2009 Jeep Grand Cherokee

    (7 Reviews)




    MSRP
    $30,450 - $44,845
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    2009 Jeep Grand Cherokee Expert Review:Autoblog


    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.

    Highly capable off-road.

    Introduction

    The Jeep Grand Cherokee offers superior off-road capability comparable to that of the upscale Land Rover LR3. This makes the Grand Cherokee a fine choice for families who venture off-road or vacation in the mountains or other remote areas. 

    Its edgy and angular lines make it instantly recognizable as a Jeep. Inside, the atmosphere is light, comfortable, and enveloping, with lots of seat adjustments, and excellent outward vision around relatively slim windshield posts. 

    With nearly 70 cubic feet of cargo space, the Grand Cherokee is useful for hauling whatever a family may need. 

    A wide range of engines is available. The 5.7-liter Hemi V8 is updated for 2009, increasing from 330 to 357 horsepower. The Hemi is particularly good for towing or driving at higher elevations. The high-performance SRT8 model has a 420-horsepower 6.1-liter Hemi V8 and can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds. The smaller, 4.7-liter overhead-cam V8 works quite well and it can run on gasoline or up to 85 percent ethanol. 

    The Grand Cherokee also offers a Mercedes-Benz 3.0-liter common-rail turbo-diesel (CRD) V6, allowing it to tow up to 7,400 pounds (with proper equipment) and range 425 miles between fill-ups. The diesel engine makes it frugal for an SUV of its size. 

    Grand Cherokee was last redesigned for the 2005 model year. The current Grand Cherokee offers better handling than that of pre-2005 models, leaning less in corners. It rides better on all surfaces and its turning radius is tighter. 

    Four-wheel-drive models have hill-start assist and hill-descent control. Hill-start assist holds the brakes on a hill to allow smooth launches. Hill-descent control uses the ABS to control the rate of speed when driving down steep hills. 

    A trailer sway control system is available that applies braking pressure to individual wheels to help stabilize trailers during towing. 

    Also new for 2009 is tire-pressure monitoring and fuel saver notification displays in the instrument panel, an available 9-inch rear DVD entertainment screen in place of an 8-inch screen, and an available iPod interface. 

    Lineup

    The 2009 Jeep Grand Cherokee is offered in four trim levels. 

    The Grand Cherokee Laredo ($30,150) comes with a 210-hp, 3.7-liter V6 and a five-speed automatic transmission. Air conditioning is standard, along with cloth upholstery, cruise control, power windows, power heated mirrors, power locks with remote keyless entry, eight-way power driver's seat with lumbar adjustment, tilt/telescoping steering wheel with audio controls, AM/FM/CD audio with auxiliary input jack, Sirius satellite radio, driver information center, 60/40 split folding rear seat, engine immobilizer, water-resistant storage compartment, roof rack and P245/65R17 tires with alloy wheels. Leather seats are available in an option package with much of the equipment from the Limited model. 

    Laredo 4WD ($32,120) features Quadra-Trac I full-time four-wheel drive and a full-size spare tire. Quadra-Drive II full-time active 4WD is optional ($795) with either engine. Quadra-Drive II adds low-range gearing, hill ascent and descent control, a special axle ratio, and front, center, and rear limited-slip differentials. It also comes with skid plates and front tow hooks. The Laredo can be ordered with the 4.7-liter V8 ($930). If this engine is chosen with AWD, the price is $1730 and it also comes with Quadra-Trac II, which includes low-range gearing. Buyers can also opt for the 3.0-liter turbo-diesel V6 ($2760 with 2WD, $3560 with 4WD). 

    Grand Cherokee Limited ($36,920) comes with leather upholstery; heated first- and second-row seats; rear obstacle detection; rear backup camera; dual-zone automatic climate control; sunroof; Boston Acoustics six-speaker, 276-watt AM/FM/CD stereo with MP3 capability; power adjustable pedals; four-way power passenger seat; leather-wrapped steering wheel; memory function for the seats, pedals and mirrors; automatic, self-dimming headlamps; rain-sensing automatic wipers; auto-dimming exterior and rearview mirrors; HomeLink universal garage door opener; an upgraded tire-pressure monitor that displays the status of individual tires; fog lights; remote engine starting; and a 115-volt power outlet. The Limited also comes with Jeep's UConnect GPS and UConnect Phone. UConnect GPS includes a navigation system with voice recognition and real-time traffic, a 6.5-inch touch-screen, an iPod adapter and a 30-gigabyte hard drive to hold music and picture files, as well as navigation map information. UConnect Phone provides a wireless cell phone link. Limited 4WD ($39,010) gets all that plus hill start assist, hill descent control, and Quadra-Trac II with low-range gearing. Quadra-Drive II is an option. 

