All hell breaks loose in the heart of Jeep’s in­sane mon­ster SUV, with its 6.2-litre blown V8 thump­ing out 522kW

SEVEN HUN­DRED horse­power – if it were an en­try re­quire­ment for a night­club, it’d fill with only the most exclusive, ex­otic, or ex­cit­ing cars. In­side you’d find scenes like a Lam­borgh­ini Aventador SV scream­ing Ital­ian into the ear of a Porsche 911 GT2 RS. You’d see a Tesla Model S P100D scram­bling for a spare charge cord be­hind the bar or Ferrari’s 488 Pista would strut over from the dance floor, with melted tyre flicked around its wheel guards. Then a Jeep Grand Chero­kee walks in. Sud­denly, the mu­sic cuts and every­body stares.

A Jeep with 522kW. It’s a ridicu­lous idea, isn’t it? Any­one with a sane grasp of physics would lose their mind about in­ject­ing that much power into some­thing with a roll-cen­tre higher than a labrador. Yet that’s the brief for the Jeep Grand Chero­kee Trackhawk. And we’ve been await­ing its ar­rival Down Un­der.

Its bul­bous nose shel­ters one of the world’s most un­hinged en­gines. Cre­ated orig­i­nally for the Chal­lenger Hell­cat, Dodge and Jeep’s SRT en­gi­neers took a Grand Chero­kee SRT’s 6.4-litre Hemi V8 – it­self bristling with 624Nm – and re­designed it from the oil-pan up. A forged steel crank was used to cut stroke mea­sure­ments and dis­place­ment, then a 2.4-litre twin-screw blower was low­ered into its vee.

Nat­u­rally, su­per­charg­ing a V8 is go­ing to un­lock a lot of power. But 522kW and 868Nm? You can find Bent­leys with more torque, or Fer­raris with more power, but noth­ing cur­rently on sale trumps the Trackhawk on both out­puts. On top of be­ing 48kW and 53Nm more than HSV or GM could wring from a LS9 in the GTSR W1, its brawn costs $135K, putting dic­ta­tor lev­els of power in rel­a­tive reach of the masses. And, hal­lelu­jah, it’s all blessed by Jeep with a fac­tory war­ranty.

We’ve planned a blat into ru­ral Victoria to feel the brunt of the Trackhawk’s power. Thumb­ing the start but­ton, eight pis­tons fire into life with a grav­elly snarl, like a lion that’s trod on a tack. Not much else gives away what lurks un­der­neath. Ex­cept as the Hemi throbs at traf­fic lights, gen­tly rock­ing in its cra­dle, you’re quickly se­duced into scan­ning traf­fic for gaps into which you can un­leash hell.

You will al­ways re­mem­ber the first time you un­shackle the Trackhawk’s 700 horses. In­stead of apoc­a­lyp­tic wheel spin, the Trackhawk squats on its rear haunches like a star­tled griz­zly, haul­ing for­ward as it be­gins to blur the scenery. The en­gine emits a deep burp as it con­sumes another gear and in­vol­un­tary cack­ling erupts from any­one on board.

Ac­com­pa­ny­ing its phe­nom­e­nal ac­cel­er­a­tion is a de­monic, anti-so­cial noise. The rear pipes blast a throb­bing blare un­der load and the su­per­charger’s high-pitched whine mixes in nicely. It might never reach the har­monies of eight cylin­ders with over­head cams, in­stead stir­ring on a men­ac­ing lower oc­tave al­most like a Mer­lin Spit­fire en­gine.

It’s dif­fi­cult to use full throt­tle on the road, and our VBOX data from a drag strip re­veals why. Ac­cel­er­a­tion is, frankly, ridicu­lous. Jeep claims it gen­er­ates more G-force dur­ing launch than most sports cars do in cor­ners, which is not so far-fetched when you con­sider the Trackhawk squeezes 868Nm through one very strong all-wheel drive sys­tem.

The Trackhawk hits 100km/h in a claimed 3.7 sec­onds and you’ll need launch con­trol to ex­tract those bru­tal fig­ures. It’s easy to use – pro­vided you have the legs to stall the meaty torque con­verter with enough brake pres­sure – and when you let go, brace your­self. Our data says the Trackhawk can lunge for­ward with 1.2 times the force of grav­ity, gob­bling up 60km/h in 1.65sec and 100km/h in 3.70sec.

