Jeep has been throwing high-horsepower engines into Grand Cherokees for longer than you might think. Even the world’s most brilliant scientists don’t know exactly why, but nobody’s really complaining about it either. Especially not me, now that I’ve driven the ludicrous 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk.
Jeep hot-rodded the first-generation Grand Cherokee “ZJ” back in 1998, creating the 5.9 Limited (called the “niner” among Jeep enthusiasts). It was one of the quickest SUVs in the world at the time with a zero to 60 mph sprint taking less than seven seconds.
Fast forward two decades, and now Jeep’s got a Grand Cherokee that can scream to 60 mph in half that time despite being nearly one M422 Mighty Mite heavier than its great grandpa. In true Fiat Chrysler form, the vehicle accomplishes this feat through a tried-and-true method known as brute force. In this case, that force comes from a 707 horsepower 6.2-liter supercharged engine also found in cars you know and love as Hellcats.
(Full Disclosure: Jeep wanted me to drive the 2018 Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, so FCA—my former employer—flew me to Portland, Maine, put a nice roof over my head, and fed me food with fancy names I couldn’t pronounce.)
What Is It?
Despite the badge on the hood, the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is not an off-road vehicle. In fact, when asked whether this new high-speed luxo-Jeep had any real off-road capability, director of the Jeep brand Scott Tallon replied by saying the new SUV has “all weather capability.” In other words, you can totally drive this thing in the snow, but if you take it to the off-road park, you’ll probably look like an imbecile.
Now that you know what the Trackhawk isn’t, here’s what the Trackhawk is: possibly the most practical supercar in America.
Specs That Matter
Obviously, I’ve just made a pretty bold claim, but hear me out. The Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk can tow a 7,200 pound trailer, carry five people and a golden retriever, and probably drive on icy gravel roads without falling on its face.
How many vehicles do you know of that can do all of that, while accelerating from zero to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds, dashing through the quarter mile in 11.6 seconds, reaching a top speed of 180 mph, and also finding a way to come to a stop from 60 mph in only 114 feet?
With 707 horsepower under its hood and enormous 15.75-inch front rotors clamped by six-piston calipers, the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is quick in both longitudinal directions. And if you’re curious about motion in ways other than fore-aft, the Grand Cherokee’s 0.88 G maximum lateral acceleration isn’t too bad, either. Especially for something with a curb weight of almost 5,400 pounds.
In a lot of ways—especially with when you consider its 11 city/17 highway/13 combined fuel economy rating—the Jeep puts up supercar numbers. And yet, it also does truck-ish things. And that, really, is the whole point of the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, if there is one at all.
After FCA’s enginerds walked me through what they did to prep the Jeep for all that power, they told me about the Helmholtz resonator built into the Jeep’s induction system to reduce noise. And then they went on about how they’ve optimized cam timing to reduce noise, vibration and harshness (referred to as NVH). And on top of all that, the pocket protector-wearing engineers continued on about how they actually tuned the valveless quad-tip exhaust for refinement, since the Grand Cherokee—unlike the Charger Hellcat and Challenger Hellcat—is a luxury vehicle.
Upon hearing all this talk about reduced NVH, my visions of a raucous hoonmobile began to dwindle, and I started spiraling into a state of melancholy. Was I about to drive a muted, neutered Hellcat? Is that even possible?
All of that worry was for naught. It turns out, much of that NVH stuff the engineers were talking about applies to idle conditions and steady highway cruising. Press down that pedal, though, and the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk makes itself heard. Just touching the throttle in any driving situation—whether accelerating from a city stop sign, slowly passing a car on the highway, or just trying to keep speed up a grade—brought out the wonderful whine of that enormous 2.38-liter supercharger.
Merging onto the highway woke up the whole damn neighborhood with what sounded like that furious Tyrannosaurus Rex from Jurassic Park. Just listen to these glorious pressure waves:
That’s pretty much all I remember from my two-hour trek from Portland, Maine to Tamworth, New Hampshire. I couldn’t stop kicking that gas pedal as hard as I could against the floorboard, and enjoying the hell out of the drumbeat from that jackhammer just on the other side of the firewall.
Accompanying that noise was almost-immediate forward movement—something that cannot be said about the lighter, two wheel-drive Charger and Challenger Hellcats. Those two, bless their hearts, like to put on a loud smoke-show before getting out of the hole. But the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is too grown-up for that nonsense.
