Nurburgring lap time, the current automotive performance scale, are mostly attempted by hot-hatches, coupes and sometime beefed-up sedans. You don’t expect an SUV to be able to tackle corners and accelerate enough to justify tracking it. Enter the 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. It’s got “track” in its name, so you know it means business. We love the Grand Cherokee SRT with its good share of power, but when it comes to craziness, the Trackhawk takes the lead.
In all fairness, hearing “707 hp” and “SUV” in the same sentence is reason enough for anyone to throw squinted looks on your direction. However, here we have it; the most powerful SUV in America (so far). Using a slightly modified version of the supercharged Hellcat V8, Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk makes a bold impression with its size, aggressive styling and especially its intimidating power.
It’s almost a sleeper
There is not much at first glance that would hint towards a supercar-like power. The exterior design of the 2018 Jeep Trackhawk is quite similar to the SRT we’ve seen around since last year.
The Trackhawk’s 6-piston yellow Brembo calipers are one of the more obvious tells that it isn’t your “average” Jeep. After all, you need adequate stopping power to match the herd sitting beneath the hood. The calipers clamp dual-sided disks for improved deceleration and heat dissipation. This powerful 5,000+ lb. SUV needs all the stopping power it can get and it certainly delivers.
Unlike the SRT, fog lights have been replaced with grilles routing air to an oil cooler on the passenger side and a cold-air intake on the driver’s side. A redesigned fascia and new headlight design are present as well. As you move towards the side of the Jeep, your eyes may catch the “Trackhawk” badge carefully placed near the lower right side of the lift gate, although only enthusiasts are going to be able to know how special that badge really is. There’s also a subtle “Supercharged” lettering fixed right under the Grand Cherokee plaque on the front doors.
As you finally reach the rear of the SUV, the revised bumper lip shelters quad exhausts which are somewhat modest in size. There’s a really good reason for that, and we will get to that shortly.
Starting price for the 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk rests just $5 shy of $87,000 but you can easily pump up the price into the 6-digit realm by adding a considerable number of extras. For example, you may opt for $5,000 leather interior with the “Trackhawk” logo inserted on the front seats, an upgraded audio system with Blu-ray reader and a huge panoramic roof that stretches over 2 panes. For a Jeep this price point is stratospheric, although you need to think of this beyond the badge. This vehicle buys you an experience, bragging rights and memories.
The optional forged aluminum wheels dressed in Pirelli P-Zero tires shave off a few pounds from the overall vehicle weight. Standard rims are 20” Titanium finished with run-flat Pirelli Scorpion Verde.
On the inside, everything looks and feels beefed up (size-wise) almost as if you need a bulkier steering wheel or a bigger dashboard to match (or cope with) the supercharged Hellcat V8. On the other hand, there’s generous coverage of quality leather on the seats and over the dashboard, accentuated well with carbon fiber trim pieces. Even though the steering wheel is noticeably larger that most SUVs, its flat design allows an easy grip over the shift paddles.
While the center-mounted screen offers the standard features found on other FCA vehicles (navigation, infotainment, climate control), there’s the extra “Performance” module. Even though it takes a while to access it (looks frozen for a good 10-seconds), you get plenty of dynamic performance data fed from the plethora of sensors placed around the wheels, suspension, engine and chassis.
Boost those rookie numbers!
The 707hp supercharged HEMI found beneath the hood of the 2018 Trackhawk soothes the pain of enthusiasts whom 10 years ago were afraid of turbocharged inline-4’s on their luxury SUVs. Even though it drops about 252 cubic inches compared to the Charger Hellcat, Trackhawk’s engine retains the magic 707hp number and drops about 5 lb-ft in torque.
As you might expect, chances were the standard SRT drivetrain would at least grunt against the engine input figures or perhaps even exceed its engineering safety limits. In conclusion, upgrades were needed. Just like with the cabin design, the whole power delivering route was beefed up to meet the demand. The engine block is constructed of cast iron while the forged steel crankshaft is featured with a damper designed to withstand 13,000 rpm. You know, just in case you get a leg cramp and smash the throttle.
Since we’re discussing boost, it would be such a shame not to mention the beautifully crafted and tuned 2.38 liter IHI supercharger that’s always eager force-feed air into the cylinders.
A grownup that still has it
Unlike the other two Hellcats (Challenger and Charger), who enjoy a dramatic smoke soaked burnout before launching forward with all their teen spirit, the Trackhawk behaves like an adult. After all, it’s not just a fast 2-seater but a luxury SUV that is required to deliver comfort and safety.
Once seated, you will notice how large the seats actually are. The bolsters hug you in place well, but not too much. The seats are adorned with rich leather looks as good as it feels. As it should at this price point.
Don’t look for a keyhole to place the (rather hefty) standard FCA key. Just keep it in your pocket or throw inside the armrest near the Blu-ray player. Press the start button and the SUV burbles to life. There are some exhaust notes coming from the quad pipe but it almost feels like a wet blanket was thrown over them. Does this mean this Hellcat beast has been muzzled? No. It still comes to life, just without as much drama as its Hellcat coupe and sedan cousins do.
Plenty of noise and vibration reduction work was done by Jeep engineers in order to heighten the comfort level of the 2018 Trackhawk: fine-tuned cams, dampeners, a Helmholtz resonator built within the induction system to minimize supercharger whine and optimized quad exhaust.
Fortunately, all pampering is specifically designed for regular driving through the city and cruising on the highway. What happens when you actually dig into the throttle reveals a completely different world, the one almost everyone expected the experience with a HEMI engine.
This is what you do to fully experience the raw power of the 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. Start the engine, then switch to from Comfort to Track mode and engage launch control. Position your left foot on the brake pedal and press with a comfortable amount of force, then increase the amount by 50%. You’ll need a strong left foot to keep the wheels from spinning before you actually want them to. Next up, plant your right foot onto the throttle until it doesn’t go any further and just a fraction of a second later dump the brake.
Once you’ve realized that you may need a change of pants, your senses stabilize from the mind bending 1.4g acceleration you’ve experienced. You’re going to feel one of two things. Validation in your purchase or, if on a test drive (without the salesperson), clarity that you’re going to own this car today.
The reason why the Trackhawk is able to achieve such impressive acceleration is in part thanks to a new, shortened single-speed transfer case and a limited-split differential attached to the rear axle. Trackhawk’s Torque Reserve system also carries its weight in generating instant power. The way it works is by allowing the engine to create boost even when the car is stationary. To generate standstill boost, Torque Reserve adjusts spark timing and deactivates some cylinders – ensuring the engine won’t rev-up so hard that it will out-power the brakes.
A 2.7-ton vehicle goes from nothing to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds, stops the quarter mile timer at 11.6 seconds then comes back from 60 to a standstill in roughly 114 feet. The Trackhawk doesn’t break the laws of physics but it is definitely flirting at the boundary of what’s Newtonian.
Flies on tarmac, doesn’t mind the mud
Onto the track, the main concern of Jeep engineers was to make sure the 2018 Jeep Trackhawk keeps its balance. That is probably why the center of gravity is one inch lower than the SRT and the suspension features lower spring rates. The Track mode makes the gearbox shift up to 68% faster and further tightens the suspension. Even though suspension tuning is spotless and Pirelli tires do an amazing job sticking to the road, inertia forces generated by the 2.7-ton overall mass still take their toll on handling.
Nevertheless, the Trackhawk flies competently through the track. Nothing compares to a 707hp V8 making even the steepest inclines feel flat when you apply enough throttle. The sound of the quad exhaust enchants your ears and boosts your confidence. Track driving a monster like this is something you need to experience in order to fully comprehend how great it is.
Just because it goes really fast on the track, doesn’t mean the Trackhawk can’t cope with uneven terrain, wet grass and mud. The Quadra-Trac on-demand 4-wheel drive system and 7,200 pounds towing capacity make a veritable partner when lifting dirt off of the country roads.
It’s unlikely too many customers actually asked for a Grand Cherokee on steroids. On the other hand, no enthusiast will mind its insane power rating. More importantly, they are certain to celebrate the Trackhawk’s near sport car like track day prowess.
The 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is docile enough to safely transport your kids to school and offers enough space to seat 5 adults, and fit a suitcase for each passenger plus a golden retriever. In the trunk. Mileage is not something Jeep could proudly print in a large font, unless you’re counting it as smiles per gallon instead of miles per gallon.