    The 4.7-liter V8 is optional for both 2WD ($930) and 4WD ($1580) Limiteds. The 5.7-liter Hemi V8 is optional ($1750) for both 2WD and 4WD Limiteds, and the 3.0-liter turbo-diesel V6 is optional for both 2WD ($2760) and 4WD ($3560) models. Other options consist of a rear DVD entertainment system with Sirius BackSeat TV ($1720), chrome 18-inch wheels ($995), Class II and IV trailer hitches ($280-$430), and high-intensity discharge headlamps with auto leveling ($500). Sirius Backseat TV includes three child-oriented channels: Cartoon Network, Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. 

    Grand Cherokee Overland ($41,110) comes with the 5.7-liter Hemi V8, and adds a wood-and-leather steering wheel, real wood accents on the doors and console, two-tone leather and ultra-suede seats embroidered with the Overland logo, a leather-covered console and armrest, the high-intensity discharge headlamps with auto leveling, a Class IV trailer hitch, and chromed 18-inch aluminum wheels with P245/50R18 tires. Platinum accents highlight the exterior. Overland 4WD ($44,545) adds Quadra-Drive II. The 3.0-liter diesel engine is optional for 2WD and 4WD Overland models ($1010). 

    Grand Cherokee SRT8 ($42,665) comes with a 6.1-liter Hemi rated at 420 horsepower, a lowered suspension, performance brakes, its own electronic all-wheel-drive system, and P244/45R20 front and P285/40R20 rear run-flat tires. Distinctive bumper fascias and 20-inch wheels make SRT8 instantly identifiable. Inside, the SRT8 adds to Laredo trim with leather and suede sport seats, special trim, a four-way power front passenger seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a Boston Acoustics sound system with six-disc CD changer, and a universal garage door opener. Also standard are auto-dimming rearview and exterior mirrors and automatic headlights. Options can bring an SRT8 nearly up to the Overland level of comfort and convenience. 

    Safety features that come on all models include front air bags with four levels of deployment, head-protecting side curtain air bags with rollover deployment, LATCH-style car-seat anchors in the rear seats, traction control, an electronic stability program (ESP) with roll mitigation, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes (ABS) with brake assist, and a tire-pressure monitor. Also available are rear obstacle detection, a rear backup camera, hill descent control, hill start assist, and trailer sway control. 

    Walkaround

    Last redesigned for 2005, the Grand Cherokee looks square-edged but modern, with a fashionably high waistline and small side windows. The shape of the body is designed to protect the sides of the vehicle from potential road debris. 

    While conventional SUVs, such as the Dodge Durango, are built on a separate frame like a truck, the Grand Cherokee uses an unusual construction scheme Jeep calls Uniframe, a close marriage of a welded steel unit-body and underlying front and rear frame modules. This is an extremely sturdy and rigid concept developed back in Jeep's days with unit-body pioneer American Motors. The Grand Cherokee has earned a five-star safety rating in both front and side impact tests from the federal government. 

    Limited models present a flashier appearance than Laredos, with a chromed grille, bright inserts in the bumpers, and accent-color bodyside molding. 

    The Overland is distinguished by mesh-texture grille inserts between its traditional vertical grille bars, which are Platinum in finish; Platinum accents also appear on the bumpers, side moldings, roof-rack side rails, liftgate light bar, and mirrors. The wheels are chromed, and the front sill guards are brushed stainless. 

    Jeep reached deep into its heritage for the Overland name. First built in 1903, the Overland automobile was the earliest ancestor of the Willys. Willys played an instrumental role in the development and production of the World War II-era Jeep, but was also the first automaker to seriously envision a civilian market for a military-style utility vehicle. The Willys Jeep debuted in 1946 and had its name shortened to just-plain Jeep in the early 1960s. Although the Jeep brand has passed through several owners since then, its lineage remains unbroken. 

