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BBC Autos

Joyride

Full throttle in an SUV that plays with pony cars

About the author

After careers as a classroom teacher, preschool director and fiction writing professor, Brett now writes about the two subjects on which people are least interested in receiving advice from a childless gay man: kids and cars. Visit him at brettberk.com or follow him on Twitter at @StickShift_VF.

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Do you like to cause heart palpitations and shortness of breath in impressionable people you barely know? I do.

That is why, during a recent stint with the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT, I placed a 21 year-old acquaintance in the bolstered and suede-trimmed driver’s seat, had him drive to the longest, straightest part of an untrafficked country road, instructed him to depress the Launch Control button alongside the Audi-mimicking T-shaped shifter, plunge his left foot into the brake and stuff his right onto the throttle.

The 6.4-litre Hemi V8 grunted like some band of ogres from one of those interminable Lord of the Rings movies — a band that hadn’t devoured its requisite intake of muskox offal. All four corners and all 5,150lb of this sinister sport utility vehicle primed and shuddered like a cafeteria full of school children the moment before the recess bell rings. The red-painted Brembo brake calipers, each approximately the size of a railroad trestle, made whatever noise is made by two trestles gnashing against huge iron discs. If there were stick pins or paperclips within a yard of any of the 20-inch forged-alloy wheels, they would have leapt from the roadway and affixed themselves to the brakes; we were creating polar-scale magnets.

The driver — a young man who was, just then, experiencing his first moments behind the wheel of a test vehicle — looked to me for a sign, his eyes turbid with trepidation (or perhaps that was piston thrum).

“You can take your foot off the brake now,” I said.

Have you ever witnessed elation — pure automotive euphoria — at the precise moment it comes to the surface? It does not consist solely of joy. Not even close – at least 30% of the experience consists of breathless terror, but not the kind of terror that makes you stop inhaling. No, this emotion is the sort that pushes the existing air from your lungs, like a vaudeville accordionist after the night’s last performance, callously emptying his instrument’s bladder, with a faint and corrosive hiss that is no note and all notes at once.

After red-lining the Grand Cherokee’s 470-horsepower engine in first and second gear, and cracking off clunky, nail-gun shifts with the slick metal paddles on the wrist-thick leather steering wheel, the 21-year-old slaked the turgid exertion of his right leg and slowed to normal highway speeds. (For the record, Jeep claims its speed-shop-enhanced Grand Cherokee will hustle from 0 to 60mph in 4.8 seconds and press on to a top speed of 160mph.) “I feel like…” The young man paused, lost for words. “That was a first,” he said at last, smiling. “That was one to remember.”

We didn’t put the Grand Cherokee’s Land Rover-esque Selec-Terrain traction-control knob into any of its other settings: rubble, tundra, caliche, Afghanistan… but we didn’t need to. As my new friend said later, summarizing his experience: “Any excursion in the SRT feels like a conquering.”  

Vital stats: 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT

  • Base price: $63,990, inclusive of $995 destination charge
  • As tested: $65,985
  • EPA fuel economy: 12mpg city, 18mpg highway
  • Drivetrain: 470hp, 6.4-litre V8 engine, eight-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel drive
  • Major options: Harman Kardon audio group, $1,995
The 6.4-litre Hemi V8 grunted like some band of ogres from one of those interminable Lord of the Rings movies — a band that hadn’t devoured its requisite intake of muskox offal.