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The Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited Is the Forgotten Hot Rod Grand Cherokee

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author photo by Doug DeMuro November 2016

Here's something you may not have known: Before the sporty Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8 came screaming into our lives with giant wheels and insane performance numbers, there was another high-performance Jeep: It had a 5.9-liter V8, it was one of the quickest SUVs of its day and it was only made in 1998.

Dubbed the Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited, the late-'90s high-performance Grand Cherokee doesn't have very impressive numbers by today's standards: 245 horsepower, 345 lb-ft of torque, zero to 60 in 7.1 seconds. But placed in context, the 5.9 Limited was a brute: It debuted before the BMW X5, before the Porsche Cayenne, before Ford Explorer Sport (the high-performance one, not the 2-door one), before the Mercedes ML55 AMG... placing it in a league of its own among high-performance SUVs.

Surprisingly, sales were fairly brisk. Even though the 5.9 Limited came fully equipped, debuted in the original Grand Cherokee's final model year, and returned something like 12 miles per gallon, Jeep managed to unload nearly 15,000 examples before retiring the vehicle -- and the engine -- altogether. A Grand Cherokee with a larger engine wouldn't return for nearly a decade, when Jeep finally came out with the SRT-8 model. Even Jeep's "Hemi" V8 -- at 5.7 liters -- wasn't quite as large.

My favorite thing about the 5.9 Limited wasn't its luxury appointments or its final-year rarity, but rather its subtle enhancements over a normal model: Aside from new wheels, some badges and hood louvers, you'd never know you were looking at anything other than a regular ol' Grand Cherokee. Unless, of course, you monitored the fuel gauge.

These days, 1998 Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited models are tremendously difficult to find; there are only a handful listed on Autotrader at any given time. You're more likely to see one on the street, where you'll notice the hood louvers and instantly know: This is the original high-performance luxury SUV.

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The Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited Is the Forgotten Hot Rod Grand Cherokee - Autotrader