In today’s rapidly changing environment just when you think you have something figured out – it changes. This is certainly the case with SUVs. Years ago SUVs could easily be defined as utilitarian boxy truck-like vehicles with high ground clearance and (usually) 4-wheel drive. With the introduction of crossovers and more car-like features on SUVs the old definition no longer applies. Nothing proves this more than the 2010 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8.
Jeep, the brand that pioneered off-road motoring has kept up with modern demands for creature comforts while still providing a full lineup of fully capable off-road vehicles. However with the release the 2006 Grand Cherokee SRT8, this changed. Though the Grand Cherokee SRT8 has a heavy duty 4-wheel drive system its tight race car type suspension makes it almost as useless off-road as a Corvette. As for plowing through those deep snow drifts in the winter – you can forget about it. The SRT8’s low frontal ground clearance is setup for high speed aerodynamics and not plowing through the winter wonderland. The very observant will notice that missing on the Grand Cherokee SRT8 is the Jeep “trail rated” plaque. One might decide that the SRT8 with its torque monster 6.1 liter Hemi V8 (420 lb-ft of torque to be exact) would be the perfect vehicle for towing. After-all the 5.7 liter Hemi equipped 2010 Grand Cherokee Limited has a 7,400-lb tow rating. However on the SRT8 the factory dual exhaust system exits where the tow package hitch normally would be so it’s no surprise there is not a factory towing package option. However Mopar does offer a SRT8 towing hitch at its dealership parts counters (P/N 82210037AC) but it only has a 3,500-lb tow rating. And with this kit the buyer must buy the SRT8 center dual exhaust upgrade kit and trailer wire harness kit. These three parts combined come to a total of around $1,000 which is a lot of clams for such a low tow rating (if you need to tow, you should go with the 5.7 Hemi equipped Grand Cherokee).
As mentioned the SRT8 is a different beast for Jeep. Jeep has made performance oriented models in the past but utility was never sacrificed. For instance the 1998 Grand Cherokee 5.9 liter Limited was a real pavement mauler (back in 1998) but it also offered fantastic off-road capabilities along with great towing capacity. It was truly the best of both worlds for a performance buyer who loved Jeeps.
So with all this in mind what good is the Grand Cherokee SRT8? One turn of the ignition key and movement of the automatic shifter lever to “D” will answer this question. Forget what you know about SUVs and performance cars from past experience and throw it right out the window. The SRT8 is as high-performance as high-performance gets. Put simply this vehicle will knock your socks off. On a drag strip a Grand Cherokee SRT8 will shame even the baddest of the stock golden era muscle cars. With a 1/4 mile time of about 13 seconds and a 0-60 mph time of around 4.7 seconds – even the meanest Hemi powered Mopars or big-block Chevys (in muscle car era road tests) can’t beat these numbers. Another way to put this is that the original 1966-1971 426 CID Hemi V8 powered cars weighed around 3,500 lbs. (they all were in intermediate Mopars –the Hemi never was available in the full-size lineup) verses the 2010 Grand Cherokee SRT8 which is over 1,000 lbs. heavier at a curb weight of 4,819 lbs. – yet the 426 Hemi cars (425 gross horsepower) had slower 1/4 mile times (average 1/4 times for the 426 Hemi cars fell between mid-13 to high-13 second range). Imagine putting the original 426 Hemi in a 4,800 lbs. full-size Chrysler back in the day – it would be stuck in the 14 second range (more than likely the high-14 second range with the possibility of even the low-15 second range). This really shows how potent the new 6.1 Hemi is. Put the Grand Cherokee SRT8 on the 1/4 mile drag strip and ram the accelerator to the floor, and its sure footed 4-wheel drive system keeps wheel spin to a minimum. There’s no worry about traction, the system keeps the Grand Cherokee planted firmly and pointed straight. It could not be easier or more fun – the roaring sound of the 6.1 at wide open throttle is reminiscent of the monster big-block 426 Hemi V8 of yesteryear. The small-block 6.1 liter also gives the driver the same throw-you-back-in the-seat feel as the 425 (gross) horsepower 426 Hemi.
