The Grand Cherokee also sports Chrysler's first new V-6 engine in a decade. The 290-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 teams up with a fairly dated five-speed automatic that's better than average, but still a relic from its wrecked marriage. Together, the powertrain combines for some resonance and boom at midrange speeds that could use some attention, but good passing strength and adequate fuel economy. This drivetrain's good enough to make the optional 360-hp HEMI V-8 an afterthought to anyone except the big spenders eager to inject some dollars into the Obama economy, though the HEMI's available air suspension and advanced all-wheel-drive systems are the equal of anything you'll find in a pricier M-Class.
Oh, did we forget the SRT8? The 470-hp HEMI addition to this year's lineup gets tight suspension tuning, flatter handling, its own cosmetic touches, even a layer on its touchscreen to measure its 0-60 mph times, estimated in the five-second range. Do want, even at the heady $60,000 entry price.
The Grand Cherokee may not offer up the third-row seating or funky-flexible interior of some bigger crossovers, but it has two extraordinary performance vectors that few SUVs can offer--few, other than the Porsche Cayenne or the BMW X5 or of course, the M-Class, the trio of utes it stacks up against most directly, even at its cut-rate price. That makes it an extraordinary value, one that earns top safety scores and our admiration--for hanging on to some classic SUV traits while blazing some new trails in driving fun and sophistication.