Last year, Trent arm-wrestled the monstrous new Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk through our first drive overseas, and very soon you’ll read of our first drive on Australian soil. A hot time at the track, in fact. Recently, though, Tony and Alborz took a Trackhawk touring through New York. This is that story.
The instructions are simple enough. Hit the Launch Control button – check; left foot hard on the brake – check; apply full throttle and let go the brakes – and get ready for a physics-defying experience.
The sheer back-shoving ferocity is almost enough to take your breath away. Proper family-hauling SUVs shouldn’t be able to do this, at least, not without a price tag over 300 grand-plus and a Lamborghini badge on the bonnet.
But this Sports Utility vehicle from Jeep is different. It’s called the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk and its anything but standard issue.
Because under that big bulging bonnet with twin snorting extractor vents there’s a 707 horsepower-making supercharged V8 (522kW) which can get this family-friendly Jeep off the line quicker than the latest Porsche 911 Carrera S with all the bells and whistles.
Just ask Alborz, who’s outside freezing his backside off while trying to shoot a video for our Facebook channel. His reaction to the Trackhawk as it explodes out of the gate was one of sheer disbelief. The words Jesus C … were the only words he muttered at the time of filming.
And, he’s dead right, because from behind the wheel it really is a truly mind-blowing experience. Like the first time we drove the Bugatti Veyron, there’s an instant feeling of nausea as your brain struggles to come to grips with the g-forces at work here. And they simply don’t let up – not ever, thanks to 875Nm of torque on tap.
Let’s also not forget about the neighbourhood-shattering row this thing makes at full noise. It’s like AMG times two, and those in the cabin get the full surround-sound version. It’s almost too loud, intoxicating for sure, but it’s also downright outrageous and will leave you in fits of laughter as the Trackhawk obliterates any notion of normality in this soccer-mum segment. This is the sledgehammer approach to speed and we don’t half mind it.
‘All I have to do is to remember to make the manual shift from first to second via the right-hand paddle-shifter’. Easier said than done to be honest, given those g-forces are pinning me to the seatback, so it’s a struggle to reach the paddle-shifters at precisely the right point in the rev range.
You’ve really got to wonder what they were thinking over at Jeep when someone thought it was a good idea to turn the company’s family-friendly SUV into something out of the Fast and Furious franchise.
My guess is it was a done deal from the very beginning, especially if you happen to know those die-hard petrol-heads at Jeep’s SRT division as we do. These guys are racers through and through, some of them drag racers, actually, so it all starts to make perfect sense.
And just like the Hellcat-powered version of the Dodge Charger and Challenger models, they’ve created something quite special; above and beyond the not-so-standard SRT model. Something that stands out in a crowd – though, oddly enough, it’s not all that obvious.
The last time we drove a Hellcat-powered machine was several years ago when we took said Charger from Seattle down to Los Angeles, side-by-side the Tesla P85D, (the most powerful Model S at the time). It was our attempt at paying homage to the American muscle car while at the same time welcoming in an entirely new kid on the block – the first proper EV high-performance series production car.
Interestingly, even Tesla’s head product person at the time was besotted by the Hellcat and keen for a ride, which of course we were more than happy to accommodate. In fact, at times it was hard to find a driver for the Tesla, whereas with the Charger there was always a queue.
Even back then, we were already asking the Jeep guys about a Hellcat version of the Grand Cherokee, though we weren’t really serious back then. At least, not in terms of an SUV.
From a distance it’s not all that different from a regular Grand Cherokee, especially if you ordered it with the same paint job as our tester. But take a closer look and there are a few tell-tale signs that suggest this is no ordinary version.
For starters, the standard ride height is 24.5mm lower than other Grand Cherokee variants – immediately obvious the moment the car pulled up outside our New York City accommodation.
That low-down stance is accentuated by the Trackhawk’s 20-inch matte black alloys, shod with extra-wide Pirelli Scorpion rubber. Behind the wheel spokes you can clearly see the plate size brake rotors and even more obvious six-pot calipers in bright yellow.
There are other signs, too, like the four-inch quad exhaust pipes out back and the missing fog lights – removed to make way for a more useful air intake on the left side and oil cooler on the right.