    The SRT8 has a monochrome look all its own, relieved by bright trim at the belt level and bodyside and accented by enormous five-spoke, 20-inch forged aluminum wheels. Functional air ducts in its more buff front bumper fascia improve brake cooling. The rear bumper is cut out to accommodate dual four-inch exhaust tips, and the extended side sills are claimed to enhance downforce. SRT8 is available only in Bright Silver, Brilliant Black or Inferno Red. 

    Interior

    The seats are large and cushy (in all trim levels except SRT8). In Laredo models, they are upholstered in cloth with leather as a package option, while Limited seats are two-tone leather with perforated inserts. In Overland, the seats are upholstered in saddle-perforated high-contrast two-tone Ultrasuede, featuring accent piping and embroidered Overland logos. Overland also features real wood trim on the steering wheel, instrument panel, door panels, and gear selector. The center armrest is leather-upholstered, and unique colors are employed in the instrument cluster. 

    The SRT8 goes for the high-tech racer look with deeply contoured sport seats, and lots of faux carbon fiber and aluminum trim. Unique blue-accented gauges include a 180-mph speedometer plus oil pressure and oil temperature readouts in the center stack. The sport seats offer lots of support, with deep side bolsters, but drivers with larger frames may find them too narrow. 

    Overall, the Grand Cherokee cabin is nice, though not as posh as you might expect at its price point. 

    The instrument panel on all models is a cohesive design with a nice combination of shiny plated parts, matte-finish parts, and a first-rate layout. In all Grand Cherokees, the two-tone, dark-over-light theme set by the instrument panel flows into the door trim. The instrument panel and dashboard are made of plastic that, while sturdy, is not up to snuff for the Overland's luxury-level pricing. 

    The available navigation system integrates the audio system and other functions, and it includes a 30-gigabyte hard drive that holds songs, pictures and the navigation information. It can hold thousands of songs, and you can program it to display your own digital pictures. The screen has a nice display, generates crisp maps, and does a good job of directing you to your destination, both visually and audibly. It isn't as easy to program as similar systems from Acura and Lexus, however. There's a separate Enter button, which can be annoying because intuition suggests pressing the toggle switch down. The daytime setting is so bright at night as to be distracting. 

    Similarly, all Chrysler products, including Jeeps, use a separate Set button for pre-setting radio stations, which seems unnecessarily difficult. Setting these on most radios is just a matter of holding down the desired preset. 

    The rear DVD entertainment system comes with Sirius Backseat TV and, for 2009, a nine-inch screen instead of an eight-inch screen. The TV system requires a monthly subscription for its three channels: Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, and Nickelodeon. We tried it and found the reception to be good. With Sirius Backseat TV, if you forget the DVDs, you can still keep the kids entertained. 

    One area of concern for family shoppers is rear seating. Despite its midsize SUV dimensions, the Grand Cherokee's rear seat lacks the leg room to make rear adult occupants comfortable, especially if taller passengers are riding up front. Such an issue might be a deal breaker for customers who regularly carry adult-size passengers. 

    The cargo area, on the other hand, is quite useful, though also smaller than that of rivals such as the Ford Explorer, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota 4Runner. It features a reversible load floor panel that flips over on itself to create a shallow container, for more versatility in the rear storage compartment. The second-row seats fold down for a total of 67.4 cubic feet of cargo space, but they don't fold flat for optimal utility. By comparison, none of those aforementioned competitors have less than 75 cubic feet of cargo space. 

    Driving Impression

    The Jeep Grand Cherokee combines mountain-goat agility in rugged terrain with stable and responsive handling on the paved roads where most buyers will spend most of their time. 

    The Laredo and Limited come standard with Chrysler's 3.7-liter V6, borrowed from its sister trucks, the Jeep Liberty and Dodge Ram, with its own five-speed overdrive automatic transmission. The single overhead cam V6 produces 210 horsepower and gets an EPA-rated 15/20 mpg City/Highway with four-wheel drive and 16/21 with rear-wheel drive, not much better than the V8s. The V6 is capable of towing 3500 pounds, but it's overmatched in the Grand Cherokee, and doesn't provide willing passing power. 

