• Mar 16th 2009 at 11:58AM
  • 64
2009 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 - Click above for high-res image gallery

In many ways, the Jeep Grand Cherokee is one of the best vehicles in Chrysler's lineup. Along with the Wrangler, it packs real off-road capabilities into an angular, no-nonsense body. It's an authentic Jeep, first and foremost, and makes no excuses for being anything another than a full-fledged SUV.

Then there's the SRT8 version.

This is what happens when you let the hot-rod mavens at SRT play with time-honored Jeep tradition. Over the last decade, many manufacturers have created high performance SUVs and crossovers, but this beastie is the only one available with a HEMI. The SRT8 is the twisted offspring of the unnatural pairing of a Jeep and a Dodge Viper, and Chrysler was kind enough to loan us its hottest GC for a winter trip to the ski mounds of Northern Michigan. Find out how it behaved after the jump.

Photos copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

The Jeep SRT8 gets visual and functional enhancements inside and out, turning this off-road animal into a true street performance machine. As soon as you lay eyes on the SRT8, it's clear this is no directionless Compass. The body sits one inch closer to the ground with 20-inch forged aluminum wheels at each corner, wrapped in Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires with 255s in front and 285s at the back. Inside those massive hoops are four-pot Brembo calipers grabbing 14.1-inch front- and 13.8 rear rotors, all vented for better cooling.

As one would expect of an SRT model, a deep front air dam, rocker panel extensions and rear bumper cover make the Jeep look even closer to the ground. Anyone trying to follow the SRT8 down the road will see a pair of four-inch exhaust pipes that exit from the center of the rear fascia, and those within earshot will here a wonderful bellow from that big V8.

Like its SRT8 brethren built on the LX platform, the Grand Cherokee SRT8 gets a heart transplant thanks to the high-output, 6.1-liter HEMI V8. The important number with the HEMI is 420, as in 420 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque. This is a classic American muscle-car engine with a throaty growl and gobs of torque anywhere in the rev-range. It's not especially sophisticated by modern standards, with a single cam-shaft sitting in the valley of an iron block. No turbos, no superchargers, not even direct injection – but that's okay.

Like the small-block V8 that still serves General Motors' performance products so well, this is a highly developed engine that simply works. Compared to the regular 5.7-liter HEMI, this boasts larger displacement along with a higher compression ratio and redesigned cylinder heads with better flow in and out. The SRT8's considerable twist goes through a beefed-up torque converter to a five-speed automatic transmission and on to all four wheels. While competitors like the Infiniti FX50, Porsche Cayenne and BMW X6 get six- or seven-speed gearboxes, the reality is the Jeep doesn't really need the extra gears. There's plenty of torque no matter where you dip into the throttle and drivers will never be left wanting for acceleration. The shift lever features Chrysler's Auto-Stick left-right tap shift, but it really isn't needed. Stepping on the go-pedal brings downshifts quickly and maximum velocity on demand.

When the original Grand Cherokee debuted in the early '90s, it had surprisingly good dynamic capabilities, particularly when you realize those first-gen. models were fitted with live axles at both ends. Today's modern model comes equipped with an independent front suspension, and it still has some of the best ride and handling characteristics of any SUV. Even rolling on 20-inch wheels, the SRT8 isn't punishing on Michigan roads and nobody was complaining when they climbed out at the ski resort after a long stint on the road.

With as much torque and rubber as the Grand Cherokee SRT8 has, it's even more important for the driver to stay planted in front of the steering wheel. To that end, Chrysler has equipped this Jeep with the same amazing front seats found in other SRT models. The side bolsters are large and firm, and those sitting on the driver's side can adjust the throne to fit different torso widths. The front seats are power adjustable and the driver's seat can automatically slide back when the door opens to ease entry and exit.

