2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is really a heavyweight
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.
2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk.