JEEP TRACKHAWKWho doesn't want 700 BHP?
Buckle up! It’s time for a spin at the extreme of 4×4 performance—the super surreal Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk.
Let’s first settle down the grumpy Grizzly swigging his Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey and giving you the evil eye as he puffs on a Cohiba growling, ‘That Trackhawk ain’t going to go off-road!’
Most owners are probably only going to enjoy their Trackhawk on the blacktop, as this beast is definitely road biased. But it does have some off-road tech and given the pulse racing on-road performance, why would we shy away from testing any manufacturers’ elite performance vehicle and share a little escapism from the daily grind? So, kick back and enjoy the ride.
Jeep’s first foray into the genuine performance arena was the Grand Cherokee SRT. Fitted with a lusty 6.4L Hemi V8 churning out a strong 460hp (344 kW) and 624 Nm. Despite having the bulk of a large practical family wagon and weighing in at a portly 2 tonne plus, it delivered assertive performance and a sprint time of 0-100km/h in 4.9 seconds, nicely accompanied by a gratifying baritone grumble.
That’s fast-enough to briefly turn the heads of Mercedes Benz’s weapon, the GLE 63 S, BMW’s blistering X6 M series and the majestically brutal Bentley Bentaga; but not enough to disturb their private trackside clubroom chat.
Euro’s elite high-performance sub 4.5s club shrugged off the panting SRT, given they can sprint to the magic mark more than half a second faster.
But while the Jeep engineers aren’t certifiably insane; their aim to take on the top performers in an SUV is borderline obsessive.
They appear hell bent on pushing the boundaries to deliver an entirely new level of driving exhilaration and performance for their many loyal fans and customers.
Enter the beast, the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk.
It’s fitted with Hemi’s legendary Hell Cat engine that normally launches the Dodge Challenger SRT and Dodge Charger SRT.
This engine might make a Maserati Levante burst into tears.
Not content with a mere 5 to 10% increase in power over the Cherokee SRT; the Trackhawk roars with 50% more power!
While the engineers plucked out the SRT’s 6.4L Hemi and slipped in a subtler 6.2L… they bolted on a supercharger.
Purely in the interest of efficiency, I’m sure.
This engine is astonishing, not only on paper but in the real world behind the wheel. It produces 707hp (522kW) and a merciless 868Nm of chassis-twisting torque.
The Hell Cat power plant will hurtle this behemoth wagon from standing start to 100kph in a spine flexing sub 4 seconds.
Oh yeah… now Euro’s finest have spun their wheels around and are watching the track with bonnets agape in a disbelieving “What the…?” as the Trackhawk missile blasts across the finishing line with a deafening boom… completing its 400m run (the old school quarter mile) just shy of 200kph in an intimidating 11.6 seconds.
If that doesn’t lift the hair on the back of the neck of a passionate motorhead, then nothing will!
Of the available 868Nm of torque, 560 is available at only 1200rpm, just above idle. This Hell Cat’s crankshaft has to be forged steel construction with induction hardened bearing surfaces to withstand the phenomenal explosive forces generated during combustion at around 1,600psi.
Which equates to nearly 10 tonne thumping each piston every time the spark plugs fire!
This is all courtesy of the dual scroll supercharger, with internal charge coolers keeping temperatures in check, that generates close to 12psi and rams a colossal amount of compressed air down the 6.2L’s throat at 500 litres per second.
With that much air to chow down on, the Hellcat really enjoys a drink. If it was possible to stay at full tilt, those massive 600cc injectors would consume the Cherokee’s large 93L capacity fuel tank in a little over 15 minutes.
So now you’re excited about what’s likely to happen when you get behind the wheel, let’s have a quick walk around the beast.
Our test vehicle was finished in ubiquitous black, absolute street sleeper apparel. So subdued was the exterior that only an enthusiastic car spotter would have taken a second glance and noted this was no standard SRT.
Choose a brilliant red finish and I’d bet all the sporty changes would be more eye-catching. The front fog lights are replaced by two huge air induction vents—one feeding the engine, the other an oil cooler.
Walk around the side and massive disc rotors (400mm front and 350mm rear) and brightly coloured 6 pot Brembo brake calipers locking onto the front rotors (4 pot units on the back) comfortingly promise the ability to peg this monster from 100kph to naught in a chest-crushing deceleration of only 37m!
Glance back across the bonnet and admire the deeply flared nostrils, allowing the engine bay to breathe and expel the immense heat generated by the Hell Cat caged under the lid.
Those stylish design touches that had a genuine purpose were superbly executed.