That's a surprisingly welcome feature given those large bolsters and the angle of the thick A-pillar. Without the automatic retracting seat, it would be easy to hit your head getting in and out. The A-pillars have built-in grab handles on both the driver and passenger side, and their girth can be a bit of a problem, creating large blind spots at the front corners. The only other ergonomic complaint we had is the narrow gap between the doors and seats. If the adjustments were mounted on the door or center console this wouldn't be a problem, but since they're down on the side, they can be difficult to reach.

The layout of the interior is generally good, with controls within easy reach and even power adjustable pedals. Most of the dash is still covered in hard plastic, but the finish is better than most of Chrysler's past (and current) offerings. The back seat has plenty of room, enough to satisfy two teenagers who never complained about being crowded in either leg or head room, even though our tester was equipped with the optional sun-roof. The SRT8 was also fitted with the optional rear seat entertainment system with ceiling-mounted DVD screen and wireless headphones, allowing the kids to entertain themselves on the four-hour drive.

The instrument cluster has the usual driver information panel found on a host of other vehicles, although the SRT8 adds performance meters to the usual trip odometer and mileage displays. The driver can select a longitudinal and lateral accelerometer display or several different acceleration timers including 0-60, 60-0, 1/8 mile and 1/4 mile. Chrysler claims sub-five second 0-60 acceleration and 60-0 stopping of 125 feet, and this Jeep consistently lived up to those claims (with a margin for error) even with a second independent measuring device.

When the time does come to reduce speeds or deal with roads that are less than freeway straight, all the hardware upgrades on the SRT8 really pay off. One of the beauties of Brembo's brake calipers is the stiffness under pressure. Lesser calipers will flex when the brakes are applied hard giving a soft spongy feel to the pedal. Not so in the SRT8, where the pedal always feels firm and the amount deceleration seems directly proportional to the pressure applied to the pedal. Speaking of proportionality, there is even some degree of feedback in the thick rimmed steering wheel as the Cherokee moves through curves. It's no Lotus or even a BMW, but for a Jeep it's a pleasant surprise.

Since the SRT8 is an SUV, some degree of utility is expected and this one lived up to its middle name. The Grand Cherokee handily beats the aforementioned competitors with 34.5 cu-ft of luggage space, plenty of room for four suitcases, four pairs of ski boots, and assorted other flotsam and jetsam. The massive subwoofer that comes as part of the optional Kicker audio package does eat up a chunk of space, so if you need to maximize volume, you might want to pass on that.

The 2009 Grand Cherokee SRT8 proved to be quite a fun ride and a pretty decent road-trip machine. Its interior isn't up to the same standards as those Japanese and German performance SUV/CUVs, but it's certainly more than livable. Compared to its competitors, the Jeep is also quite a bargain. Our heavily optioned unit came to $50,760 – which certainly isn't cheap – but it's half the price of a Cayenne Turbo before you begin ticking off the options. Given the Jeep's thirst for gasoline, the price difference will take you a long way, and we would be surprised if there aren't dealer discounts to be had, too. The EPA rates the SRT8 at 11 miles-per-gallon city and 14 highway. Over our 450 miles of mostly highway driving, we got 15.1 mpg, but aggressive driving will very easily drive that number down quickly. However, if you're looking for a fast SUV that doesn't sacrifice utility and doesn't need to go off-road, the SRT8 is definitely worth a look.

Photos copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      million dollar man
      • 8 Months Ago

      i have one and a srt 10 viper and a lambo gallardo and the jeep will out run the lambo but not the viper it handles great and has a very mean launcts h it sucks u back in the seat i love that i think the jeep is a great buy i turbo it it is a bad machine i love pulling a stop light and people think its a grocery getter and i just blow there doors  off it is a great buy for a mom that has kids but still wants speed

      • 6 Years Ago
      This article spoke nothing but praise for this vehicle, how about some balanced reporting? I was in love with the SRT8 and had my heart set on buying one, until I took it for a test drive. I'm used to Lexus interiors, and after five minutes in the Jeep I realized there was absolutely no way that I could drop $50,000 for that chintzy, plastic, claustrophobic interior. The truck was mean, though! Sounded and drive like a muscle car, but as for living with it daily? Hmmm.

