Review and photos by Michael La Fave
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The Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 seems like a stupid idea at first blush. A stupid idea that makes perfect sense to car guys and gearheads everywhere, mind you, but stupid nonetheless. Why build a high-performance Jeep that can’t go off-road? Why build any Jeep that can’t go off-road? Isn’t bouncing around on rocks and off trees the whole point of a Jeep?
Maybe so, but to drive an SRT8 is to become a believer in, well, stupidity. Not that I needed much convincing, given other SRT products like the Viper and Chrysler 300 versions. When the SRT guys (it stands for Street and Racing Technology) are segregated from DaimlerChrysler’s accountants and lawyers, magical things happen.
On the face of it, the Grand Cherokee SRT8 isn’t that complicated a proposition: take your biggest and most powerful engine, and stick it into a relatively compact package. Voila, world-beater SUV, which it was until Porsche unleashed the Cayenne Turbo S.
But the SRT8 costs one-third of what the Porsche does, and throws in 20-inch wheels and tires, dropped ride height, butched-up fenders and a front air dam so low you can plow your driveway with it. Worthy of an entirely separate sentence are the Brembo brakes at all four corners.
The end result is considerably greater than the sum of its parts. Unlike the 300 SRT8, the Grand Cherokee has a brittle ride, but thanks to its shorter wheelbase and tidier dimensions, it also changes direction with ridiculous immediacy for such a heavy vehicle. Fling it into a corner, and you’d swear you were driving something half the weight. If it weren’t for the stability control system, which can never be completely disabled, the SRT8 would be an absolutely wild ride on a slippery road. One can only dream about how nice this thing must be to drift in massive sweeping arcs in an unplowed parking lot.
Most of the credit for the SRT8’s handling has to go to the decision to abandon any off-road capability whatsoever. It was the right choice; the SRT8 has a more responsive and communicative feel than just about any other sport-oriented SUV. The Cayenne is slightly more nuanced, but the SRT8 is a salsa dance partner, quick and light.
The interior has the least number of changes over the regular Grand Cherokee, but they’re made where they matter most: Viper-style seats, aluminum pedals and a smattering of SRT8 logos. But the best part of the interior is a result of the massive four-inch dual exhaust poking out the middle of the back bumper.
From these sewer-size tips, the 6.1-litre Hemi’s sound is just incredible. The entire vehicle rocks gently as this massive 420 hp engine grumbles to life, and then this Jeep reverberates with its pulsing beat. Around town, the Hemi emits a deep rumble, but at full-throttle it’s an intoxicating roar. Jeep claims a zero to 100 km/h time of 4.8 seconds. Take a moment to let that sink in. That means that you, the kids, the dog and the wife can (not that you ever would or should) hang with a Corvette or a Porsche in an all-out drag race. And with a five-speed Autostick automatic transmission and full-time all-wheel-drive, all you have to do is plant the throttle flat to the floor and hold on tight.
Click image to enlarge
The SRT8 explodes off the line; with the traction control switched off, all four wheels will spin, whether on wet or dry surfaces. Try that in a Mustang.
The bottom line: for around fifty grand, you get a ballistic missile of an SUV that can satisfy muscle car fantasies and deliver the utility and space expected of a sport ‘ute. Case closed.
Technical Data: 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee STR8
|Price as tested||$49,645|
|Type||4-door, 5-passenger SUV|
|Engine||6.1-litre V8, OHV, 16 valves|
|Horsepower||420 @ 6200 rpm|
|Torque||420 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm|
|Tires front||P255/45ZR20 Goodyear Eagle A/S run-flat|
|Tires rear||P285/40ZR20 Goodyear Eagle A/S run-flat|
|Curb weight||2171 kg (4788 lbs)|
|Wheelbase||2781 mm (109.5 in.)|
|Length||4953 mm (195.1 in.)|
|Width||1861 mm (73.3 in.)|
|Height||1694 in. (66.7 in.)|
|Ground clearance||177 mm (7.0 in.)(minimum)|
|Cargo capacity||977 litres (34.5 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 19.1 L/100 km (15 mpg Imp)|
|Hwy: 14.3 L/100 km (20 mpg Imp)|
|Warranty||3 yrs/ 60,000 km|
|Powertrain warranty||5 yrs/100,000 km|