PASADENA, CALIFORNIA- The Jeep Grand Cherokee is the latest vehicle to get a high-performance makeover from Chrysler's SRT department, and just like the other ten limited-production SRT models, the idea here is "go big, or go home." The Grand Cherokee SRT8 gets a big engine, big wheels and tires, big brakes, and big styling.
Naturally, the keynote is the SRT-engineered, 420-hp, 6.1-liter version of the Hemi V-8, some 90 hp more powerful than the Grand Cherokee's customary 5.7-liter Hemi V-8. The twenty-inch, forged aluminum wheels carry wide 255/45WR-20 Goodyear Eagle RS-A run-flat tires in the front and even wider 285/40WR-20s in the rear. Meanwhile, Brembo brakes with 14.2-inch front rotors burn off the speed.
This is a vehicle of daunting weight, some 4788 pounds of it, yet it lays down some daunting performance numbers, too. It gets to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds, runs the quarter-mile in 14.0 seconds at 105 mph, and scrambles around a skid pad pulling 0.89 g. Of course, what purpose does a 155-mph SUV serve? we asked ourselves while plunging into turn 8 at Willow Springs International Raceway at 110 mph, our knees quaking in terror.
The answer came when we drove over the Angeles Forest Highway. It was drizzling, and the roads were slick and strewn with gravel. We were surprised to discover that the SRT8's revised suspension has dramatically improved the composure of the Grand Cherokee, so it steers accurately into the corners, maintains control over bumps without pitching or weaving, and yet doesn't feel harsh or heavy-footed over broken pavement. And the combination of a fast-acting, electrically controlled transfer case and a performance-tuned stability control system helped the SRT8 get the most from its all-wheel-drive system on the slippery pavement.
This Jeep is meant for long-distance, all-weather highway travel, not off-road adventures. It fills the same niche as a big, fast sedan, except that it has a more passenger-friendly package than its rivals. And its ability to maintain a measure of all-around utility helps keep the Grand Cherokee SRT8 from seeming as one-dimensional as other fast sport-utility vehicles.
Does the world need a 155-mph sport-utility? Oddly enough, the answer depends on the utility part of the equation, not the sport.
Engine: 6.1L V-8, 420 hp, 420 lb-ft