When I hopped out of the vehicle and handed the keys to the valet, he said: That's a nice car. I agreed. He said: It's really, really fast, huh? Yes, I said. It's fast. He clicked his tongue, shook his head and gawked.
I looked at him and held out the keys. He grabbed them and just stood there. Staring. So, I asked: Um. Do I need a ticket or something? He finally spared me a glance and said: No. I'll remember you.
I was already late for dinner, so I glanced at his polo shirt, which did in fact bear the logo of the restaurant, said a silent prayer that I'd have a vehicle to come back to, and went inside. I'll admit, visions of Ferris Bueller danced through my head.
But I wasn't driving a vintage Ferrari. Or a current-model Ferrari. Or Lamborghini. Or Jaguar. Or Audi. Or any other luxury super car. I was driving a Jeep. Sure it was a 2014 Grand Cherokee SRT. But (and I mean this in the nicest possible way) it was a Jeep.
Usually when I get this kind of reaction from a valet, I'm driving something small, sleek and very, very expensive.
Not that the SRT is cheap. The test vehicle added a few options and had an as-tested price of $68,070. It was worth every penny.
Especially considering everything that comes standard. In fact, there aren't many options you can get. Base price for the SRT is $63,990. And that includes up-level features like adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-path detection, front and rear parking sensors, rear back-up camera and Bluetooth hands-free connection as well as three of my favorite things: heated front seats, heated steering wheel and heated rear seats.
Options on the tester included: the Trailer Tow Group ($995), Harman Kardon Audio Group ($1,995), Single Disc Remote CD Player ($195) and the Pirelli P-Zero 3-Season, Run-Flat Tires ($895).
As a city driver, I often loathe getting a large SUV as a tester. It's hard to park and hard to navigate narrow city streets. Not to mention the fact that you often feel like you're driving a boat. Not so with the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT. In addition to the standard advanced technologies such as the blind-spot monitoring and back-up camera, the SRT just drives small. I could see around all the edges of the vehicle and pretty much forgot I was driving an SUV that is 191.3 inches long.
And let's not forget the 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 engine. It delivers 470 horsepower of pure, animal glee. I couldn't wait to hit the on-ramp on my commute to work, so I could floor it. And when I needed to pass, I have to admit, I smiled. Just before my belly dropped with the instant acceleration. The previous model had a 0-to-60-mph time of 4.8 seconds. So, I would expect the 2014 SRT to be faster. At the time of writing this, I couldn't find any officially released numbers, but www.Zeroto60times.com reports a time of 4.5 seconds.
And don't forget, we're talking about a vehicle that weighs 5,150 pounds.
While you won't really be able to test the SRT's mettle on city streets, the good news is that when you buy the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT, another standard feature is the SRT Track Experience. That means you get one day of professional driving instruction on a track. Of course, accommodations and transportation to and from the track are up to you, but I'd totally recommend it.
For 2014, the SRT gets a lot of spiffy upgrades including a new 8-speed transmission, increased towing capacity, Bluetooth audio streaming via Uconnect, cloud based voice texting, an Eco mode to aid fuel economy, launch control and smokin' hot exterior styling.
Aside from the phenomenal performance on the SRT, one of my favorite things about it is the aggressive line of the design. The best Instagram I took of the SRT was of the hood, looking down from the driver's-side door. The hood is a picture of aggression, elegance, sport and fun. Other exterior changes include sleeker headlights, more aggressive grille and larger taillights.
The interior of the SRT is clean and uncluttered, and the 8.4-inch Uconnect radio screen is fairly easy to navigate. I do, however, wish the heated seats and steering wheel were hard buttons on the center stack rather than nestled within the controls section on the screen. I did like the standard navigation and got a kick out of the map that shows a little image of a Jeep driving on the road.
Jeep spent some time focusing on ergonomics for the 2014 model, and everything is within easy reach - even for a 5th percentile female. The driver's seat was very adjustable, and I had a great driving position. Additionally, the special SRT seats were very supportive and comfortable, but I have to ask if they hug a 5-foot-tall, 95-pound female, how comfortable would they be for a typical guy?
The biggest (and virtually only) complaint I have about the SRT centers around the electronic T-handle gearshift. Every time I went to shift from park to drive, I ended up either in reverse or neutral. The same thing would happen when I'd try to shift back to park from drive. Luckily the first couple times I shifted, I wasn't in front of or behind anything I could hit. I quickly learned to do the visual gear check on the behind-the-wheel gauges before taking my foot off the brake. During my test period, I don't think I ever hit the right gear on my first try. Perhaps there's a certain finesse to the shift I was lacking, or perhaps someone who lives with the car every day would get a better feel. But for someone who was just doing a test, this was a bit irksome.
Gear shift aside, I loved my time in the SRT. While it's still not quite an all-time urban vehicle (think of finding a parallel parking spot big enough), I do think this is a great suburban vehicle with some very good urban qualities. It's comfortable enough for family road trips and fast enough to satisfy the lust for aggressive driving.
So, in retrospect, I guess I'm not terribly surprised by the valet's reaction when I pulled up.
When the dinner ended and I was getting ready to go back to the SRT, I surveyed the table of auto journalists - all of whom were driving spiffy new vehicles - and asked if they had a ticket for the valet. In turn, they all held up their tickets.
With one last thought of Ferris Bueller, I walked outside to the valet who scurried to get my vehicle, which was parked in front.
Yeah, I guess it is a memorable vehicle. It's brawny and beautiful. Fast and functional. Practical and practically perfect.