As for the other high-performance SUV competitors, the SRT8 can run with the best of them. The more expensive (550 net horsepower) 2010 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S and (555 net horsepower) 2010 BMW X5 M have similar performance times. This not only makes you appreciate the SRT8’s cheap base price of $44,105 which is a downright bargain compared to the Cayenne Turbo S ($126,300) and X5 M ($85,400) but it has you wondering how the Grand Cherokee SRT8 (which is only a few hundred pounds lighter than the two) keeps pace with only 420 (net) horsepower? Punching the SRT8’s performance numbers along with its weight into a horsepower calculator will yield horsepower numbers 10-20% more than what Jeep advertises. Granted the 4-wheel drive helps with its superior traction in the horsepower calculator but not enough to explain the difference –Chrysler most surely is underrating the horsepower rating on the 6.1 Hemi.
Driving the 2010 Grand Cherokee SRT8, kept reminding me of the old saying – “the more things change the more they remain the same.” Chrysler has really tapped into the best of the muscle car era with 6.1 Hemi V8. It’s as close to an “old school” high-performance V8 as you are going to find. From the pushrod design to the hemispherical heads (which give the Hemi it’s name) – it makes power the old fashion way with lots of cubic inches and lots of air mixed with fuel passing in and out of the engine very quickly. Chrysler even plays on nostalgia by painting (at the factory) every 6.1 block – Hemi Orange (the same color used on the 426 Hemi V8s). In an era of black engine blocks even on high-performance cars, this extra touch is much appreciated. This is the case, especially when popping the hood, though the engine block is not as easily seen as during the muscle car era due to the tight engine bay, when the Hemi Orange colored block is seen it brings a big smile to the face. Though the Hemi takes the best from the past, it also uses the best technology of the present. There is fuel injection and of course a sophisticated computer management system. The current 5.7 Hemi uses Variable Valve Timing (VVT) which the 6.1 Hemi does not at the moment have – however it’s a strong possibility it will be implemented in future 6.1 Hemi releases or whatever Hemi replaces the 6.1. Strong rumors are pointing to a (500 horsepower) 6.4 liter Hemi to replace the 6.1 in the near future, which may even use the 5.7 Hemi’s Multi-Displacement System (MDS) which is a cylinder deactivation system used for increased fuel efficiency. The 6.1 Hemi unlike most current high-performance engines which are hidden under black plastic shrouding (the 5.7 Hemi falls victim to this), is a work of art. The Grand Cherokee SRT8 can be driven to a car show and with the hood opened the engine will attract many onlookers.
The abundance of torque makes the SRT8 pull hard anywhere in the rpm range. The standard and only transmission available is the W5A580 5-speed automatic transmission which does a good job of making sure the power gets to all four wheels. With the W5A580 no dead spots can be found, it always seems to be in the right gear. Though this transmission does have a manual shift mode (the side-to-side shifting of the center console auto-shifter) it does not quench the thirst for the manual gear shifting purist. Jeep should have dug into the Chrysler parts bin and taken the Challenger SRT8’s optional 6-speed manual -this transmission would be a perfect fit for the Grand Cherokee SRT8.
The Grand Cherokee SRT8 is top speed limited to 155 mph. The SRT8 could probably hit close to 180 mph if the computer did not limit the top speed. No new vehicle review would be complete without mention of gas mileage. If you have to ask, the SRT8 is not for you. The EPA city rating is 12 mpg and highway is 16 mpg, and the SRT8 requires premium fuel (translation: this means more expensive 93 octane fuel). Most SRT8 buyers I am sure are not worried; even during the peak of the highest gas prices about two years ago SRT8 sales were still brisk. Contrary to popular belief no matter how high gas prices go, there will always be the performance buyer who would rather save money skipping meals than give up the fuel thirsty performance car.
Handling is nothing short of phenomenal, you can expect at least a sticky grip of .87 g on the skidpad. When taking the SRT8 into the turns you can see that Jeep and Chrysler engineers meticulously thought out every little detail of this suspension – no corners were cut here. The SRT8 is surefooted in every handling situation – easily fooling the driver into thinking the SRT8 is 2,000 lbs lighter. Of course the 4-wheel traction control also helps to keep the vehicle properly balanced in the turns. And this includes even wet or snowy roads; the Quadra-Trac (Active on Demand) 4-wheel drive system does a nice job of keeping the SRT8 stuck to the road in bad weather conditions. However as mentioned earlier this Jeep is not for plowing through deep snow drifts – if you live in an area like Lake Tahoe where snowfall is counted by the feet and not the inches, the trail rated (4×4) Grand Cherokees will be your cup of tea. Overall the suspension is tight and racecar in nature, it handles bumps and potholes better than expected but you feel these imperfections much more than you would in the standard Grand Cherokee suspension. Steering is also precise and the SRT8 goes where it’s pointed without the slightest of feather ruffling.
