With a humongous Hemi engine and a sizeable cargo area perfect for stashing all the latest Bat-Gadgets, there’s no question this midsize SUV has got the goods to do superhero service. Add a downright sinister look sure to scare the bejeebees out of even the most colorful criminals and this sporty sport-utility makes the original Batmobile look like Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang.
The best part is that, with a sticker price of just $39,995, you don’t have to be a mild-mannered millionaire-turned-superhero to afford one. And that’s a very good thing, as our day-long drive along twisting mountain roads north of Los Angeles to Willow Springs International Motorsports Park convinced us that more than a few ordinary Gotham citizens will be every bit as eager to slip into the driver’s seat as the Caped Crusader himself.
Nuts and Bolts
Mainstream Grand Cherokee models equipped with the optional 5.7-liter Hemi V8 combine satisfying acceleration and handling on the pavement with the kind of serious off-road prowess that has become a Jeep trademark. In fact, our review last year declared that the changes to this third-generation model have made it “nothing less than the best Grand Cherokee ever.”
Now, of course, we get to eat those words thanks to the engineers of parent company Chrysler’s Street & Racing Technology (SRT) division. The SRT folks have thoroughly transformed the Grand Cherokee, giving it everything from a larger Hemi engine with nearly 100 more horsepower to a handsomely restyled interior to twin four-inch center-mounted exhaust tips that look like they could spit flame every bit as well as Batman’s original set of wheels. While the 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8’s more muscular styling may be the first thing that catches your eye, it’s the mechanical modifications that leave the most lasting impression.
At the top of that list is the 6.1-liter Hemi V8 engine that puts out 420 horsepower and 420 lb.-ft. of torque. To create it, engineers started by giving the familiar 5.7-liter Hemi a 3.5mm larger cylinder bore and bumping the compression ratio up from 9.6-to-1 to 10.3-to-1. Redesigned camshafts and cylinder heads plus larger diameter intake and exhaust plumbing further open up the big motor’s breathing. A reinforced cast-iron block and stronger internals help the engine stand up to the abuse that’s bound to come with increasing the engine’s redline from 5,000 to 6,000 rpm.
Power is sent to all four wheels via a five-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift feature and a unique transfer case that combines components from two different units for lighter weight and better power-handling capability. This system – the first four-wheel-drive set-up ever used in an SRT vehicle – sends 95 percent of available torque to the rear wheels under normal driving conditions and can transfer as much as 100 percent up front when those back tires lose their grip. A heavy-duty driveshaft and beefed-up Dana 44 rear differential round out the powertrain upgrades.
Additionally, specially-tuned shocks, springs, and larger sway bars noticeably improve the Grand Cherokee’s already respectable handling. The modifications also lower the vehicle by an inch all around for a lower center of gravity, reduced aerodynamic drag, and a more aggressive stance.
The steering gear and brakes have been similarly tweaked. The power rack-and-pinion steering has been given a slightly faster ratio, while front and rear disc brakes are both more than an inch larger and use four-piston Brembo brake calipers and pads. For a finishing touch, standard 20-inch aluminum wheels are fitted with fat Goodyear Eagle all-season run-flat rubber. Those tires – 255/45 up front and 285/40 in the rear – also carry a W-rating, which means they’re good up to 168 mph.
We think it’s safe to say all SRT vehicles end up looking better than the mainstream models on which they’re based. That said, the 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8 is probably the team’s best-looking makeover to date, in both an absolute sense and in terms of the way it completely transforms the look of the vehicle.
SRT designers started by giving the Grand Cherokee special bodywork that’s just as much about “go” as it is “show.” In wind tunnel tests, the front air dam was proven to reduce both lift and aerodynamic drag, while also funneling cool air to the brakes and massive motor. Side sill extensions also help create downforce, while the rear valance nicely integrates those way-bad four-inch exhaust pipes.
Just as significant as what the SRT team added is what they left out. The notable lack of both body cladding and a roof rack contribute greatly to both the design’s clean appearance and its improved aerodynamics. The Grand Cherokee SRT-8 is offered in just three colors, but they’re three good ones: Bright Silver, Inferno Red, and Batman’s favorite, Brilliant Black.
Inside the changes are more subtle, but no less effective. Excellent leather-clad sport seats with substantial side bolsters and faux suede fabric inserts help keep your kiester planted during enthusiastic motoring. A carbon-fiber pattern in the leather on the steering wheel and shift knob offers both good looks and a better grip than the smooth leather trim traditionally used on these surfaces.
