IN THE FIAT Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) family, the Jeep Grand Cherokee ($31,690-$86,995) is the good son: a fine and thoroughly fastened midsize premium SUV, beloved in North America and quite profitable. The Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat ($67,090) is the bad seed: a muscle car, a time capsule of entitled masculinity putting its smoldering rubber boots on the dinner table while people are still eating. The Hellcat’s Alpha-ness comes courtesy of its supercharged 6.2-liter pushrod V8, producing 707 hp and a sound like a tornado trapped in an elevator.
While the Hellcat brand has been a masterstroke for FCA, the company doesn’t make a ton of revenue on the low-volume, high-content Hellcat cars like Charger and Challenger. So the decision to put this engine under the hood of a Grand Cherokee should be first understood as amortization—FCA’s product planners getting more work out of its exotic V8.
That was the last rational thought to be associated with the program.
Can we just confront the naked absurdity before us? What FCA has done is to compound the uselessness inherent in two product categories: Not only is the Trackhawk an SUV no one will ever take off road; it’s also a track-focused machine that will almost never see a racecourse. Yes, there will be exceptions and exceptional owners. For them, 707 hp and a 180-mph top speed are not too much but barely adequate—adequacy being key here. But, mostly, nah.
The Trackhawk (great name, by the way) joins an elite group of braggy, bratty SUVs including the Range Rover Sport SVR, Porsche Cayenne Turbo S, and Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio. Jeep enters this realm of nobles and promptly sets the tapestries ablaze. With its torque-loading launch control engaged, it can, in the right conditions, crack off an 11.6-second quarter-mile time, including 0-60 mph in 3.5 seconds, officially. This is the quickest and most powerful SUV you can buy from a major car maker. For now.
2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk
- Base Price: $86,995
- Price, as Tested: $100,960
- Powertrain: supercharged 6.2-liter pushrod V8; eight-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift mode; all-wheel drive
- Power/Torque: 707 hp at 6,000 rpm/645 pound-feet at 4,800 rpm
- Length/Height/Width/Wheelbase: 189.8/67.9/76.5/114.7 inches
- Curb Weight: 5,363 pounds
- 0-60 mph: 3.5 seconds
- Top Speed: 180 mph
- Cargo Capacity: 36.3/68.3 cu. feet, rear seat up/folded
But here in the last days of Rome, all glory is fleeting: Lamborghini claims its new Urus is now the world’s fastest truck, with a 190-mph top speed, besting the Bentley Bentayga’s 187 mph. Aston Martin and Ferrari are also crowding into the Chelsea tractor segment.
My running buddy Ezra Dyer and I took our loaner to Rockingham Dragway in North Carolina on a recent cold afternoon. Unlike the Hellcat, which can stand in the burnout box and disintegrate tires as long as it likes, the Trackhawk tends to drag itself forward against the locked brakes, even as the rear tires are fogging for mosquitoes. I listened from the staging area as Ezra hauled off and disappeared down the quarter-mile. The sonic chaos—the V8’s bawling, the supercharger’s blooming screech, like a mining sump-pump hitting a dry hole—dwindled in pitch and volume until all I could hear was a low “dude…” The numbers flashed: 11.9 seconds. That’ll do, pig.
The starting point for the Trackhawk was the already-racy Grand Cherokee SRT ($67,395) with 475 hp and a highly evolved sport suspension. The Trackhawk gets Z-rated rubber (295/45ZR20s); the front brakes have grown a bit (15.75-inch rotors); and the spring rates have been stiffened against the weight of the Hellcat power plant.
It’s effectively two air pumps: the iron-block, 16-valve pushrod V8, by God; and on top, the 2.4-liter blower, cramming cooled air down the engine’s gullet at up to 11.6 psi of boost, its twin scrolls gnashing together at up to 14,600 rpm.
The V8 is a magnificent anachronism, up-armored with a forged-steel crankshaft and conrods, and aluminum pistons, raging against aluminum cylinder heads trilling sodium-filled valves. Like the Challenger SRT Demon, the Jeep requires two high-flow fuel pumps to supply an excess of 91 octane. And like the Demon, this Jeep burns gas like a hillbilly bonfire.
‘The Hellcat’s V8 sounds like a tornado trapped in an elevator.’
The steel-splintering effects of 645 pound-feet of torque being what they are, the Trackhawk’s all-wheel-drive powertrain required a thorough hardening, from transmission to half-shafts. Crucially, the rear differential housing gets an additional supporting mount, from three to four, to help contain the wrenching forces of holeshot launches.
The quad-mounted rear differential contributes to this car’s weird aplomb. Even at wide-open throttle, with four wheels digging and tailpipes frapping, there is virtually no drama imparted to the frame. Simply lift your foot from the brake and the Trackhawk bursts from the line with barely any wheelslip, nailing upshifts, pulling like a hooked marlin. Every pass is inevitable perfection.
It could get boring, provided you’re aiming straight. Cornering at speed with the Trackhawk requires some planning, mostly due to the 675-pound hunk of iron ahead of the firewall. If you’re hot on the brakes—which are stupendous—the Trackhawk’s rear will start to feel light. While the cornering limits are seriously high, the Jeep tends to push in and out of tight corners, as would you if you had an anvil as a nose-piercing.
The Trackhawk would be easier to hate if it wasn’t such a rock-solid beast, the credit for which I mostly assign to the fourth-generation redesign (2011). Begun as a joint project of then-partners Daimler and Chrysler and completed in the dark days postbankruptcy, the Grand Cherokee was over-engineered—my theory being the project managers figured they would be out of business soon anyway, so why not shoot the moon?
However it happened, the Grand Cherokee’s steel handshake is the first thing I notice when I open the door. This thing feels like field artillery and weighs like it too: 5,363 pounds. I believe I am right in saying the Trackhawk is the only vehicle in the world to combine Lambo-like acceleration with a 7,200-pound tow rating.
Don’t kid yourself. You’ll never tow anything, either.
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