2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk review

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With stunning power and torque, the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is aimed at one thing – changing the perception of Jeep's high end off-roader. On-road or on-track, it's a performance weapon.

The 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk isn’t a wolf in sheep’s clothing. No, wolves aren’t anywhere near savage enough for what we have on our hands here.

There are plenty of internet memes and gifs currently featuring humans in T-Rex suits, and T-Rex seems about right, now that I think about it. If you could shoehorn a T-Rex into a sheep’s outfit, you’d just about sum up the Trackhawk.

Five-hundred-and-twenty-seven kilowatts! Think about that number for a moment. Then think about a performance car you deem to be powerful. Chances are it won’t make as much raw power as the Trackhawk – and the Trackhawk is a family SUV. It just happens to be an SUV with a savage bite. Not to mention the soundtrack. Aural savagery.

The numbers make for staggering reading when you take into account the platform on which the Trackhawk is based: 527kW at 6000rpm, and 874Nm at 4800rpm.

Before we delve too much further, that power rating is just over 700hp in the old money. That’s a huge kick in the back of the head by any measure and it’s up at Lamborghini Aventador S level. The Trackhawk, and remember, this is a family SUV, plays with supercars in the power stakes.

The sprint from 0-100km/h takes a mere 3.7 seconds and the Trackhawk will plunder the quarter-mile in 11.6 seconds. Consider that quarter-mile time for a few seconds. If the Trackhawk was just 0.7 seconds faster, it would need a roll cage to run on drag strips in Australia – it’s utter, utter madness.

And that 0-100km claim is no joke either. My first full launch control attempt, without any physical knowledge of the brake pressure required to load the engine up properly, or any special attention to the holeshot, netted a 3.8 second sprint – on a green racetrack that hadn’t even opened to the public yet. And in a Trackhawk that had been getting pummelled all day on the racetrack. Back for rounds two and three, and we nailed another two 3.8-second sprints.

We know then, the numbers make for eyebrow-raising reading, but CarAdvice maintains the Trackhawk will get down to business mostly (if not exclusively) on public streets, perhaps running the kids to school, certainly running the family around on weekends, and that’s where we are most keen to sample its ability.

We don’t know exact pricing for the Trackhawk yet, with FCA still fleshing out local pricing and specification, but you can expect it to cost around the 140-grand mark. Sure, it’s not cheap for a Grand Cherokee, but its dollar per kilowatt rating is without peer.

In the States, there are some options that might become standard in Oz. There’s a sunroof, premium leather trim (above the standard leather on offer), a Harman Kardon infotainment system above the Alpine offering and different wheels available. Expect the Trackhawk to be as loaded with standard kit as FCA can manage, with options possibly as simple as exterior colour choices and wheel design.

The Trackhawk looks tough, especially on the optional wheels, but it’s not significantly more muscular or in your face than the Grand Cherokee SRT. There are some minor changes up front aimed at getting more air into the engine and cooling system and as such, the Trackhawk doesn’t have fog lights. At the rear, the quad tailpipes are model specific and ‘Supercharged’ badges along the flanks hint at the beast within.

Grand Cherokee cabins have long been plush and comfortable and the Trackhawk continues that theme. The seats are beautifully sculpted, comfortable and supportive, the leather trim is high quality – even the standard leather offering.

We used Apple CarPlay on our test examples and the system worked faultlessly, with both Alpine and Harman Kardon audio systems delivering proper depth of sound. If you’ve driven a Grand Cherokee recently, you’ll know exactly what to expect inside the cabin. The rear-view camera is clear and broad, too.

Press the engine start button and the Hemi V8 explodes to life with immediate audible intent. In ‘Auto’ mode, it’s certainly not deafening at idle, but it’s no shrinking violet either. Flick the dial around to ‘Sport’ or ‘Race’ mode though, stab the throttle pedal, and you’re met with an explosion of thunder from the rear.

Our drive program starts inside a warehouse and a gaggle of international journos keep asking me to rev the engine for their social videos – I'm happy to oblige when it sounds this good.

The supercharger whine only comes into play higher up in the rev range, but good lord, that V8 engine sounds fantastic when you ask it to work. It’s savage in the best possible way and crackles nastily as the revs settle. This is going to be a very difficult SUV to drive with any humility, that’s for sure.

SRT engineers consciously tuned some of the whine out at low rpm so it didn’t annoy around town. Thankfully, it is audible right when you want it to be through the mid range, and then keeps screaming right up to redline.

The global launch takes place in Portland, Maine, with both a road and track drive component. The track drive is just as well. Firstly there is the word ‘track’ in the Trackhawk name, and secondly you’d lose your license quickly if you tried to explore its outer limits on the street – even in the USA.

Out into the cut and thrust of morning peak hour – subdued by American standards given the small town feel of Portland – and it’s immediately evident how docile and manageable the Trackhawk is at low speed.

In the grand tradition of all the best V8 engines, the punchy torque delivery and effortless nature of the engine’s power delivery means you don’t have to work the throttle hard, or wrestle a savage beast at low speed. It’s quiet enough in Auto mode too, that you don’t attract too much attention… until, that is, you decide to mash the right pedal.

Even in Auto mode, the Hemi V8 wails and bellows, right up to the shift at redline, the exhaust note thunderous and ridiculously addictive. It piles on speed with scant disregard for the laws of physics or the fact that it weighs in at 2400kg, give or take.