You’d swear that SRT en­gi­neers built the driv­e­train to with­stand mine blasts, too, in how it can cop launch af­ter launch, let alone a sin­gle one. With 2.43 tonnes be­ing cat­a­pulted at the hori­zon, Jeep beefed up al­most ev­ery­thing in the way of the Hell­cat en­gine’s fury. From the trans­fer case

back, things are big­ger, up­rated, or stronger.

Con­sid­er­ing the Trackhawk is mak­ing 168Nm more than the base SRT’s trans­mis­sion can han­dle, Jeep bolted in a new eight-speed torque con­verter with a 950Nm torque rat­ing. It houses the same ra­tios as a V6 Grand Chero­kee, but that’s no bad thing. The shortly stacked gears keep the en­gine breath­ing be­tween its 4800rpm torque and 6000rpm power peaks.

As a re­sult, the Trackhawk shifts into sixth gear just be­fore 400m. By then it’s blud­geon­ing through the air at 188.14km/h and trips the beam in 11.8 sec­onds. That might seem unim­pres­sive for some­thing as pow­er­ful as a McLaren 720S, which can run low 10s, but any doubt sur­round­ing the Jeep fades quickly in com­par­i­son to its ri­vals – it’s the quick­est full­size per­for­mance SUV we’ve tested by half a sec­ond.

On a roll the grunt still hits as hard as Thor’s fly­ing ham­mer, blitz­ing the 80-120km/h test in 2.29 sec­onds. For ref­er­ence, that’s faster than the orig­i­nal Jaguar F-Type V8 S. But this type of stuff is ex­pected. Af­ter all, this is what Jeep calls a Trackhawk. And while it ex­cels on ‘track’ (which Amer­i­cans more of­ten use to mean a ‘drag strip’) we’re more in­ter­ested in find­ing out how the brand came up with the word ‘hawk’.

Some­thing this big doesn’t re­mind any­one of a small, swift bird. Es­pe­cially when the su­per­charger and extra cool­ing cir­cuits add 100kg of flab. How­ever, be­cause Jeep de­manded the Trackhawk sur­vive sus­tained cir­cuit laps in sear­ing heat be­fore sign­ing off the project, it knew more than an im­pres­sive bench press was needed to pass track and field.

As a re­sult it stiff­ened the springs coiled around newly tuned adap­tive dampers and fit­ted re­in­forced Pirelli P Ze­ros. The brakes are also up­rated to the size of fly­wheels. Big­ger 400mm discs slice six-pis­ton calipers up front and its elec­tronic sta­bil­ity sys­tems have been re­tuned. Amus­ingly, you can put your Trackhawk on a small diet, too, with op­tional 20-inch forged wheels that drop 5.5kg per cor­ner.

Driv­ing the Trackhawk through small, wind­ing pas­sages is like try­ing to ride a buf­falo through a grass hedge maze. It feels claus­tro­pho­bic, like its huge wheel tracks are spilling over road lines. Straights don’t al­low more than short bursts of light throt­tle, and with so much power push­ing its mass you know a mis­take could carry seis­mic consequences. Progress be­comes a game of man­ag­ing its tem­per rather than pok­ing its lim­its.

On wider, more flow­ing tar­mac you can raise com­mit­ment, though pa­tience is key. Keep things smooth, con­trolled, and its ea­ger­ness to hun­ker down on its huge 295mm wide tyres is sur­pris­ing. Nail your trail brak­ing and you won’t need bulging bi­ceps to turn its nose. You might even feel its three me­tre long wheel­base pivot around an apex.

The faster you go, the more vi­sion you’ll need. With its cen­tre of grav­ity so high, brak­ing ear­lier helps set­tle its weight. The rear will jump around if you brake too late. And you’ll be thank­ful Jeep didn’t skimp on any­thing but Brembo’s big­gest hard­ware. Our data shows the Trackhawk reels it­self in from 100km/h in 37.9 me­tres.