      I ended up buying a Nissan Titan 5.6L with 13k on it for $17,000 and added a supercharger for another $5,000.
        • 6 Years Ago
        So your biggest complaint was the chintzy interior??

        And then you went and bought a Nissan Titan....sounds like a lateral move to me.

        Both are certainly not Lexus grade interior wise, but neither are targeted at that. Why didn't you just buy a used GX470 or something if you were after a 'Lexus' interior??
        • 6 Years Ago
        What year SRT did you look at.. the 05-07 interior was rental grade garbage but the 08+ improved things a little. I haven't sat in an 08+ SRT but I would think it received the same fixes as the other trims.
        • 6 Years Ago
        A Nissan Titan's interior isn't exactly Lexus either..
      • 6 Years Ago
      I never get tired of the 'I could get a used such and such for x amount less' comments. True even for brand new copies of the same make/model, and nonetheless irrelevant.

      From just about all accounts this is a 'bang for the buck' even at 50k, but I doubt it's rolling off the lots for that much. It's too bad the diesel version was too expensive, had too much power, and was canceled.

      Perhaps in the next go around diesels will be in compact cars instead of used as a sales tactic to try and prop up high end SUV sales.

        • 6 Years Ago
        It's especially a shame since we still have it in Canada, doesn't command such a huge premium, and is a huge percentage of the sales -- but will prob be canned BECAUSE those in the US are not buying it.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Wow, great review (advertisement).....
      • 6 Years Ago
      I love these things...
      I have an 05 5.7L and it's great, I bet the 6.1 and the lowered suspension would be excellent. The new interior is great as well.

      I do have one eybrow raise on the MPG.... I can barely get that in my normal 5.7L and it has the 4cyl shutdown MDS equipment. I have no idea how you would have gotten that out of the 6.1L.
      • 6 Years Ago
      i think as far as SUVs go, with this trim, it's the best looking performance one out there. it just looks right. but i still question the need for a performance SUV...
      • 6 Years Ago
      One of the best performance SUVs you can buy. If fact, if they keep the same basic formula for the 2010 version and give it a class-leading interior, there will be litterly no reason outside of badge preference to buy the Cayenne Turbo/Turbo S, ML63 AMG, or Range Rover Sport Supercharged.
      • 6 Years Ago

      my brother owns this car.. we are both race car drivers.. i have driven many exotics.. all i can tell you is:

      this car is insane! ridiculous! the torque rips your head off! and with the 4 wheel drive, you'll beat almost any car at the lights..

      i agree it's a jeep but it looks mean as hell and if you search for it, you can find a used one (08 model with 5K miles) for around $35K.

      it's for me the best description of a sleeper...
      • 6 Years Ago
      I own an 08 SRT8 and love it. It's seriously fast off the line, and with a few mods it's one of the fastest vehicles on the road. And it's not pointless - it's fun. It's a blast to drive, I can easily fit 5, it's a great road trip car and it's got the SUV storage space (which my large dog appreciates). And did I mention it's crazy fast? Like porsche beating fast? It does have the occasional squeaks and rattles, but for 43k out the door for a fully loaded model that is faster than any SUV on the road, and faster than most other cars (and has great handling too, and is pretty functional), I forgive it for the small issues it has.
      • 6 Years Ago
      So the article never addressed how the truck worked on a ski trip.
      My guess is like $h!#! Unless autoblog changed the tires to snow tires!!
      LOL! Those summer meats would have all four wheels spinning and the truck into the ditch on anything but dry roads above 30F.

      • 6 Years Ago
      This and the Challenger SRT8 are the only Chryslers I would buy.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I'd rather have an FX50. While it's about half of a second slower to 60 and in the 1/4, it's still friggin fast for an SUV, and it looks far more like a sports car than a square off-road jeep with a chrysler interior.
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