance SUV
Drive Method: front-engine, four-wheel-drive
Engine: 6.4-litre OHV Hemi V8 (470 hp; 465 lb/ft)
Towing: 3,265 kg (7.200 lbs)
Cargo: 994 litres (35.1 cu ft); 1,945 litres (68.7 cu ft) with rear seat folded
Fuel Economy: 16/10.7L/100km (city/highway)