We drove a Jeep with a legendary muscle car engine — and it was awesome

Jeep Grand Cherokee HEMI
The 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit. Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

There are few words in the automotive lexicon more evocative than “Hemi” and “Jeep”.

Which why we were ecstatic to find a 5.7 litre HEMI V8 under the hood of our 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit test car.

With the brand’s signature vertical grille displayed prominently up front, there’s no confusing this machine for anything but a Jeep.

Clad in a crisp white livery, our Grand Cherokee test car immediately impressed us with its imposing presence and attractive styling.

The current fourth-generation Grand Cherokee has actually been around for the better part of a decade and is one of the final vestiges of Chrysler’s failed marriage with Daimler.

However, the company has managed to make it feel up-to-date with a major refresh in 2014 and incremental updates since then.

The base 2017 Grand Cherokee with rear-wheel-drive starts at $US30,395 while the top-of-the-line SRT 4X4 edition comes with an asking price pushing $US70,000. Our well-optioned Summit with four-wheel-drive starts at just under $US54,000.

Jeep Grand Cherokee HEMI

Inside, the cabin of our option-laden test car was lavishly appointed — for a Jeep at least — and proved to be a very pleasant place to be. There was a Nappa leather-wrapped dashboard, Laguna leather seats, and wood accents. In front of the driver is an analogue gauge cluster paired with an easy-to-use 7-inch information display.

The center stack of the Grand Cherokee is dominated by an 8.4-inch touchscreen running Fiat Chrysler’s UConnect infotainment system. Even though the system is crisply rendered and quick to react, its user interface can’t quite match the quality of GM and VW/Audi’s high-end systems.

One major change Jeep has made in 2017 is to move away from its controversial electric gear selector and go with a traditional PRND shift lever. We applaud Jeep and parent company FCA for making this move.

Jeep Grand Cherokee HEMI 5

But before we get any further, we need to talk about that 5.7 litre, 360 horsepower HEMI V8 lurking inside the engine compartment of our Summit edition test car. (The Hemi moniker is in reference to the hemispherical design of the engine’s combustion chamber.)

And what an engine it is.

The Hemi gives the Grand Cherokee a muscle car punch off the line and an ear-pleasing rumble that evokes imagery of the American iron heyday. Together with a slick-shifting ZF 8-speed automatic, we found the Hemi’s unrelenting surge of acceleration infinitely enjoyable. So enjoyable that we sometimes forget we were behind the wheel of a 5,200 lbs. SUV.

Jeep Grand Cherokee HEMI 1
HEMI!! Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The base Grand Cherokee comes with Fiat Chrysler’s highly-rated 295 horsepower, 3.5 litre Pentastar V6 engine. However, optional engines include an Italian-built 3.0 litre, 240 horsepower turbodiesel V6 and a monstrous 6.4 litre, 475 horsepower HEMI V8 for SRT-branded models.

Our test car came equipped with Jeep’s Quadra-Trac II four-wheel-drive system and Selec-Terrain traction management system. Unfortunately, we were not able to put them to full use due to the bad luck of having the vehicle during an unseasonable warm part of the New York winter.

Our Summit edition model also came standard with Jeep’s Quadri-Lift air suspension, which was our greatest gripe with the Grand Cherokee. The air suspension is poorly calibrated and proved incapable of absorbing even the smallest imperfections in the road. At high speed, which with the Hemi motor happens quite often, the suspension’s shortcomings detracted from the stability of the Jeep. In addition, the jarring ride also spoils the premium experience the rest of the vehicle so successfully conveys.

Jeep Grand Cherokee HEMI

The verdict? Our curiosity was rewarded handsomely.

Overall, the 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee isn’t perfect. However, it’s infinitely charismatic personality more than makes up for its shortcomings. So, if you’re in the market for a well-appointed American SUV with unimpeachable off-road credentials and a stonking great motor; look no further than the 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit.

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