THE AXE MAN COMETH

It’s a Jeep that shouldn’t go off-road. Meet the mon­strous Grand Chero­kee Track­hawk

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - MOTORING - CRAIG DUFF

Jeep’s Grand Chero­kee Track­hawk should be called the tom­a­hawk. This is a heavy ob­ject to be thrown around and carve through ev­ery­thing it en­coun­ters.

When the 2.4-tonne SUV ar­rives in Aus­tralia in De­cem­ber it will do a hatchet job on its ri­vals to be eas­ily the best value per­for­mance soft-roader on the road. And that’s the caveat: this is one Grand Chero­kee that was never in­tended to run off-road.

In the GC line-up, it’s a book­end to the in­sane off-road Trail­hawk, which will go where most Wran­gler own­ers fear to roll.

The Track­hawk on the other hand will eat per­for­mance pres­tige SUVs. Fit­ting a su­per­charged 6.2-litre V8 (522kW/868Nm) trans­forms the Grand Chero­kee from fam­i­lyfriendly SUV to frankly ter­ri­fy­ing be­he­moth that hits 100km/h in a shove-you-into-the-seat 3.7 sec­onds.

Fiat Chrysler Aus­tralia has yet to an­nounce pric­ing but, based on the US-spec cars and the fact Jeep will pro­mote this ve­hi­cle as a bang-for-- your-buck bar­gain, we can’t see it be­ing de­liv­ered in Aus­tralia for more than $140,000.

Bar­gain is a rel­a­tive term when you’re deal­ing with su­per­car lev­els of per­for­mance and the me­chan­i­cal re­in­force­ment and engi­neer­ing de­vel­op­ment needed to en­sure noth­ing breaks.

It will have Pirelli P-Zero tyres, 19-speaker Har­man-Kar­don au­dio, panoramic sun­roof, Nappa leather in­te­rior and in­fo­tain­ment set-up with An­droid Auto and Ap­ple CarPlay con­nec­tiv­ity. The safety suite runs to adap­tive cruise con­trol, blind-spot and lane-de­par­ture

warn­ing, rear cross-traf­fic alerts and for­ward col­li­sion warn­ing with crash mit­i­ga­tion.

With a four-digit PIN, the Track­hawk can be locked into valet mode, lim­it­ing the en­gine to 4000rpm, dis­abling the drive modes and launch con­trol and lock­ing out first gear on the eight-speed au­to­matic, lest anyone is tempted to burn rub­ber on the way to the car park.

Jeep global head Mike Manley says the Track­hawk ex­tends the ca­pa­bil­ity of the GC range from the Ru­bi­con to the race­track

“The new Grand Chero­kee Track­hawk,” Manley says, “de­liv­ers as­tound­ing per­for­mance num­bers, backed by renowned SRT engi­neer­ing that com­bines world-class on-road driv­ing dy­nam­ics with luxury, re­fine­ment and an ar­ray of in­no­va­tive ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy.”

The Track­hawk doesn’t ad­ver­tise its per­for­mance cre­den­tials. The mas­sive yel­low Brembo brake calipers are an ob­vi­ous give­away. Get closer and a “Su­per­charged” de­cal now sits be­low the badge on the front doors, the front fog lights have been re­placed with air vents to cool the en­gine and pro­trud­ing at the rear is a quar­tet of four-inch ex­haust tips.

Mir­ror­ing the mar­ket­ing ap­proach of Euro­pean brands, FCA has an­nounced a “Launch Edi­tion” lim­ited to 62 ve­hi­cles pack­ing ev­ery­thing in the Grand Chero­kee ar­se­nal.

Think pre­mium leather-wrapped in­te­rior, light­weight al­loys (sav­ing about 1.4kg on ev­ery cor­ner over the reg­u­lar 20-inch rims) and be­spoke in­te­rior fitout in­clud­ing a dual-screen rear en­ter­tain­ment cen­tre with DVD player. Also think a price of about $160,000.