    The 4.7-liter V8, on the other hand, works really well in the Grand Cherokee. This modern, overhead-cam engine is smooth and powerful for around-town and highway driving. It has a broad torque band, a lovely sound, and electronic throttle control (drive-by-wire) that's easy to use and precise in tricky downhill off-road situations. If you don't live in the mountains, this engine might be your best choice. The 4.7-liter V8 produces 305 horsepower at 5650 rpm and 334 pound-feet of torque at 3950 rpm. It's EPA-rated at 14/19 mpg with rear- or four-wheel drive. It's also flex-fuel capable, meaning it can run on gasoline or up to 85 percent ethanol (E85). And it can tow up to 6500 pounds. 

    The 5.7-liter Hemi V8 is also a thoroughly modern engine, featuring twin spark plugs, direct ignition, and electronic throttle control, though it is a pushrod-overhead-valve design. The Hemi is upgraded for 2009. It now produces 357 horsepower (up from 330) at 5200 rpm, and torque is up from 375 to 389 pound-feet at 4350 rpm. Fuel economy is an EPA-rated 13/19 mpg with rear drive and 13/18 mpg with four-wheel drive. Note that the Hemi delivers much stronger torque yet matches the fuel economy of the 4.7-liter. Torque is that force that propels you from intersections and helps you tow trailers up long grades, and it can really feel it with the Hemi. With the 2009 changes, the Hemi is stronger than ever, giving the Grand Cherokee head-snapping low-end thrust and power that keeps on pulling. 

    The Hemi's highway fuel economy rating is aided by Jeep's Multi-Displacement System, which shuts down four of the engine's eight cylinders whenever it detects a steady-state cruise condition and then reactivates them on demand. The Hemi also has a Fuel Saver Mode display that informs drivers when four cylinders have been shut down. 

    The 4.7- and 5.7-liter V8 engines use a heavy-duty five-speed automatic transmission with a direct fourth gear for towing. Both this transmission and the five-speed automatic that's mated to the V6 feature a manual shift gate. 

    The 3.0-liter common-rail turbo-diesel (CRD) V6, engineered by Mercedes-Benz, produces 215 horsepower at 3400 rpm and 375 pound-feet of torque at 1600 rpm. That's as much torque as the Hemi, at half the engine speed. Towing capacity also matches the Hemi, at 7400 pounds (with 2WD); while EPA fuel economy of 18/23 mpg with rear-wheel drive (17/22 mpg with four-wheel drive) yields a driving range of more than 400 miles on one tank of fuel. Clean-diesel technology reduces carbon-dioxide emissions by 20 percent, but the diesel is not clean enough to be sold in Maine, New York, Vermont, Connecticut or California. 

    On the road, the diesel is considerably rougher and noisier than either V8. That's surprising because most modern diesels are smoother. We did observe about 23 mpg in 300 miles of mostly highway driving, though, which is impressive for a midsize SUV. 

    The Grand Cherokee offers a nicer ride and better cornering than any other Jeep in history. We don't recommend flinging 4500-pound SUVs into corners, but the Grand Cherokee is competent in this sort of socially unacceptable behavior because it's easy to drive and rewarding within the limits of its tires. There seems to be a flatfooted, stable attitude with this Jeep, similar to that of the car-based crossover SUVs recently introduced (in fact, it's better than some). The steering is reasonably quick, accurate, and nicely weighted. A tight, 37.1-foot turning circle provides advantages off-road as well as in crowded parking lots or when making a U-turn. Still, the Grand Cherokee feels more like a truck than the typical crossover SUV. 

    Three different four-wheel-drive systems come with confusing names and complicated mechanical differences. The base-level system that comes with the V6 is called Quadra-Trac I, a single-speed, full-time four-wheel-drive that uses electronic clutches in the center differential to pass torque out to the front or rear wheels as needed for best traction. It works full time, so there are no switches, no buttons, and no handles to operate. It does not offer a low-range set of gear ratios. 

    The more flexible Quadra-Trac II (standard with the 4.7-liter V8) also uses electronic clutches in the center differential to distribute torque in High range, but adds a locking Low range. Both systems are slightly rear biased, with 52 percent of the torque normally going to the rear tires and 48 percent to the front. 

