– Portland, Maine
Fiat Chrysler’s engineers and product planners are lunatics. Wonderful, fantastic, passionate lunatics.
This 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is far more ridiculous than any supercharged version of the Charger or Challenger, even the 840-horsepower Demon. The natural progression of a muscle car like the Challenger implies that as time goes on, it’ll get more and more power to keep interest alive. SRT becomes Hellcat. Hellcat becomes Demon. With each new up-tune, the Challenger – now over a decade old – is instantly relevant again. What’s next? Either the end of the road, or, uh, Helldemon? (I hope it’s Helldemon.)
You guys, this is an eleven-second Jeep. Just think about that for a moment.
But a 707-hp Jeep sport-utility vehicle? That, I can’t explain. Even the 475-hp Grand Cherokee SRT is an absurd anomaly. How in the hell do you justify taking an already hyperbolic SUV and shoving another 232 hp under the hood?
The Trackhawk’s inherent lunacy is obvious from the moment you hit the throttle. Tremendous amounts of power are sent through midsize SUV bones (645 pound-feet of torque in addition to that 707 hp, by the way), and it’s all been upgraded to handle the brute force. I could go into excruciating detail about the stronger rear driveshaft, new rear axle, revised differential housing, or trick launch control system that sets up the whole car for best straight-line performance, but let’s be honest, you only care about the results. Run off and tell your friends: this is a 5,300-pound, all-wheel-drive SUV that will do 0-60 in 3.5 seconds and generate 1.4 gs of acceleration force while doing so. It’ll run a quarter mile in 11.6 seconds. You guys, this is an eleven-second Jeep. Just think about that for a moment.
The Trackhawk’s acceleration credentials are impressive, but they only tell one part of the story. When you aren’t hard launching from stoplights, there’s a rewarding experience to be had, whether slow-going through traffic or out on your favorite backroad. When it’s not Hellcatting around one quarter mile at a time, the Trackhawk is refined and civilized – leave the Selec-Track (yes, “Track” and not “Trac” like other Jeeps, because Hellcat) system in Auto mode, and you’ll find it as easy to drive as any other Grand Cherokee, with progressive throttle response, light steering, and an extremely comfortable ride.
I’m carrying more and more speed as I enter each corner, my mind slowly being convinced that, yes, a Grand Cherokee can actually be driven like this.
On the backroads of Maine and New Hampshire, I’ve got Selec-Track dialed to Sport. The suspension is a little firmer and the steering has a bit more weight to its action. The Trackhawk’s standard 40/60 front/rear torque split takes on more of a rearward bias – 35/65 – and there’s a wealth of grip available from the optional 295/45ZR20 Pirelli PZero three-season tires (same-sized Scorpion Verde all-season tires are standard). Plus, while these tires are optimized for traction, the thick sidewalls mean the Jeep never rides too rough, and you don’t feel every little pavement imperfection. It’s both smooth and surefooted, and goes like hell.
Should you find yourself on a race track, there’s even more hilarity absurdity prowess to unlock. They don’t call it the Trackhawk for nothing – put the big Jeep into Track mode, and you’re rewarded with 160-millisecond shift times from the eight-speed automatic transmission, less intrusive stability control, a very firm suspension, and even heavier steering. The way this thing moves around a race course is simply remarkable. On the sweeping left- and right-hand turns of Club Motorsports in New Hampshire, I am constantly amazed at just how fast I can get around the circuit, the Trackhawk totally happy to be there. Steep uphill climbs are quickly dispatched thanks to the massive onboard power, and I’m carrying more and more speed as I enter each corner, my mind slowly being convinced that, yes, a Grand Cherokee can actually be driven like this.
That said, even the best tires, updated suspension components, and sophisticated drive settings can’t win a war against physics. Fast and capable as it might be, this is still an SUV with a high center of gravity and 5,300 pounds to lug around. It rolls. It pitches and dives. And while there’s a lot of weight to the steering, actual tactile communication and feedback leave a lot to be desired – I’m not exactly sure what my big fat tires are doing at any given moment.
I’m not sure what statement will raise more eyebrows: “707-hp Jeep” or “$100,000 Jeep.”
Minor flaws aside, I’ll reiterate that the Trackhawk is more than just a Jeep with a big engine. Remembering my track time with Challenger and Charger Hellcats, I’m praising the Jeep for its greater balance and poise as I pull off quicker and quicker lap times with similarly increasing levels of confidence. Here’s the weirdest statement you’ll read today: in terms of Hellcats, the Jeep Grand Cherokee is a better track car than the Dodge Challenger.
In fact, it’s a better everything car – don’t forget, when you’re not in attack mode, the Trackhawk still has to run errands, pick up the kids, and get you to the mall in a snowstorm (all-wheel drive, remember). To that end, it’s as functional and usable as every other Grand Cherokee, with plenty of room for five adults, 68.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the front row of seats, and with the optional tow package, the ability to pull 7,200 pounds. Really, the only thing it can’t do is go off road… which is kind of funny, considering it’s a Jeep. But it’ll still slog through rain and snow (with the right tires), and if you need more rugged capability, you probably aren’t buying something so ferocious anyway.
Speaking of ferocious, look at this thing. The bulgy front hood signifies big power underneath, foglights have been jettisoned in favor of more airflow directly into the engine bay, wide haunches house 20-inch wheels, and meaty quad exhaust pipes shout a sound worthy of the Hellcat name. It’s oozes macho coolness. The only thing I’d change (and by change, I mean get rid of) are the “supercharged” badges on the sides.
Laguna leather wraps the entire cabin, with Trackhawk-specific carbon fiber-look trim. FCA’s fabulous 8.4-inch Uconnect infotainment touchscreen proudly sits in the center console, and comes with all the latest and greatest gee-whiz tech. Jeep pretty much throws everything at this Grand Cherokee – and it should, considering the $85,900 starting price. Optional extras are only limited to the panoramic sunroof, Blu-ray rear entertainment system, upgraded Harman/Kardon audio system, and the aforementioned tow package and summer tires. All in, that’s a $101,555 Grand Cherokee. And to be honest, I’m not sure what statement will raise more eyebrows: “707-hp Jeep” or “$100,000 Jeep.”
Therein lies the predicament: Who buys this thing? On one hand, it’s quicker, more powerful, and about half the price of a Cayenne Turbo S, but are high-end Porsche customers really cross-shopping Jeeps? On the other hand, it’s a more functional, usable, better-driving alternative to a Challenger or Charger Hellcat, though it commands a bit more coin and doesn’t look like a rad muscle car. Then again, it’s not like the Trackhawk was born from a place of customer demand or rational product planning. It exists because it can, and because it’s exciting. Don’t try to justify it. Just shut up and hit the gas.
Gallery: 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk: First Drive
2018 JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE TRACKHAWK