An idea so simple it's brilliant.
There were many reasons why, mainly because Jeep figured it'd be profitable. That's the whole point of any business, to make money. What's more, it wasn't really all that hard to pull off because everything was already in place: the right engine and tuning expertise. On top of that, gas in the US was cheap and the thought of building a high-performance SUV was simply too tempting to pass up, hence the launch of the first Grand Cherokee SRT. The first Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8 premiered at the 2005 New York Auto Show.
Now, we've already addressed the issue in a previous article in this series about the third-gen Grand Cherokee's overall lack of refinement. That was kind of surprising consider the automaker was called Daimler Chrysler at the time; wouldn't some German perfection find its way into Chrysler products?
Not so much as it turned out, but there were other ways in which Daimler helped, and the Grand Cherokee SRT-8 was one of them. You could even argue it was the best thing to ever come out of the whole Daimler Chrysler era. Power, of course, came courtesy of the 6.1-liter Hemi V8, this time tuned to produce a total of 425 hp and 425 lb-ft of torque. And with that boosted power comes additional engineering requirements. Upgraded Brembo brakes, a dual performance exhaust (with polished tips), and various Bilstein bits like gas charged shocks and modified suspension components were tacked on. And because of that additional output, Mercedes equipped the SRT-8 with its own and much sturdier five-speed automatic gearbox.
Other engineering upgrades included a unique transfer case and a specially designed all-wheel-drive system. In fact, the sport-tuned suspension enabled the SRT-8 to develop 0.92 g on the skid pad. Not bad at all for an SUV that weighed nearly 5,000 lbs. Performance? Pretty darn nuts. Road & Track, in its official test drive, claimed a 0-60 mph time of 4.6 seconds and a quarter-mile time of 13.2 seconds at 104.1 mph. Only the Viper was faster within the SRT lineup. Astonishingly, there was no electronic top speed limiter. This thing managed to hit 170 mph. Now, anyone who bought the SRT8 didn't really expect it to be an off-road champ like the conventional Grand Cherokee.
Engineers, in order to improve on-road handling to the max, removed the off-road gear in order to shave off some weight. Also, its ride stance was lowered, which isn't something off-road enthusiasts want. Along with the addition of a front spoiler, there was only seven inches of ground clearance. Still though, the Grand Cherokee SRT-8 was a hell of a thing and it only helped improve Jeep's brand image. No, it wasn't a true off-roader but it was a damn cool niche offering. So it made complete sense for Jeep to give it another go when the fourth-gen Grand Cherokee arrived. The second-gen Grand Cherokee SRT-8 debuted at the 2011 New York Auto Show and, according to Chrysler, it was the most powerful Jeep ever built.
By this time, however, Chrysler was a part of Fiat and its two previous owners, Daimler-Benz and Cerebrus Capital Management, respectively, were history. This was a new era for the automaker and it's been churning out dramatically improved products ever since. The 2011 Grand Cherokee SRT-8 was no exception. Its performance specs were just ridiculous: 0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds and the quarter-mile in 13.3 seconds. This time, power came from the even larger 6.4-liter Hemi V8 with a total of 475 hp and 465 lb-ft of torque. Chrysler claimed that, at the time, this was one of the most powerful naturally aspirated engines it had ever built.
And even with all that additional power, the new Grand Cherokee SRT-8 had improved fuel economy, supposedly by 13 percent. In order to help achieve that, engineers outfitted the vehicle with an active exhaust system that's coupled with cylinder-deactivating fuel saving tech. Combined with a larger gas tank, the SRT-8 could go about 450 miles on a single tank. Impressive. The Grand Cherokee lineup was refreshed for 2014 and that included the SRT-8 as well. However, the "8" in the name was dropped, hence it became the SRT Jeep Grand Cherokee. Improvements? There were several, actually. The interior was given a unique steering wheel, Napa leather seats with Alcantara inserts, and plenty of "SRT" badges.
For the exterior, new 22-inch alloys were added with performance tires along with several exterior mods. The eight-speed automatic transmission has been programmed with 90 different shift programs. So, how much does all of this awesomeness cost? The 2015 Grand Cherokee SRT (yes, the "SRT" now comes after and not before "Grand Cherokee") carries a base price of $64,895. Expensive? Totally, but when the Land Rover Ranger Rover Sport SVR costs $110,475, you've gotta ask yourself how much its additional 100 hp or so is worth? However, if you are serious about buying a Grand Cherokee SRT, you ought to know that it's entirely possible Chrysler will be dropping in its supercharged 6.2-liter Hellcat V8 under the hood.
Will that happen for 2016? Not that we know of but it shouldn't be ruled out. Jeep set out to build an insanely powerful SUV that, for the money, is actually a pretty good bargain. There's really no logical reason for the Grand Cherokee SRT to exist other than just because. Fast is fast, even in an SUV.