Southern California is steeped in car culture. I’ve made it my personal goal to report on it as often as people can stomach. Every opportunity that comes my way to head out there is met with anticipation at the very thought of pulling over and jumping a fence to get a picture of something rare like an Oldsmobile Omega.
In January of this year, such a prospect arose and I quickly packed my bags and headed southwest. To get around, and more importantly, flee the owners of my endless California #cartreasure hunts after taking pictures, I booked a 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT Red Vapor.
Although this was not my first encounter of the SRT kind, I did learn (or was reminded of) a few facts while cruising the PCH and the 405:
Americans still dig American products
One of our Saturday morning car pilgrimage stops was in Costa Mesa at the Boden Autohaus shop.
It had been a while since I’d witnessed such a smorgasbord of cars from various origins in wild and subdued states of tune. Among them, parked on the street directly in front of cars such as a Liberty Walk Nissan GT-R and a Rauh-Welt 911, was my 2015 Grand Cherokee SRT Red Vapor.
Given its location and the rising outside temperature, we stopped by the truck on a few occasions to drop off sweaters, posters, and grab some water. Each time, someone would ask about the Jeep, curious about specs, pricing, and 0-60 times. They seemed more interested in my Jeep than the E30 M3 parked two cars over… Sad, and cool.
The Grand Cherokee fits in compact parking spots
In the land of the big car, I found myself having to stow the Jeep in reserved compact car spots on a number of occasions.
One night, in a hotel parking lot in Manhattan Beach, the only available spot was one such marked “compact.” Truthfully, the LR2 parked next to me could never hope to get passengers through their designated right-side doors -- but then again, nor could I.
In other words, I found out that the Grand Cherokee has a large 475-horsepower heart, is classified as a midsize, and its footprint is no larger than that of a Dart, if you squint a little…
The GC SRT is one of the best-sorted, do-anything vehicles on the road
And this is quite a trick to pull off. California is traffic; traffic is California. Regardless of the distance to where I wanted to go, I would safely and accurately double the normal time required to get there. Traffic: the Grand Cherokee disposed of it in its sleep. The moment a gap opened up, it would instantly be filled with Redline Pearl painted American steel.
From Malibu, heading north through the mountain passes is the only way to go if you have a few hours to burn. And burn hours and fuel we did. Some of the roads around Malibu Springs are insanely tight, blind, with decreasing radii and banked corners covered in gravel or sand. In other words, a lesser car would have you careening to certain death off a cliff. Not so with the GC SRT.
And then the Grand Cherokee is, after all, a Jeep and will go off the beaten path. The truck took us to some remote vistas through rough and sharp inclines, over rocks and ruts. No “car” could have taken us there despite its highly street-biased 295mm section tires.
Our road trip covered 800 miles or nearly 1,300km in less than four days and we averaged 20 mpg or under 12L/100km. Now this is a well rounded SUV.
Near $75k price tag without the stigma of luxury brands
That’s because it’s a Jeep. But even as a Jeep, this Grand Cherokee has everything. From a 475-horsepower 6.4L V8, an 8-speed automatic transmission, Bilstein suspension, Brembo brakes, bi-Xenon HID headlamps, heated steering wheel, Uconnect 8.4” AM/FM/SXM/HD/BT/NAV screen, heated and ventilated front seats, leather, suede, and so many more luxury amenities and high-end features.
Never did I feel self-conscious about driving around in my Jeep. While it can be “nice” to hang out on the West Coast in a luxury car, there’s something genuine about being in an FCA product and fitting in with the common folk as opposed to the “fake” Hollywood types.