    Quadra-Drive II, Jeep's most sophisticated system, uses electronic limited-slip differentials (ELSD) at the front, center, and rear. ELSD replaces the Vari-Lock progressive axles in the Quadra-Drive system, with quicker response to changing conditions and greater torque capacity. 

    The SRT8 flat out flies, and it sounds terrific, too. Jeep claims it can thunder from 0 to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds, which is even faster than the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger SRT8s. Like those cars, the Jeep comes with a 6.1-liter Hemi V8. It is rated at 420 horsepower at 6200 rpm and 420 pound-feet at 4800 rpm in the Grand Cherokee, five horsepower less than in the Charger and 300. We loved the sound and found ourselves accelerating harder than necessary just to hear it. Throttle tip-in seems overly sensitive at times, causing us to leap off the line more abruptly than desired. At other times, it seemed slow on the uptake, but eventually we recalibrated our feet to enable smooth takeoffs from intersections. The throttle tip-in characteristics make the SRT8 less attractive as a commuter vehicle in stop-and-go traffic. 

    The SRT8 Hemi V8 features a higher compression ratio (10.3:1 vs. 9.6:1), a more aggressive cam, and higher-flow cylinder heads when compared with the standard Hemi. It's mated to its own super-duty five-speed automatic transmission and four-wheel-drive transfer case. The latter is a special unit put together from existing Jeep parts to optimize durability while minimizing weight. In normal conditions, it directs only five to 10 percent of the power to the front wheels, but it can redirect as much as needed to the front wheels to maintain traction. The rear axle is a Dana 44 with a tougher-than-standard ring gear and housing. Despite the high-performance parts, the SRT8 is rated to tow just 3,500 pounds, so think twice about ordering the fast one to pull your bass boat. 

    The SRT8 rides an inch lower than a standard Grand Cherokee, on specially tuned springs, shocks, bushings, and anti-roll bars. The ride is quite firm but not punishing. The steering geometry is altered for its high-performance mission. Forged 20-inch wheels come shod with Goodyear W-rated four-season tires with run-flat capability. Tire dimensions are P255/45/20 in the front, and a massive P285/40/20 in the rear. The brakes are upgraded with four-piston Brembo calipers (painted gloss red, as a decorative performance element that shows through the wheels) that clamp down on 14.2-inch vented rotors up front and 13.8-inch vented rotors in the rear. Jeep claims it can stop from 60 mph in less than 125 feet. We found the brakes effective, smooth and easy to modulate. 

    The SRT8's ride is quite firm and the steering is direct and very responsive. This is what you want when making time on back roads or blazing down a lonely highway at high speeds. It makes for tight handling, good transient response and high-speed stability. We're not sure we'd want it for everyday driving, however. The SRT8 was too jouncy for our tastes on rippled freeways in Los Angeles. It does a good job of filtering out roughness, but dips and other undulations make for uncomfortable cruising. And the steering is a bit darty for casual driving. But many drivers love it. 

    Summary

    The Jeep Grand Cherokee is an icon among sport utility vehicles and this latest-generation version is far better than older models. It looks wonderful. It's powerful and quiet at the same time. It offers good space efficiency and comes loaded with standard and optional features. The Grand Cherokee is a great choice for those who want to tow, go off-road, or both. And if fuel economy is your goal, the available diesel has it without sacrificing power. Families may want a vehicle with more seat room, and if you don't plan on going off road, you might not want to pay the Grand Cherokee's price premium. 

    NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw filed this report from Santa Barbara, California, with Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles and correspondent Kirk Bell reporting from Chicago. 

    Model Lineup

    Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo 2WD ($30,150); Laredo 4WD ($32,120); Limited 2WD ($37,850); Limited 4WD ($40,590); Overland 2WD ($41,110); Overland 4WD ($44,545); SRT8 4WD ($42,665). 

    Assembled In

    Detroit, Michigan. 

    Options As Tested

    5.7-liter Hemi V8 ($1580); Quadra-Drive II ($795); Class IV trailer tow group ($280). 

    Model Tested

    Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4WD ($39,310). 

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