Dan Scanlan test drives a 707 horsepower Jeep Grand Cherokee that thinks it’s a Hellcat…and performs like one. Yeah, it’s got a Hemi!
At first glance, this looks like a plain white Jeep Grand Cherokee. Then we fire up the ‘18 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk designed by FCA’s SRT team, to pound asphalt instead of mountains. There’s a Challenger Hellcat under that air scoop-sculpted hood – a supercharged 707 horsepower, 6.2-liter Hemi – that lets out a scream when we launch.
This is an SUV with more power than a Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 (650-hp), and way more than FCA’s previous king of the hill SUV – its Grand Cherokee SRT’s 6.4-liter V-8 with 475 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque.
We woke the neighborhood every time that Hemi snorted to life! Daily driving was done in “Auto” setting, which gave us a 40-percent front/60-percent rear torque split on the four-wheel-drive. But when the itch came to play, I clicked into “Sport,” with 50 percent quicker shifts, a more rearward 35/65 torque split and firmer suspension and steering. Adding all 645 pond-feet of torque through the beefed-up 8-speed automatic saw the Trackhawk rear back and launch ferociously to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds. Its supercharger screamed as we hit 100 mph in 8.6 seconds. The exhaust note was more muscular, each quick shift joined by an exhaust “BRAAP.” But wait, there’s more.
Apply the right pedal in “Track” mode and the big Jeep shoved me in my seat on launch as shift times sped up by 68 percent. Stability control is backed off in this mode, four-wheel-drive set in a very rearward 30/70-torque split, and steering and suspension tightened further. This time, launch was violent but controlled, all four Pirellis chirping at rapid gearshifts en route to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds and 100 mph in 8.7 seconds.
Then there’s Launch Control, which optimizes engine, transmission, driveline and suspension for the perfect storm. Preset engine rpm, tap “Launch Control” and gas it as you left-foot-brake. The display quickly tells you to “Release Brake,” and the Trackhawk launches like a torpedo. Unlike a Hellcat with rear wheel drive only, the Trackhawk gamely tries to grab with all four, offering a bit of wheelspin en route to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds. The G-Force gauge claimed we pulled 1.27 Gs on launch. For comparison, a Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT we tested a year ago with 475 horsepower netted 60 mph in 5 seconds and 100 in 12.9. If you are wondering, in “Eco” mode to let the Hemi run on 4-cylinders on the highway, we saw 15 mpg.
SRT has tamed the 5,363-pound beast’s handling with short- and long-arm independent front suspension, plus multi-link rear suspension and Bilstein adaptive damping all-round. Quadra-Trac on-demand four-wheel-drive includes an electronic limited-slip rear differential and a single-speed active transfer case with forged steel chain sprockets. In between, a strengthened rear drive shaft and stronger rear axle.
The ride in “Auto” is firm, but with a nice buffer at compression. The Trackhawk smooths out bumps with quick rebound, generally a pleasant commuting SUV with no harshness. With 60-percent rear torque split, it was a neutral handler on most curves, feeling its weight and offering a bit of understeer when pushed. “Sport” gave us 65 percent aft and firmer suspension, again with livable buffering over bumps but much quicker rebound control. With stability control backed off in this mode, the big SUV really grabbed and cornered well, fun in the corners when power was applied, still feeling neutral.
Quite happy in turns, it only showed a bit of plow when pushed hard. Hit a bump in mid-curve, and the Trackhawk would get a bit upset. “Track” mode, with 70 percent torque to the rear and stability control off, let us really play. The four-wheel-drive loosened up to let the rear Pirellis play, and we could power the back end out just a bit.
The G-Force display showed .90 Gs cornering on our skid pad and 1.06Gs on hard braking from 60 mph. The electric power steering was direct, with decent feedback in “Auto,” then more direct feel in “Sport” and “Track.” The disc brakes were huge and slotted and the 6,700-mile-old Trackhawk offered progressive pedal feel and solid stopping power with good control and just a touch of fade after repeated high-speed stops. Despite its size, weight and power, the Trackhawk was just fine as a daily commuter on any road – just a Grand Cherokee until you want more. But the beast doesn’t go off-road.
As far as looks, it blends with every other Grand Cherokee for the most part, a body shape born in 2011, now with Jeep’s seven-slot grille in black, adaptive bi-xenon headlamps encircled by LED DRLs. To breathe better, a slit intake under the grill and wide lower intake flanked by grilles where fog lights live on lesser GCs. An engine oil cooler is behind one; the other feeds the supercharger. The hood gets dual vents to extract engine heat.
Other changes – a 1.5-inch ride height drop and wide 20-inch Pirelli P Zero rubber on satin black Y-spoked alloy wheels with huge (15.75-inch front/13.78-inch rear) disc brakes and yellow Brembo calipers. Body-colored wheel flares frame that wide rubber, with subtle sill cladding. The doors get “GRAND CHEROKEE SUPERCHARGED” badges, with a tiny Trackhawk insignia on the tailgate. The only other sign of power – a unique black rear valence with a quad of four-inch exhaust tips. No one noticed it was a Hellcat until I’d pop that hood.
Inside, it’s up-level Jeep Grand Cherokee with a stitched black leather dashtop, pseudo-suede headliner, glossy weave carbon fiber in the middle, and stitched and ribbed red leather on almost everything else. The slightly flat-bottomed steering wheel gets another “Trackhawk” emblem and petite paddle shifters. The gauge package gets a center 7-inch driver information display with 7,000-rpm tach framing multiple functions. It can display engine power, torque, multiple engine gauges, g-forces, top speed, 0 to 60 and 0 to 100 timer, plus quarter- and eighth-mile, lap speeds and top speed. There’s a small digital speedometer on the right, with a sweep-needle analog version on the left reading to an almost honest (we are told) 200-mph speedometer. Both are hard to read at speed.The Trackhawk gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Like all Hellcats, there’s a Performance Page screen with performance timers and gauge readouts, including a new engine dynamometer that measures instantaneous horsepower, torque and current gear. You have G-forces, launch timers and important engine gauges. The dynamometer screen also includes a snapshot function to save readouts on a memory stick. That said, our Performance Page had problems loading, then froze on the instant G-force a few times.
If the Hemi soundtrack isn’t enough, there’s a 19-speaker, 825-watt Harman Kardon surround sound audio system. And there’s that Selec-Track’s dial to select Auto, Sport, Track, Snow and Tow. Each configures engine, transmission, paddle shifters, suspension, steering feel and four-wheel-drive. It also has the launch control button, as well as one for a “Drive Modes” display that shows engine, transmission, paddle shifters, suspension, steering feel and four-wheel-drive setting. A “Custom” button allows the driver to set engine, transmission, paddle shifters, suspension and steering feel to suit them. In back, more luxurious ribbed red leather and twin flip-up nine-inch video screens, with great head and leg room.
A base rear-wheel-drive V-6 Grand Cherokee Laredo starts at $32,895, while the SRT is $67,395. Our Trackhawk starts at $85,900 with lots standard except: $4,995 Signature Leather interior, $2,095 panoramic moonroof, $1,995 rear video system, $995 satin black 20-inch alloy wheels and a few other goodies for – wait for it – $101,555.
It is the most SUV muscle-per-pound of anything out there, with superb luxury and people hauling ability. Bring on the Hemi!
Check out Dan Scanlan’s video review of the Trackhawk, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-rEVcvnMX4&feature=youtu.be
For more information about the Jeep Trackhawk, please visit https://www.jeep.com/2018/grand-cherokee/performance.html