There are more cooling measures deployed in the Trackhawk’s bulging bonnet, only this time allow the heat to escape from the powerhouse motor below it. It’s part of an overall cooling system that maintains the air at 140 degrees Fahrenheit when you’re having a real crack, while at the same time generating air flow of up to 30,000 litres every minute.
It’s not just the 2.4-litre IHI supercharger that separates the Hellcat motor from its naturally aspirated Mopar SRT version either, almost every mechanical component has been beefed up to handle to the engine’s immense output.
The pistons are forged alloy and the connecting rods are powder forged, while the exhaust valves are sodium cooled. The transmission is more robust, too, in order to handle the high torque, as well as a reinforced driveshaft, CV joints and differential.
Good thing, too, especially if you intend to open it up on some of the less trafficked roads around upstate New York. The original plan to was head up into the Catskill Mountains, before realising it would be touch and go if we were going to make it back to JFK and La Guardia for our respective flights later that night. Did I mention it was a Friday?
Getting out of New York City is easier said than done at the best of times, even with sat-nav lady giving turn-by-turn directions. It’s all too easy overshoot a critical exit point or miss a vital lane change – and before you know it you’ve got a 30-minute detour to get back on track.
But that’s New York and some of the roads are in an appalling state of disrepair. Giant size potholes (more like craters, really) litter many of the city’s narrower streets.
And while the standard Grand Cherokee would deal with these in such a way as to completely isolate passengers from the harshest bumps, not so the Trackhawk.
Despite the inclusion of adaptive suspension with multiple drive modes, this is one SUV that gives new meaning to the word ‘stiff’. Even in softest setting, there’s little if any noticeable compliance. In other words, it’s still slightly bone-jarring. Sport is just flat-out spine compressing, while Track should be avoided at all costs – unless of course you’re on a billiard ball-smooth freeway or indeed a race circuit.
Plan-B was to reroute to Monticello race club – but again, halfway there and Google maps was predicting another touch and go scenario. Woodbury Outlets Mall seemed like a safer bet all-round, while still offering plenty of less-travelled tarmac en route to some of the best bargains we’ve seen anywhere in the United States.
But not before hours of fun charging up, down, and around deserted Bear Mountain roads. That’s the thing with the Trackhawk – you just hit Sport and off you go attacking the twisty bends like a properly sorted hot hatch. In the more aggressive modes the eight-speed auto shifts rapidly through the gears, and there’s a nice throttle blip under heavy braking into a corner.
There’s no discernible body roll. Tuck it into a Bear Mountain sweeper and keep your right foot flat. Easy as. That’ll be the Bilstein competition suspension system. There’s loads of front-end grip and while the steering isn’t super quick, its meaty enough and there’s decent feedback that lets you know what the fronts are doing.
It feels planted and very predictable even when you start to really push. In fact, it’s at this level that the Trackhawk does its best work. It’s particularly impressive in the rain, too, and even under acceleration, the Trackhawk is well behaved.
Thankfully, the roads around here are in much better shape than New York City, but every now and then it’ll still belt you in the kidneys – reminding you of its true intentions – to go fast and make lots of good noise.
While the ride may border on intolerable for many on anything but a freshly topped Interstate, the cabin itself does its best to provide a comfortable, if not semi-premium environment, though not much more than the Overland version.
Still, the combination leather/suede front pews are thickly cushioned and heavily bolstered to lock in almost any size person during the most spirited driving session.
There’s also plenty of metallic accents and carbon-fibre trim bits, that do much to offset the cheap plastics below.
Loads of kit though – from heated and ventilated front seats (the rear seats are also heated) and the driver’s side seat automatically slides rearward the moment the vehicle is turned off for easy exit.
There’s also Apple CarPlay (made it so easy to get around) and Android Auto through an 8.4-inch infotainment screen that’s not particularly sharp, but at least its quick enough and relatively effective.
The same goes for safety; with the Trackhawk equipped with a full suite of all latest active safety systems on board, like adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic detection, advanced brake assist and plenty more.
The Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is an impressive SUV, offering stupendous all-round performance in a family size SUV, while boasting loads of passenger and luggage room, as well as a ton of features.
At $134,900 plus on-roads it’s also a bargain up against more expensive (and slower) European rivals like the $239,400 Porsche Cayenne Turbo and $179,990 Maserati Levante S Gran Lusso.
Our full local review is coming soon.
Click on the Photos tab for more images of the the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk.
MORE: Everything Jeep