Stopping is for the heavy SRT8 is excellent with 60-0 mph in just 125 feet. This number is no surprise considering the four-piston Brembo brake calipers and large disc brake rotors that are part of the SRT8’s braking system. Also helping the SRT8 to stop are the big all-season tires: P255/45ZR20 in the front and P285-40ZR20 in the rear. The tires are mounted on a beautiful set of polished aluminum wheels (20×9 inches in the front and 20×10 inches in the rear). There is no spare tire on the SRT8 since the tires are run flat – of course the spare tire biting the dust also gave engineers the room to run the dual exhaust pipes right through where the spare tire would have been to get to the area where the trailer hitch would have been.
The third generation Grand Cherokee (2005-2010) is a familiar design to most. The general lines are as appealing now as its original introduction. The first generation Grand Cherokee (1993-1998) was a mega hit, it had the traditional tough and rugged Jeep look along with elegant touches. The second generation (1999-2004), still had the Jeep styling cues but it had smoother softer less rugged lines. Jeep designers went back to a more rugged and angular look for the third generation, this overall look gave the Grand Cherokee a tough wide stance. This stance really gets enhanced by the SRT8 which takes this design one step further. The aerodynamic lower front air dam along with its aggressive front grill are part of the enhancements. However the lower stance with the 20 inch wheels and the SRT8’s mandatory deletion of the roof rack are the icing on the cake.
The interior is typical Grand Cherokee which is attractive and appealing. The SRT8 adds a 180 mph speedo, racing pedals, and set of very comfortable racing style seats (leather with suede inserts) with great lumbar support. The SRT8 can be ordered with most of the options available on the other Grand Cherokee models. This includes an optional rear DVD entertainment system, a navigation system, and a power sunroof. Even with all the goodies checked off on the option list the SRT8 still has a sticker price of under $50,000. However one option not on the list is a power antenna, which is something that was a past option on different Jeep models (in fact it was very popular on the first generation Grand Cherokee) is surprising absent on all third generation Grand Cherokees. When you pay close to $50,000 for a vehicle it should have a power antenna. It’s a real pain when you have to detach the mast antenna every time you want to put a car cover on your SRT8.
Chrysler offers the SRT8 package (with the 6.1 Hemi) on the 2010 Dodge Charger, Dodge Challenger, and Chrysler 300. All of which are great high-performance offerings. However the Grand Cherokee SRT8 because of its SUV shell is the best choice for those who want the most utility out of a SRT8 offering. Five big adults can fit comfortably in the Grand Cherokee and there’s lots of rear cargo space that’s easily accessible through a big rear cargo door. And if that’s not enough cargo space putting down the rear seats offers even more capacity. For a family of 4 or 5 with a lot of luggage, the Grand Cherokee SRT8 is the perfect vehicle for a long highway trip. How many performance cars can you say the same is true?
2010 is the last year for the third generation Grand Cherokee, the SRT8 is ending its run at the end of the current model year temporarily. At least we hope it’s temporary, rumors right now are strong enough to suggest that the SRT8 will return on the fourth generation Grand Cherokee for the 2012 model year. With the current economic climate and Corporate Average Fuel Economy (C.A.F.E) standards due to climb in the near future, it’s always a possibility the 2010 may be the last Grand Cherokee SRT8. If it is the last year, it goes out in a bang giving the same great performance that took high-performance car fans by storm in early 2006. The good news (unlike 2006 where many were paying on the average of $10,000 over sticker price to buy one) you won’t usually pay more than sticker and in some cases you pay less than sticker. With the wallop the Grand Cherokee SRT8 gives for the price who can deny this is the best performance SUV for the money. With so much going for it you don’t miss the Jeep “trail rated” plaque – the SRT8’s powerful 6.1 Hemi, drop dead corning, breathtaking braking, and the hum of the free-flow V8 puts you in a trance where you really don’t care. Who would have thought the same brand that gives you a total off-road warrior like the Wrangler Rubicon could also give you the performance sovereign of the SUVs? Jeep has proven that a brand can achieve perfect harmony providing the radical polar extremes of both off-road prowess and total ultimate performance. Thanks Jeep, for a job well done.
Written contents in this article – © 2010 Pete Dunton – All Rights Reserved