You would almost be forgiven for forgetting the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk’s launch earlier this year at the New York Auto Show. Its unveiling to the world was eclipsed by FCA’s relentless hyping of the Dodge Challenger Demon. And you can’t really blame them, either. Now that the Viper is gone, the Demon is Dodge, Chrysler, Ram and Jeeps’s halo car, drawing in the speed-loving masses to dealerships across the land to gawk at its reason-defying existence. But they’ll drive home in a Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk.
Because while on the surface the Trackhawk seems like a drunken bet — “Yo bro, bet you can’t fit a Hellcat engine in a Jeep!” — it is but a logical conclusion to the times we live in. SUVs made up sixty-three percent of all auto sales last year, and Jeep, the crown jewel of FCA, is one of the most recognizable auto brands in the world. Factor in the increasing ubiquity of speed and the growing relevance of the performance SUV, and you might actually wonder why it took so long for Jeep to cram that Hellcat engine under the Grand Cherokee’s hood.
The Trackhawk is a paradox of affordability and excessive expense. It starts at $85,900 which is a hell of a lot of money for a Jeep, but its competition — the BMW X5 M, Porsche Cayenne Turbo and Range Rover Sport SVR — start at well beyond $100,000. I’ll cede that the Trackhawk’s interior isn’t exactly on par with BMW, Porsche or Land Rover, but the Trackhawk handily surpasses those SUVs in terms of brute power and straight-line speed. Using launch control — yes, launch control in a Jeep — you can hit 60 mph from a standstill in 3.5 seconds.
There is no pretense of off-roading here, and in fact a Jeep spokesperson advised against it. The knob that normally controls the Select-Terrain system in your typical Jeep is gone — and its, settings like “snow,” “rock” and “mud” have been replaced by a selector knob with modes like “sport,” “track,” and “tow” (about 7,200 pounds, by the way).
You’d need to approach a track experience with a dose of reality and self-preservation in mind. As an instructor so succinctly put it: “You still have the laws of physics to contend with.” Turn-in is sharp, and the Jeep grips well enough. Body roll under hard cornering is still there, though Jeep did a commendable job in mitigating it, and the Trackhawk comes with absolutely massive Brembo brakes at the corners for effective stopping power. There are some performance cars that truly inspire confidence in their drivers, but the Jeep isn’t really one of them. That said, those cars aren’t also 707 horsepower SUVs.
Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk SpecsEngine: 6.2-liter supercharged Hemi V8
Transmission: eight-speed auto
Torque: 645 lb-ft
0-60: 3.5 seconds
Top Speed: 180 mph
But will the finer points of car control matter to the average Trackhawk owner? I’m not entirely sure. Straight line speed is, hands down, the best thing about it. The sensation of riding high in a machine that weighs over 5,300 pounds, while subjecting yourself to that acceleration, is, for lack of a better word, surreal. Shifts are met with disturbingly loud, explosive backfires and, while Jeep tried to muffle the sound of the supercharger’s whine for a more refined driving experience, you will absolutely still hear the supercharger whine.
When you’re not driving like an idiot, things get relatively calm. If you’re easy on the throttle, it accelerates like a slightly-quicker-than-normal SUV, and the supercharger whine becomes more subdued. Gas mileage is…not great. Another journalist and I managed to get just a bit under 17 MPG on one stint of our drive; when we told a Jeep spokesperson, he seemed impressed, if not a little surprised.
But this is to be expected, and if you were on board with the idea of a Hellcat-engined Jeep from the get-go, then I promise you won’t be disappointed. I’ve found myself in a place of cognitive dissonance. The Trackhawk is a poster child for conspicuous consumption. You’ll only enjoy it if you’re driving unnecessarily fast.
How prescient it feels, to me, that the very same day I drove the Trackhawk, Evo’s Richard Meaden wrote, “It’s a shame that our relationship with the performance car industry has become that of junkies and pushers…where’s the sense in making it easier and easier to go faster and faster, when the point at which any of these cars could be exploited on the public road was passed decades ago?” Well said.
Then again, there seems to be a closing window on this sort of thing. Will there be another 6.2-liter, supercharged Jeep in ten years? Probably not. The automotive landscape is changing. I’d be lying if I said the Trackhawk is hilariously good in its own malevolent way. Might as well enjoy it while we have it.
Jeep hosted us in Portland, Maine to experience the Cherokee Trackhawk on-road and on the track.