Put the Jeep into track mode, press the launch control button, set your revs, move one foot onto the brake (make sure to apply enough brake pressure—this will require a strong left foot) and the other rapidly on the gas (to the floor), then quickly let your outboard foot off the pedal. Here’s what happens next:
As the engine sends all 645 lb-ft of grunt to those four wheels (and I do mean all— the transmission doesn’t limit an ounce of torque in first gear), the nose lifts up, the ass-end squats, and the car shoots forward with only a tiny squeal from a front tire. It’s effortless and drama-free, and that’s saying something about a car with this much power on tap.
Part of that absurdly violent launch has to do with the high torque capacity single-speed transfer case and limited slip rear differential, and part of it has to do with the Trackhawk’s Torque Reserve system, which allows the engine to build boost while stationary so those cylinders can get the sweet, sweet air they need at launch.
Working in much the same way as the system does in the Dodge Demon application, Torque Reserve retards spark and cuts fuel to certain cylinders to allow the engine to build revs without making torque that would overwhelm the brakes. This means the supercharger can spin faster, and make more boost, which the engine will need when it tries to propel a 2.7-ton piece of steel at 1.4 G.
The sound accompanying that acceleration made it impossible not to drive like a total ass. I found myself avoiding steady-state driving as much as I could. If I was going 3 mph below the speed limit, rather than lightly press the pedal, I just reduced the duration that my foot was mashed against the floorboard.
Short applications of wide open throttle were much more fun than long, soft touches of the gas pedal. That’s because, even though the Hellcat sounds great while standing still—go right on ahead and rev it at your local Cars and Coffee—giving that engine some load to accompany those revs sends sweet sweet musical clefs flowing into your ears. That’s enough reason to launch the Jeep at any opportunity.
Handling And Braking
I’m not a race car driver, so I won’t try to give a detailed description of the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk’s steering feel or balance in corners. But I can tell you that I did indeed feel the steering, and found it to be in working order. Also, the Jeep didn’t tip over even once, so there’s definitely at least some balance in the corners.
If that wasn’t helpful (and by “if,” I mean “because,”), here’s a video of some Trackhawks tearing it up around a race track:
What I can tell you based on my nine laps around Club Motorsports in New Hampshire, is that the Jeep’s 8HP95 transmission is damn good. It always remained in the right gear, holding the revs up to make sure I had solid acceleration potential when exiting corners.
As for how it did around turns, the Jeep really didn’t feel out of its element on the track, despite weighing as much as the Pentagon. Body roll wasn’t horrible, the brakes were excellent, and gassing it out of a corner could get the Jeep to rotate a bit, which made hooning this big Jeep around turns at high speeds a hell of a lot of fun.
It’s definitely not going to whoop a Nissan GT-R’s lap time, but it’s still way more exciting to throw around a twisty track than I expected, and I enjoyed every minute of it.
“Weak” may be a bit far, as the 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk’s interior is comfortable, and I really dug the red leather in my test car. But the inside of my $100,000 mega-SUV just didn’t feel that special. And when you’re in the high-dollar luxury SUV segment, having a ridiculously elegant interior is kind of mandatory.
Just look at the picture above, and then have a look at the interior of a sub $30,000 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo. Yes, there are differences in the the steering wheels, seats, infotainment systems, and shifters, but the dash bits—the vents, the center trim, the shape of that center stack—are basically the same.
And because of that, to me, the Trackhawk’s cabin felt more like a $30,000 or $40,000 SUV with a bunch of nice leather and plastic bits thrown in rather than a genuine $100,000 SUV interior.
The yellow-calipered, foglight-less Grand Cherokee SRT with the big “Supercharged” badge on the side costs $85,900 plus about one grand in destination fees in base form, and will be available in the fourth quarter of this year.
Whether you should go out and order one depends on your priorities in life. There are people out there—like folks who build excel spreadsheets to plan vacations and who diligently put away money into a rainy-day fund—who probably won’t be into the Trackhawk.
And then there are people who can appreciate ridiculous, symphonic, unadulterated power in an enormous, imposing physical package—people who think with their hearts. This Jeep might stir those people’s souls. It sure as hell stirred the crap out of mine.