But I felt the 6.2 Hemi badge on the front quarter guard could be subtler.
The gargantuan supercharged Cherokee decals on the doors destroyed the outward appearance of elegance, and the Trackhawk badge on the tailgate reminded me of a cowboy’s belt buckle.
To further separate the Trackhawk from the SRT; wheel arch flares hide the slightly wider rear track over the Trailhawk and there’s a unique lower body skirt surrounding the four large exhaust tips.
These are a short Y-piece hanging off the back of a dual exhaust and appear to be for aesthetic appeal.
Speaking of the exhaust; you’ll never be able to sneak off in dawn’s early light. Hit the start button and the tacho abruptly jumps with an assertive baritone roar before the engine settles back down into a forceful grumble. Your neighbours will peer through the curtains at the ruckus to see if you’ve awakened a velociraptor with a cattle prod. Reserved this beast ain’t!
With sufficient practice, it is possible to master self-control for throttle modulation and enable the Trackhawk to complete any daily driving duties in a subdued manner. But why have the power of a nuclear reactor and never use it for more than a run to the local shops?
Around town in stop-start peak hour traffic; the 8-speed box can become disorientated. In a succession of stumbling up shifts, it valiantly tries to quell any indulgent and unnecessary rpm splurges to delude you into thinking you’re getting some level of fuel economy, which could be described as abominable at best.
Get out of the city limits and the Trackhawk begins to breathe a little easier. Ease onto the throttle and the once indecisive 8-speed reveals its potential with smooth well-matched upshifts exploiting the Hell Cat’s seductive 868Nm torque curve.
For more fun, select sports mode and the suspension reaction, steering response and transmission shift times adjust for a more engaging drive.
Through a succession of winding bends, short straights, descents and climbs, the Trackhawk unleashed its playful side.
What began to impress was the relative ease with which the Trackhawk could move briskly through the corners with surprisingly well-balanced body control given its hefty kerb weight of 2,400kg. It’s got a well sorted suspension setup with long arm short arm configuration up front and multilink rear end, coils all round and Bilstein’s impressive Adaptive Dampening Suspension (ADS) system.
The Pirelli 295/45ZR’s wrapped around 20” rims offered impressive levels of grip.
Push harder and the Trackhawk continues to respond with a level of on-road dynamics that confirms a significant depth of engineering underpins this road-registered ballistic missile. This vehicle is so much more than a straight-line predator. It contradicts the accepted engineering philosophy of what defines a good performance sports car. To be fast and nimble, you need to be light and low—but the Trackhawk is tall and heavy.
It didn’t take long before I realised I wasn’t testing the Trackhawk as much as it was testing me.
Nail the perfect line through a series of sweeping bends, hit the apex on the last exit and release the Kraken!
As the deep growl of the exhaust ignites into an explosive roar, the Trackhawk exerts a monumental force onto the ground to increase the rotational speed of the planet momentarily. Acceleration is redefined by the Trackhawk’s ability to pick a point in the distance and instantly transport itself to there.
If that’s not enough, if you can get access to a track, you can experience the Trackhawk’s ability to thrill on smooth fast surfaces. On the road, track mode is too harsh and aggressive to be enjoyable.
But then I began to stare at the launch button on the console with dubious apprehension. Finding a straight stretch of lonely road with maximum legal road speed, offered the safest environment to experience this vehicle’s pièce de résistance.
The process is ridiculously easy. Slide the sculptured gear lever back to engage the driveline, select the launch mode button, and set the rpm for launch via a setup menu on the main screen; 2000rpm is more than enough. Ensure your steering wheel is straight, and that you’re in drive with your foot planted firmly on the brake enough to achieve 1,400psi (there’s a brake pressure display in the main instrument cluster).
Release the brake and punch the pedal to free this harnessed velociraptor; you’ll unleash the Trackhawk’s monster torque curve in an unyielding, eye-widening, butt-clenching delivery all the way to 6,200rpm.
As the Hell Cat strikes like an angry tiger snake, the acceleration is explosive.
There’s a small opportunity to draw breath before peak power carries the tacho needle to the red line and up shifts, firing the Trackhawk forward in a visceral sling shot launch from standstill to 100kph in a blistering 3.7s.
I couldn’t help but pity the driveline, accepting the barbarous torture inflicted by unleashing that much power in one almighty surge. But fear not; the eight-speed torque-flight auto monitors engine torque, longitudinal and lateral acceleration, grade changes, both throttle-induced kickdowns and heavy breaking downshifts.