Speaking of trim, the 180-mph speedometer, tachometer, fuel level and coolant temperature gauges are set into a carbon-fiber housing, while oil pressure and temperature can be monitored on a separate LED display. Satin-finish aluminum trim on the center stack, shifter surround, and door panels add just the right touch of brightness to the vehicle’s dark gray interior.
Just because the 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8 looks good and goes fast doesn’t mean it’s unsafe. All-wheel drive, four-wheel antilock brakes with brake assist, and electronic stability control are standard. The stability control can be partially disabled for use on the race track, but given its minimally intrusive nature we think most buyers will be better off leaving the dash-mounted switch alone.
Power-adjustable accelerator and brake pedals, which allow shorter drivers to sit a safe distance from the steering-wheel-mounted airbag, are also standard. While head-protecting side-curtain airbags – an absolute must-have safety feature in our book – aren’t included on the standard equipment list, they are available as an option.
With all those horses under the hood, you’d figure that the 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8 would be able to lay parallel black stripes across the pavement from here to Cleveland. Trouble is the truck’s all-wheel drive system works so effectively it’s difficult to coax much more than a brief chirp from the tires from a standing stop.
Which isn’t to say the big Hemi V8 doesn’t provide serious acceleration. Our experience behind the wheel leads us to believe the SRT folks’ claim that this Grand Cherokee will do 0-60 in less than five seconds – which would make it quicker than both the Porsche Cayenne Turbo and the BMW X5 4.8is – isn’t far off. While such impressive straight-line performance from a vehicle with this much motor didn’t come as much of a surprise, its capability on the racetrack did. At nearly 4,800 pounds and more than five-and-a-half feet tall, the big SUV felt a little top-heavy in Willow Springs’ fast corners but otherwise performed commendably.
Where this SRT creation really shines, however, is on the street, especially the long stretches of winding two-lane blacktop we covered on the way to the track. Here the Grand Cherokee SRT-8 handled everything the road could throw at it including slick spots where heavy overnight rains had washed dirt and gravel onto the road surface. Where the mainstream model is good, this version is great.
Best of all the Grand Cherokee SRT-8 manages to deliver this superb handling without the harsh ride quality you’d expect from a vehicle with a firm suspension, huge wheels, and low-profile tires. While the ride is undeniably taut, we think anyone who truly enjoys a good spirited drive will find it very livable in day-to-day motoring.
In one particular series of fast S-curves, we found the steering felt noticeably more responsive albeit with just a bit of vagueness on-center. The larger brakes and their Brembo calipers provide impressive stopping ability, bringing the big SUV to a halt from 60 mph in just 125 feet according to Jeep, a figure which feels about right based on our track experience.
In the end we came away quite impressed with the 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8. We think most driving enthusiasts will like it too – even if their clothing tastes don’t run toward masks, tights, and capes.
FAQs and Specs
The 180 mile-per-hour speedometer makes us wonder: How fast will this puppy really go? Sorry to disappoint, but the SRT folks tell us that the 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8’s top speed is limited by gearing and aerodynamic drag to somewhere around 155 mph. Which is plenty fast in a Jeep, don’t you think?
What if I want to tow a trailer with the 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8? This hot-rodded Grand Cherokee can help earn its keep with the ability to tow up to 3,500 pounds. Because you’ll need to work around those cool center-mounted exhaust tips, however, you’ll need Mopar’s specially-designed hitch package which can be ordered from your friendly neighborhood Jeep dealer.
Can I take the 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8 off-roading? It’s no coincidence that Jeep’s new trademark “Trail Rated” badge is conspicuously absent from the 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8’s flanks. With all-wheel drive, no low-range transfer case, an inch less ground clearance, and significantly reduced approach, departure, and breakover angles, best not take this baby further off the pavement than a well-graded fire road.
Test Vehicle: 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8
Base Price of Test Vehicle: $39,995 (including $675 destination charge)
Engine Size and Type: 6.1-liter V8
Engine Horsepower: 420 at 6,200 rpm
Engine Torque: 420 lb.-ft. at 4,800 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed automatic with manual shift
Curb Weight, lbs.: 4,788
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 12/15
Length: 195.1 inches
Width: 73.3 inches (without mirrors)
Wheelbase: 109.5 inches
Height: 66.7 inches
Legroom (front/rear): 41.7/39.5 inches
Headroom (front/rear): 39.7/39.3 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: 5
Max. Cargo Volume: 67.4 cu. ft.
Max. Towing Capacity: 3,500 lbs.
Competitors: BMW X5 4.8is, Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS, Infiniti FX45, Land Rover Range Rover Sport Supercharged, Porsche Cayenne
Photos courtesy of DaimlerChrysler