SRTGR8 The style is so aggressive that the massive wheel flares look almost out of scale with the rest of the body. By John DiPietro Date posted: 12-12-2005 As we wondered about the need for such a lovably absurd vehicle as the 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8, we could almost hear the gruff voice of Patches O'Houlihan of Dodgeball fame. "Necessary?" he'd exclaim with one eyebrow raised. "Is it necessary to have 420 horsepower in a Grand Cherokee? Probably not. But it looks and sounds mean and I like the performance." And after a week in this road-bound hyper-Hemi SUV, we'd have to agree with the crusty son of a gun. At first blush, the idea of a full-on street-performance-oriented Jeep may seem sacrilegious. But one look at the hunkered-down stance, deep front air dam and big wheels with low-pro tires and you'll quickly realize its true purpose is blazing the blacktop, not tackling the trail. Styling Sacrifice Lamborghini Murciélago? Ford GT? Nope, it's the center-mounted exhaust of a Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8. As cool as it looks, the SRT8's styling has a price — that low-slung chin requires attention when going over speed bumps and when parking (be careful when approaching a parking lot block). We even grazed it on a gently sloping apron while entering a restaurant's parking lot — not exactly a radical angle of approach for a sedan, let alone an SUV. We'd suggest that Jeep either make it not quite as deep or make the lower portion a separate and flexible black rubber piece. The styling hit has to be the center-mounted dual exhaust, something you'd expect on a Lamborghini, not a Jeep SUV. It looks cool and has the sound to back it up — a low, muted rumble that segues to a hearty bellow when you tromp on it. And yes, you can still tow with this rig, up to 3,500 pounds. Hold me, thrill me These SRT-specific seats are among the best in the biz in terms of long-term comfort and proper support when running through the twisties. With its hard plastic dash top, the cabin doesn't look especially luxurious, but fit and finish is very good and the key touch points like the seats, steering wheel and gearshift knob are nicely trimmed. With a vehicle capable of pulling 0.9gs of lateral acceleration (that's sports car territory folks), aggressively bolstered buckets are a must. The Jeep's seats qualify with firm side wings as well as suede inserts that hold the driver in place on twisty roads. Long-haul comfort is commendable, too, with excellent under-thigh support and a feeling of the seats wrapping around you. The second-row seat is another matter altogether as it's too flat in comparison and has a cushion that's too low for proper leg support. Our SRT8 was fitted with "Option Group 1," a $3,200 package that adds features such as a power moonroof, heated seats, Sirius Satellite Radio, reverse park sensor and side curtain airbags. It also dresses the cockpit with eye candy, including metallic door and pedal trim. Blue-ringed gauges add to the performance theme. Super utility vehicle No plastic shroud here, all the better to show off the tuned intake manifold and tubular strut brace. The heart of the beast is the same 6.1-liter Hemi that also sees duty in the Jeep's SRT8 cousins, the 300, Charger and Magnum. In this application it makes 420 hp at 6,000 rpm and 420 pound-feet at 4,800 rpm. All that power is sent through a five-speed automatic to an electronic all-wheel-drive system, which normally runs at a 95-percent rear/5-percent front torque split, but has the ability to ship all the torque to the front or rear wheels as conditions dictate. There's no "Low" range as this Jeep is not meant for boulder bashing, and Jeep spokesperson Scott Brown says there's no rear-wheel-drive version because the carmaker considers all-weather performance to be paramount to the brand's heritage. At the track the Grand Cherokee SRT8, which rides on massive 255/45ZR20 front and 285/40ZR20 rear Goodyear Eagle RS-A run-flats, laid down some serious numbers: 5.2 seconds to 60 mph, 13.5 seconds in the quarter-mile. That makes this a 4,800-pound SUV that easily smokes a new Mustang GT, Pontiac GTO and, its most direct competitor, the Chevy TrailBlazer SS. And, you may want to sit down for this if you're a Porschephile, it's even quicker than the $90,000 Porsche Cayenne Turbo (0-60 in 5.9, quarter in 14.3). And you don't need the skills of Big Daddy Don Garlits to duplicate those numbers, either. With all-wheel drive, tweaked for this high-power application, the GC just digs in and takes off. Even with the traction control switched off, the result is the same — major urge without wasted time spinning tires. The run up the acceleration curve is virtually seamless, it pulls hard with the smart automatic furnishing rapid, seamless gear changes. Although you can shift it for yourself (it is AutoStick, after all), you probably won't bother because the tranny does fine left alone. This Jeep's groundswell of power at highway speeds is equally astounding — punch it at 65 and it rushes to 100 faster than you can say, "But Officer, I was just testing it." We have to warn you, however, that if ya wanna play, you're gonna pay — we averaged just 11.7 mpg (against EPA ratings of 12 city/15 highway) during our 600 miles with the SRT8. Keeping the speed in check are four-piston Brembo calipers and massive 14.2-inch front and 13.8-inch rear discs with standard ABS and BrakeAssist technology. The Brembos lived up to their lofty reputation. Our SRT8 needed just 120 feet to stop from 60 mph, and the binders showed absolutely no fade in four successive panic stops from that speed. Pedal feel and modulation are excellent. A heavyweight with middleweight moves Chrome 20-inch five-spokers allow the Brembos to peek through. More than just a straight-line runner, the 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 handles the curves like a sport sedan. Among the handling enhancements are Bilstein shocks and beefy stabilizer bars for the independent front and live-axle rear suspension. A front strut tower brace adds stiffness to the chassis as well as additional street cred. A stable cornering attitude guided by firm and precise steering show that all areas of performance were given equal weight. Running through the slalom at 63.5 mph, the SRT8 crushes the rear-wheel-drive TrailBlazer SS (60.3 mph) we recently tested and ties the Cayenne Turbo. Our only complaint was that, in normal mode, the standard stability control system proved somewhat intrusive on the track and during aggressive driving. Although this can be remedied by the push of the ESP button, which defeats the system 80 percent, we'd rather be able to shut down the system completely. Another problem for some was the Cherokee's firm ride. Although our full-on driving enthusiasts thought it was a small price to pay for the sport sedan-level handling, more than a few passengers, especially those riding in the rear seats, felt that it was just too stiff. Putting money where their mouths are After thoroughly enjoying this latest hot rod from the lads at SRT, we all agreed that this is one well-sorted performance vehicle. You can tell where they spent the money. As Executive Editor Richard Homan stated: "One lean into the brake pedal or a turn of the steering wheel makes it clear that this is a performance-engineered project, not a 'guess it needs more power' also-ran vanity vehicle. SRT placed the needs of the enthusiast first — engine, drivetrain, suspension, brakes, steering and seats. The best carmaker in the U.S. right now is team SRT." Need more proof of how serious these guys are? They even throw in a free day at a Skip Barber high-performance driving school where one gets to sample all manner of SRT products while honing their skills. How often do you see that in the "Standard Features" column? A slight rake adds to the SRT8's attitude. What Works: Brutal performance, smart transmission, powerful brakes, fantastic front seats, sport sedan handling. What Needs Work: Ride too stiff for some, second-class second-row seating, gasoholic. Bottom Line: Grown-up enthusiasts who miss their muscle cars have yet another choice for one that doubles as a family vehicle.