While we love Sport and Race mode for obvious reasons, you won’t need to bring them into play on the street to put a stupid smile across your face, that’s for sure. When you do send your foot toward the firewall, turn the audio system down too – you won’t want to miss a second of that snarling V8 engine as you let it off its leash. The soundtrack being that sonorous in Auto mode is beneficial too, because it means you don’t have to access the firmer ride and steering settings on the street if you prefer more comfort and cushioning.

The steering is solid and hefty, the ride firm but not uncomfortable, and the handling admirable at normal city speeds. If you’re getting into a Trackhawk out of something like a Toyota Prado, for example (to keep it in the large SUV segment), you’ll notice the complete lack of waft. If however, you are moving on from a Euro SUV of any kind, the Trackhawk will feel near perfect on the road.

Keep in mind America’s urban road network is generally decades ahead of our own, and we’ll test the Trackhawk with more accuracy (for buyers Down Under) when it lands in Oz towards the end of the year, but the ride on average roads in the US is firm, but never too harsh.

The beefed-up eight-speed Torqueflite automatic is refined and even a little relaxed at low speed, in the way that quality autos do what they do. The shifts sharpen progressively as you step across to Sport and Race, such that they feel cannon-like at redline in the tougher modes – exactly as we’d like. Around town though, the Trackhawk is almost demure.

The huge Brembo brakes feel solid around town too, as they should really with 400mm rotors up front, not to mention six piston calipers and four-piston calipers front and rear respectively. Our road drive takes us on some rolling country roads and you can really hustle the Trackhawk along, if you’re in the mood.

The refinement of the cabin is a surprise too, perhaps mostly because of the raw nature of the rest of the driving experience. There’s hardly any tyre noise from the sticky Pirelli P Zero rubber, next to no wind noise even at highway speeds, and the lack of supercharger noise at low engine revs also helps here too. In short, the cabin feels premium.

The Trackhawk is supposed to be capable on track too obviously, and that’s where we head next to sample its flat-out chops.

Club Motorsports is billed as ‘New England’s Motorsport Country Club’ and it’s two things. Firstly, it’s absolutely brand new – a private member’s facility that hasn’t even opened yet. Secondly, it's fast – make that very fast – with blind crests, double apex corners, and serious changes in altitude. Carved into the side of the mountain, it’s the kind of facility that infuriates you about living in Australia with our hard-to-access track days.

It’s worth dissecting the way torque is distributed here too, to better understand what the SelecTrac system is doing underneath you. In Auto mode, 60 per cent is sent rearward and 40 per cent to the front. Switch to Sport and shift times are slashed by 50 per cent, the ESC threshold is pushed further out and drive is split 65 per cent to the rear and 35 per cent to the front.

In Track mode, the ESC defaults to what the engineers call ‘partial off’, the suspension is locked down at full firm, and shift times are cut by 68 per cent over Auto mode. The drive in Track is split 70 per cent rear, and 30 per cent front, the most the Trackhawk will ever bias to the rear. You never get a true RWD therefore, as there is always some drive to the front wheels, but with the power and torque generated by the engine, the more tyre you can call on, the better.

There’s also a Tow mode, which optimises the systems for hauling weight and accesses extra safety features in the ESC programme, while the shocks are optimised for load-levelling across the rear axle. In Tow mode, drive is split 60 per cent to the front and 40 per cent rear.

I have ex-NASCAR driver Jerry Nadeau in the passenger seat for guidance as I roll out of the pits in Race mode. We’ve done a couple of basic laps of the circuit (in people movers) to get a feel for the place, and straight away I notice how sharp the Trackhawk’s turn in is for what is a lardy SUV. There’s body roll into and out of the corners, as well as some squirrelling under hard braking, but you expect that, and yet it sits a lot flatter than I expect.

What the Trackhawk does beautifully is squat down hard over the rear wheels under power, getting that epic grunt to the ground as efficiently and quickly as possible. There’s no doubt about it, it feels decidedly rear-biased on the race track.

The gearshifts up through the ratios at speed are savage, accompanied by an explosion through the exhaust and there’s the requisite throttle blip on down shifts. Jerry reckons it’s just as fast letting the ’box shift for you as it is using the paddle-shifters and I’m not going to argue.

The brakes work well and remain fade free over two hot laps, but you need to really lean into the pedal to haul the Trackhawk back down from speed – it’s no lightweight after all, and you need to use plenty of pressure on the pedal to wash off speed.

On track, the noise is unbelievable, it’s everything we love about bent-eight engines. I also enjoyed the way the ESC in Race tune allowed the Trackhawk to move around, and thus allowed the driver to have some fun, without cutting in too nastily or abruptly if you know what you’re doing. There’s no doubt the engineers in the SRT division at Chrysler HQ are enthusiasts who love driving fast in a controlled environment.

Why would you buy a Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk? Because you can. Because you want to brag to your mates about the earth-shifting power under the vented bonnet. Because you want to know how fast your family SUV is, even if you never use the capability. We know too much power is never enough and this is perhaps the epitome of that.

I’ve long been a fan of the SRT, but if I had the money, I’d be all over the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk like a cheap suit. Its savagery at full noise is counter balanced by its civility around town. It rides firm, but no firmer than any performance SUV.

It’s backed by Jeep Australia’s no nonsense five-year warranty too, not to mention lifetime roadside assist for peace of mind. And I'd love knowing my daily driver made more power than my well-heeled mate's sportscars.

So many fast cars are so clinical about the way they get down to business of being fast, but they don’t take you by the scruff of the neck and slap you around the chops. The Trackhawk does. It’s old school muscle and brawn in a vastly more refined package than you would ever expect.

So is it the ultimate performance family hauler? It’s pretty damn close, that’s for sure.

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