Of course, be­ing as aero­dy­namic as a parachute helps slow


things down. Credit where it’s due, though, we’ve seen cars half its weight sail past that dis­tance. We only wish Jeep firmed up the Trackhawk’s brake pedal and short­ened its travel a lit­tle. With so much mass to hus­tle, you’d ap­pre­ci­ate more con­trol.

It’s the same story on the way out of a cor­ner. You’ll need to feed in power slowly to keep the Trackhawk from lung­ing wide. The trans­fer case drills any­where be­tween 40 and 70 per cent to the rear depend­ing which drive mode you’re in and the ZF-built elec­tri­cally lock­ing dif­fer­en­tial does a good job of past­ing grunt to the ground. Only in tight cor­ners on full throt­tle might you feel the rear axle wig­gle. Per­haps wisely, the un­de­feat­able ESP shuts down wheel­spin straight away. Lurid four-wheel power over­steer? Not here.

Jeep’s HP95 trans­mis­sion plays a fan­tas­tic part­ner to the Hell­cat en­gine. Up­shifts hap­pen quick and crisp, even if they take longer than a sorted dual-clutch trans­mis­sion’s, and it’ll gear down with­out fuss while cruis­ing. It’s super in­tu­itive in Drive, with map­ping that some of the Ger­man brands wouldn’t turn a nose up at.

We’d take the Trackhawk to a cir­cuit just to hear it cy­cled through gears. The noise while down­shift­ing into a cor­ner, as the su­per­charger vents a slither of boost and yelps into higher rpm, is magic.

Re­al­is­ti­cally, most own­ers will un­cork that mon­strous V8 only in short bursts for a few gig­gles, then lazily cruise to their desti­na­tion. Dur­ing calmer driv­ing, those adap­tive Bil­steins and chunky tyres smooth out roads, even if the ride’s on the firm side. The in­te­rior’s in­su­lated enough to drown out the en­gine’s war cry with the win­dows up, while its plethora of crea­ture com­forts and ad­justable driv­ing po­si­tion will pacify most fussy driv­ers.

Mark­ing it down are those front pil­lars that seem thicker than bridge beams, they’re a hazard and of­ten hide pedes­tri­ans. The foot brake can trap your left clog and Jeep should have fur­ther spe­cialised the Trackhawk’s ex­te­rior. We’re not fans of its in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem, ei­ther. And the steer­ing fol­lows road cam­bers with a vague­ness just off cen­tre at high­way speeds.

But ra­tio­nal­ity was never writ­ten into the Trackhawk’s script. It is, af­ter all, an off-road SUV that thinks it’s a sports car, which com­pro­mises it be­ing ex­cel­lent at ei­ther. Mean­while its ex­cep­tional weight and grunt means it drinks a small na­tion’s worth of fuel, too. Our most be­haved driv­ing cy­cle yielded 470km from a 93 litre tank, at 19.7L per 100km, 80km short of Jeep’s quoted range for a com­bined cy­cle. And when you’re up it? Ab­so­lutely ter­ri­fy­ing.

In its de­fence, to fo­cus on what the Trackhawk isn’t would en­tirely miss the point. It’s not the most re­fined SUV, but why should it be? At $134,900 it’s $60K cheaper than its Euro­pean ri­vals and it’ll flog al­most ev­ery one of them in a straight line. And there’s some­thing about do­ing that in a Jeep that would feel so in­her­ently right. Plus, we reckon the car’s pow­er­train would out­last civil­i­sa­tion at the Fri­day Night Drags.

But what’s most charm­ing about the Trackhawk is it side­steps monotony in a dif­fer­ent way, by be­ing ex­ces­sive, brood­ing and in­tim­i­dat­ing. Sure, it would look out of place among sexy metal in our imag­i­nary night­club. How­ever, it’s more like the big bouncer that wel­comes you with a smile and could throw you out in an in­stant un­der one arm. Now we just need Jeep to con­vince Chrysler to cook up a 300 with a Hell­cat en­gine to join the Trackhawk on the door.


BE­LOW Trackhawk’s vis­ual clues in­clude re­moved fog lights and slot­ted front discs

BE­LOW Our test car came equipped with the stock 20-inch wheels, which fail to look much dif­fer­ent to the SRT’s same sized items

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