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[Video] The 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited is performance SUV genesis

by Drew Johnson

Jeep set the standard more than 20 years ago.

When discussing the historical significance of a product, timing is obviously important, but it's not the only measure. You also have to consider design and innovation, and what impact those factors had on similar products in the category.

Take the iPhone, for example. The original iPhone isn't considered the most significant smartphone of all time because it was the first to market -- which it wasn't -- but rather because Apple created a smartphone design in 2007 that was so good, we still use it to this day. And that logic also explains why the 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited is one of the most significant SUVs from the last 30 years.

GMC was actually the first to come up with the idea of a performance SUV (not counting the Lamborghini LM002) when it launched the Typhoon in 1991, but it was Jeep's 5.9 Limited that set the standard for the modern performance SUV. With few exceptions, every performance SUV launched since 1998 has adopted the Grand Cherokee's four-door, five-seat layout, rather than the Typhoon's two-door, four-seat arrangement.

Most performance SUVs have also copied the 5.9 Limited's usefulness. Jeep's first muscle SUV was rated to tow 5,000 pounds, which meant you could use it like any other normal SUV. The Typhoon, meanwhile, could only tug around 1,000 pounds, so you needed another vehicle if you wanted to haul the family boat.

And the Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited also set the bar in terms of interior appointments for future performance SUVs. Whereas the Typhoon's interior was spartan, the 5.9 Limited's was luxurious, with soft leather seats, wood accents, multi-function steering wheel and an Infinity premium audio system.

So even though GMC was first to market with the Typhoon, the Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited is the true genesis for the modern performance SUV.

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