ON THE ROAD

Stab the right foot in an ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment and the risks run from the neigh­bours shun­ning you for wan­tonly dis­turb­ing the peace to the po­lice stun­ning you by putting the Track­hawk on a truck for ex­ceed­ing the speed limit by an ob­scene num­ber.

Show some re­straint and the Track­hawk won’t ruf­fle anyone’s feath­ers. In­duc­tion and ex­haust noise is muted to mod­ern ci­vil­ity stan­dards.

Pas­sen­gers will be sur­prised to find the hi-po Jeep rides as well as its lesser sta­ble­mates over pot­holes and lumps, the lat­ter due to the ver­sa­til­ity of the adap­tive Bil­stein dampers. They’re sup­ple in the stan­dard auto drive mode and as­ton­ish­ingly stiff when set to track.

Be­yond vary­ing the sus­pen­sion, the drive modes af­fect steer­ing, sta­bil­ity con­trol, throt­tle and trans­mis­sion re­sponse, along with ad­just­ing how much torque is dis­trib­uted to each axle. The de­fault is 40-60 front to rear, the snow set­ting splits torque evenly and the tow mode — the Track­hawk is rated to haul 2949kg — sends 60 per cent to the front. Con­versely, sport uses a 35-65 split and track sends 70 per cent to the rear.

The in­te­rior feels pre­mium, if not quite as pres­ti­gious as more ex­pen­sive ri­vals. That’s fair enough, given the an­tic­i­pated price dif­fer­ence.

ON THE TRACK

There were two telling is­sues at the newly opened Club Mo­tor­sports track in New Hamp­shire. The first was Jeep’s faith in the ro­bust­ness of the driv­e­train.

Engi­neers en­cour­aged the as­sem­bled me­dia to per­form as many “launch con­trol” starts as they wanted, which meant some cars cranked out 10 runs to triple dig­its with lit­tle time in be­tween. We had three cracks and matched the claimed 3.7 sec­ond time on ev­ery run, so it’s vir­tu­ally id­iot-proof.

Jeep ex­pects US cus­tomers to take this car to the drag races, so the soft­ware en­ables own­ers to pre­set the start­ing revs via a dis­play in the in­fo­tain­ment panel to al­low for track tem­per­a­ture and trac­tion.

The sec­ond was the reg­i­men for keep­ing the brakes work­able. The six track-use Track­hawks were ro­tated in groups of three for laps around the un­du­lat­ing, high-speed cir­cuit. Each run in­volved a warm-up lap, a full-on charge and a cool-down loop.

That sug­gests the Brem­bos were be­ing nursed to avoid any heat-based brake fade, par­tic­u­larly af­ter one punter kept his left hoof lightly on the brake for the en­tire cool-down lap — Jeep halted pro­ceed­ings to send the abused SUV out for a proper cool­ing run.

We’ll need to get the car on a 20-minute track ses­sion run to see whether Jeep was be­ing con­ser­va­tive or whether 2.4 tonnes of ram­pag­ing SUV can over­whelm heat dis­si­pa­tion in the mon­strous 400mm ven­ti­lated front disks. Suf­fice to say, the brake pedal travel length­ened dur­ing our run.

In Jeep’s de­fence the track will tor­ture the brakes on most cars, with 15 cor­ners, in­clud­ing sev­eral off-cam­ber down­hill turns, and 80m in el­e­va­tion changes.

The Trail­hawk was nudg­ing 200km/h on the front straight be­fore be­ing hauled down to 80km/h for the first cor­ner. That process has the Jeep buck­ing and mov­ing on the tyres and needs a touch of steer­ing in­put to com­pen­sate.

Fast in, phe­nom­e­nally fast out is the only way to drive the Track­hawk. Keep the ac­cel­er­a­tor nailed and the weight of the su­per­charged V8 pushes the SUV wide in the cor­ners. Lift off a touch and the Jeep’s back end steps out to boost turn in.

SRT ve­hi­cle dy­nam­ics boss Erich Heuchele says his team wanted to let the Jeep be “driven on the throt­tle” and they’ve suc­ceeded.

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