Meet­the­new

2018 Jeep Grand Chero­kee Track­hawk is re­ally a heavy­weight

Edmonton Sun - Autonet - - NEWS -

Brian Harper

Port­land, MAINE The hounds of hell howl­ing from un­der the hood of Jeep’s Grand Chero­kee Track­hawk as I jam my throt­tle foot into the fire­wall is be­ing dis­placed by an in­ces­sant high-pitched whirr that only I can hear — it’s the sound of my late fa­ther spinning in his grave.

You have to un­der­stand: Dear old dad loved his Jeeps, first dis­cov­er­ing their util­ity as an 18-year-old in the Royal Cana­dian Ar­tillery dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. In peace­time, and from the time I was a tod­dler un­til I got mar­ried 20-odd years later, he had a se­ries of Jeep wag­ons. It didn’t mat­ter if Willys, Kaiser or Amer­i­can Mo­tors built them; he loved their size, ro­bust­ness and four-sea­son ca­pa­bil­ity. They kept his fam­ily safe.

So, were he still around, my con­ver­sa­tion with Dad would start some­thing like this: “Hey, Pop. Jeep has just come out with a new model of Grand Chero­kee.”

“Re­ally?”hewould­say,en­scon­cedin his easy chair and look­ing up from his news­pa­per or book. “What about it?”

“It’s called the Track­hawk. It’s Jeep’s most pow­er­ful model ever.” Frown. “Yeah?” “Yeah, it’s a su­per­charged 6.2-litre en­gine, like the one in the Dodge Hell­cat. It puts out 707 horse­power and 645 pound-feet of torque. Zero to 100 km/h in about 3.7 sec­onds”

Big­ger frown. “Where are you go­ing to use all that power?”

“Well, it’s kind of a hot rod sportute. It goes like stink and it han­dles re­ally well on a race track.”

“Why the hell would you put a Jeep on a race track? That’s not what they’re for. And how much does this thing cost?” “Uh, $109,995.” Strug­gling to con­trol apoplexy: “Ridicu­lous.” The head would go down, the news­pa­per up and I would hear his grum­bling about peo­ple with more money than brains for the next hour. Oh, to hear his re­mon­stra­tions once more.

It’s a whole dif­fer­ent clien­tele Jeep is af­ter, noted one of FCA Canada’s ex­ecs, not the OJGs (Orig­i­nal Jeep Guys) but those who may have owned some higher-per­form­ing Grand Chero­kee in the past — such as the 5.9 Limited from 1998 or the SRT, which came out in 2006. Or maybe they have a sport sedan or sport car and they want the same per­for­mance but more util­ity. Or maybe they want max­i­mum on­road zip from their SUVs and don’t want — or, as it turns out, need — to fork over much big­ger bucks for the likes of mod­els from Porsche, Range Rover, BMW or Mercedes.

What­ever the rea­son, the Track­hawk is the an­swer to their scof­flaw de­sires — a sur­pris­ingly re­strained­look­ing SUV on the out­side hid­ing a 45-gal­lon drum of whoop-ass just wait­ing to be re­leased. This Jeep is a mon­ster, touted — with good rea­son — as the world’s most pow­er­ful sportute, and the quick­est.

“The Track­hawk 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,” said Mike Man­ley, head of Jeep, at the ve­hi­cle’s launch.

For the ob­ser­vant, there are some ob­vi­ous clues that dis­tin­guish the Track­hawk from lesser Grand Chero­kees. First is the Brembo brake calipers, with a bright yel­low fin­ish. And ride height is 2.5 cen­time­tres lower than on non-SRT Grand Chero­kees. Then there’s the sculpted hood with dual heat ex­trac­tors and the lack of fog lights from the front fas­cia, all the bet­ter to op­ti­mize air­flow to cool­ing mod­ules and air in­duc­tion. And the “su­per­charged” badge on both front doors is a dead give­away.

To demon­strate the Track­hawk’s prow­ess, we drove the mid-sized über-ute some 160 kilo­me­tres on sec­ondary high­ways and back­roads through lower Maine, pass­ing through bu­colic towns and vil­lages, cross­ing over the New Hamp­shire bor­der and ar­riv­ing at a brand­new pri­vate track fa­cil­ity called Club Mo­tor­sports.