The transfer case runs large, forged steel sprockets and a wider chain for durability. A strengthened rear tail-shaft and driveshafts send the torque to those massive 20” rims via beefed up 8-ball CVs rather than the standard 6-ball configuration. Jeep installed a new four-point mount system to hold the rear differential in place. Even the geometry on the crown wheel and pinion has been altered, presumably to reduce the propensity for the pinion to exit the differential.
I can now appreciate what early pioneers experienced when testing the effects of jet propulsion on the human body in rocket powered sleds bolted to rails!
You don’t so much sink into your seat as you get hit from behind.
Whilst your internal organs slowly resume their normal position and your senses try to process what just happened, it’s impossible not to smile and do it again.
The Trackhawk will find your limits, well before you reach its boundaries. Without an autobahn, you’ll need a racetrack to appreciate the long legs of the Trackhawk’s top speed of 289km/h—but you’ll get to maximum road speed satisfyingly fast every time. With such slippery performance on tap, it’s far too easy for the speedo to creep north of permitted road speeds unless cruise control is engaged.
Given how much fun it was on the road; we didn’t tackle much more than a nicely graded gravel road. But the Trackhawk does run Jeep’s Quadra Track system with that significantly beefed-up transfer case to handle the huge power output. It also has an E-LSD at the rear capable of transferring 100% of the available torque to a single wheel.
No, it doesn’t have Jeep’s Quadra lift for ground clearance or low range for additional torque multiplication in challenging off-road conditions. It’s definitely more AWD than 4WD.
Engaging the Select Track rotary command dial changes the distribution of power from front to rear. Auto mode is set and forget for any condition applying a 40/60 torque split biased to the rear; Sport mode has a 35/60 bias, and track mode provides a 30/70 split. Snow mode equally proportions engine power in a 50/50 split front to rear.
Tow mode reduces the engine’s aggression; handy given 700hp on tap, as you might otherwise pull the A-frame clean out of your camper.
The Trackhawk’s outlandish on road behaviour is matched by a larger-than-life interior with lashings of rich red leather and red seat belts.
Front seating is superb, with enough bolstering to be supportive, not restrictive.
Rear passengers get good leg and head room, but their comfort is a lower priority.
The embossed Trackhawk name and flat-bottomed steering wheel signify this is something special. Carbon fibre inlays across the dash and doors edged in black chrome further the performance theme.
The tacho takes centre stage in the instrument cluster with the speedometer relegated to the side.
A signature hallmark of a performance vehicle.
Plus, the centre display provides performance info like lap times, 0-100 sprints, all manner of monitoring gauges, engine performance (boost, power and torque) and the ability to customise the vehicle’s setup to your own taste.
After the wow factor of the bold interior fades, a critical eye would conclude that the tactile and aesthetic appeal of the switch gear and interior fixtures fall a little short of the refinement and luxury of prestige European marques.
But the Trackhawk makes no apology for being bold, brash and in your face. Its roar and snarl could be described as anti-social, but this vehicle is all about performance. It’s a testament to the American muscle car tradition—brute force and straight-line speed. But Jeep has begun to bend the laws of physics producing a tall, heavy vehicle that stops, steers and handles beyond what I had thought possible.
The Trackhawk won’t suit those deluded by the social status of brand names. Is it expensive for a Jeep? Hell yes. But if you want value for money; it gives you one of the fastest family-friendly four-door wagons on the planet that will eat Euro’s elite for breakfast. Which might make it a screaming bargain!
The simple truth is you’re unlikely to take the Trackhawk onto anything more than a well-graded track to a winery. And that’s fine… just as the Trailhawk is for off-road adventure, the Trackhawk aims to dominate on-road performance.
If that doesn’t provide Jeep fans with the greatest breadth of capability and options between road and trail, then I don’t know what does.
The question is, not who would want to drive one… but who wouldn’t?
About our Motoring Editor: Ray has been passionate about all things automotive since he first started collecting Matchbox and Hot Wheels models when he was five. Since leaving his executive role at General Motors (GM), he’s been sharing his driving experiences with Australian audiences for nearly 20 years, commencing his automotive journalist career with a popular WA-based magazine and was writing his own column in The West Australian for 8 years.
Ray’s strong love of automotive engineering and clever design has seen his articles and photography featured in prominent national magazines in Australia and the UK. He loves sharing his passion with other drivers, including via a long running stint as Senior Instructor for Land Rover Experience, providing training and education for new vehicle owners.
Recently Ray has been presenting on TV shows including Ready for Adventure and the very popular Caravan and Camping WA, to showcase some of the great products, vehicles and companies that make getting out and exploring Western Australia that much more enjoyable.