More stories related to New York Auto Show Chrysler takes its Jeep brand to the performance extreme with the 415-hp ’06 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8.

Marking the first pairing of the SRT and Jeep monikers, the Grand Cherokee SRT-8 caused some debate within the confines of Chrysler’s headquarters, where Jeep purists argued the brand should refrain from jumping into the on-road performance game, while those on the other side said it was time for Jeep to enter into new realms.

“The ’06 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8 adds a new dimension to performance and versatility,” says Jeff Bell, vice president-Jeep.

Grand Cherokee SRT-8 features a 1-in. (2.5-cm) lower suspension, with unique front and rear fascia. The front fascia incorporates a number of aero improvements to reduce lift and drag, including integrated air ducts to help cool the brakes. The rear fascia features an aggressive center cutout for the dual 4-in. (10.2-cm) exhaust tips.

’06 Grand Cherokee SRT-8

“We have a very aggressive look in the front (because) on-road people need to know it’s different, and people know that it is going to have a high level of performance,” says Dan Knott, director of Chrysler’s Street and Racing Technologies (SRT) business.

“(The back) one of my favorite views,” he says. “We brought the center exhaust together and it is very nicely executed. It looks like a high-performance aftermarket tip, and now you’re going to get it right from production.”

The interior features specially designed, power-adjustable seats with performance suede inserts and a carbon-fiber pattern leather finish on the steering wheel, instrument panel brow and shift knob.

The real story is what’s under the hood: a 6.1L V-8 Hemi mill producing 415 hp and 410 lb.-ft. (556 Nm) of torque. It is mated to an upgraded 5-speed automatic transmission.

“It’s exactly the same engine as the 300C SRT-8, but in this execution, because of the exhaust and induction systems, it’s a little harder to manage,” Knott says. “We’re at 415 hp and 410 lb.-ft. of torque, but it is still a kick-ass performance vehicle.”

The chassis setup incorporates specially tuned dampers, unique sway bars and specially tailored spring rates and suspension bushings. New front suspension knuckles feature a camber angle calibrated for improved suspension performance.

The Grand Cherokee SRT-8 also features a performance-derived all-wheel-drive system.

“We went with an AWD system with an NV 146 transfer case, which doesn’t have low range, so we saved some weight here,” says Knott. “We’re not about great off-road performance with this vehicle, this is about great on-road, track performance.”

The Grand Cherokee SRT-8 will be produced at Chrysler’s Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit, alongside more pedestrian versions of the Grand Cherokee and Jeep Commander, beginning in first-quarter 2006.

kekelly@primediabusiness.com