On road, the Track­hawk is quite docile, only the steady thrum em­a­nat­ing from the quad tailpipes of­fer­ing a clue to its evil in­tent. The ride is firm but for­giv­ing, the roads of the Pine Tree State well main­tained. The P295/45ZR20 Pirelli Scor­pion Verde run-flat tires dis­played ex­cep­tional grip with­out any tram­lin­ing. In­te­ri­or­wise, the cabin is fully con­tented and suit­ably up­scale — soft-touch ma­te­ri­als, chrome and car­bon-fi­bre trim bits, a flat-bot­tom steer­ing wheel and a seven-inch cus­tom­iz­a­ble in-clus­ter dis­play cen­tre with the tachome­ter in the mid­dle. In the cen­tre con­sole is FCA’s lat­est Ucon­nect 4C mul­ti­me­dia cen­tre with 8.4-inch touch­screen. Ap­pro­pri­ately, it fea­tures Track­hawk-exclusive Per­for­mance Pages that show­case an ar­ray of per­for­mance timers and gauge read­outs. Track-geek heaven.

Af­ter shak­ing hands with my in­struc­tor — shout out to Mike Rug­giero — don­ning hel­met and set­ting the Selec-Track’s per­for­mance-tuned soft­ware to Track (as op­posed to Auto, Sport, Snow or Tow modes), it’s time to un­leash the beast. Club Mo­tor­sports, four kilo­me­tres of fresh tar­mac, with 16 turns and an el­e­va­tion change of some 80 me­tres, rewards fi­nesse as much as horse­power. The Track­hawk may boast 707 h.p., but it also weighs 2,433 kilo­grams and rides much higher than a sports car.

Put your foot into it and the Jeep takes off like it was shot out of a can­non. And it just doesn’t quit. Though I was con­cen­trat­ing on smooth­ness rather than the lap record, I caught the speedome­ter flash­ing 120 miles per hour out of cor­ner of my eye as we blasted down the pit straight. Brak­ing hard for Turn One, I was pray­ing the largest stan­dard front brakes on any Jeep ve­hi­cle — 15.75-inch, two-piece vented ro­tors with six-pis­ton calipers — and 13.78-inch vented ro­tors with four-pis­ton calipers at the back were go­ing to live up to the hype. They did, the Track­hawk slow­ing straight and true (though, if I were wacky enough to ac­tu­ally con­sider mul­ti­ple hot laps with the brute, I’d put on the big­gest plat­ters I could find.)

Blown away by the Track­hawk’s han­dling af­ter sev­eral cir­cuits of the un­du­lat­ing track, I thought check­ing out its drag strip starts us­ing the launch con­trol would be an­ti­cli­mac­tic. It wasn’t. Per­for­mance is op­ti­mized by co­or­di­nat­ing the en­gine, trans­mis­sion, driv­e­line and sus­pen­sion for an al­most-fool­proof launch and con­sis­tent straight-line ac­cel­er­a­tion. Just hold your left foot down hard on the brake, your right foot hard on the gas pedal. Re­lease the brake. With the Quadra-Trac 4WD sys­tem op­er­at­ing there’s vir­tu­ally no tire spin, just an in­stan­ta­neous sling­shot ef­fect — I cracked off a 3.6-sec­ond launch to 60 m.p.h. (97 km/h) in the U.S.-spec, pre-pro­duc­tion model. (It bears re­peat­ing, with two full-sized adults aboard, this is 5,700-plus pounds of mas­sive mis­sile. Talk about the Fat and the Fu­ri­ous!) Oh, yeah, it also has a tow rat­ing of 7,200 lb (3,266 kg).

Although I am my fa­ther’s son, which makes me take a deep breath be­fore I re­peat the words “$110,000 Jeep,” I can’t help but ap­plaud FCA for hav­ing the chutz­pah to un­leash the Track­hawk on an un­sus­pect­ing pub­lic. With ev­ery­body talk­ing about electric cars and self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles, this is retro slap in the face to so­cial cor­rect­ness — and Euro­pean SUV snob­bery. Sorry, Dad, de­spite all you held sacro­sanct about the Jeep brand, I’m go­ing over to the dark side on this one.

Brian Harper/

2018 Jeep Grand Chero­kee Track­hawk.

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