You know you’re living in unusual times when a Porsche and a Jeep can rightfully be considered competitors. Yet here we are in late 2019, a year where Porsche’s first crossover is well into its third generation and Jeep builds a Grand Cherokee with a 707-horsepower engine. Porsches for off-roading, Jeeps on the track; it’s pure Bizarro World logic.
Indeed, the Jeep’s outlandish specs are so wild, they might well distract you from the fact that the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, as the Hellcat-powered SRT-tuned performance Jeep is formally known, is the most expensive Jeep in the brand’s history. Its base price of around $87,000 is a full $55,000 more than the most affordable Grand Cherokee you can buy new, four times the price of the cheapest Compass you can snatch up at a Jeep dealership, and, adjusted for inflation, 6.8 times the price of that first Willys MA that began rolling off production lines back in 1941. And that $87K MSRP is, of course, just the starting price. Our test Trackhawk came in at $99,470, thanks to add-ons like the “Signature Leather Wrapped Interior Package” and a panoramic sunroof that comes with what Jeep calls a “suede-like premium headliner.”
The Porsche Cayenne S, meanwhile, came $101,660 with all its options and the destination fee, thanks to an options list that was surprisingly spare for a new Porker. (Go buckwild, and you can add a full $100,000 in options onto this car’s $84K base price.) The biggest chunk came in the form of a Premium Package that added handy features like “Comfort Access” key-in-pocket entry, LED headlights, power seats, blind-spot warning and a Bose stereo; a leather interior and heated steering wheel gussied up the inside a bit, while rear axle steering, an adaptive suspension, summer tires and the Sport Chrono package added a dash more performance.
So with both of these performance-minded SUVs wandering through our office around the same time, we wondered: Which one of them is more worth writing that $100,000 check for?
Don’t be alarmed if you can’t tell the third-generation Cayenne from its predecessor at a glance, especially from one of the forward angles. It’s largely identical, hewing to the previous version’s face with a consistency that makes successive 911 generations look like a sea change. Which is a little unfortunate, in all honesty; the carmaker has done its damndest to try and make the familiar Porsche design language work on a lifted two-box shape of this size, but the front end still looks exaggerated and awkward in a way the lesser Macan doesn’t. The stern view, at least, is more cohesive — a stylish, if generic, collection of familiar Porsche curves and shapes.
The Jeep, however, is a handsome thing, if awfully familiar-looking for a car with a six-figure price tag. Indeed, apart from a thin strip of an air intake front and center on its schnozz, it’s identical to the Grand Cherokee SRT, which cranks out a “mere” 485 horses from a naturally-aspirated 6.4-liter V8. That’s a good thing. In spite of its age (it went on sale in 2010), the Grand Cherokee is one of the best-looking SUVs on sale, and the flared fenders, mighty wheels and exaggerated front fascia of the SRT/Trackhawk only add machismo to the appearance.
As has become common with Fiat Chrysler vehicles these days, the Jeep’s infotainment system is a delight of usability. It’s simple and effective, with large physical knobs and buttons augmenting the touchscreen, which in turn uses graphics and fonts so big and clear, the display seems like it was laid out by the same folks who designed the Jitterbug. Considering it’s designed to be used while controlling two-plus tons of steel holding you and your loved ones at 75-plus miles per hour, that’s very much a good thing.
The rest of the interior, however, is a bit of a letdown. It’s largely identical to the rest of the Grand Cherokee lineup — which is to say, fine for a $50,000 car, but not worthy of one selling at twice that, even with the $5K leather upgrade. Indeed, that cowskin looks kinda cheap; my test car’s interior already looked a good year or two old with just 2,800 miles on the odometer.
The two-box body style helps make this the most sensible Hellcat; entry and egress are easier than the Charger, let alone the Challenger. Indeed, the interior is every bit as usable and functional as any GC; I used it to help my mom move, folding the back seats down easily with the convenient lever near the floor that flips and folds the seat in one motion. (Nobody does second-row seats like FCA). 36.3 cubic feet aft of the second row is enough for most lesser loads, and nearly 10 cubes more than the Cayenne.
The Porsche, however, looks every bit worth that bougie price inside. The 12-inch widescreen touchscreen infotainment system is the same found in the Panamera and other new Porkers, delivering the same deep menus and crystal-clear graphics as in all of them, and just as handy here as in every other car wearing the Zuffenhausen shield. Same goes for the twin screens on either side of the centrally-mounted-as-always analog tachometer, which shuffle through high-res menus with the smoothness and speed of a card shark. Indeed, the whole interior is put together with a degree of fit and finish that could make FCA’s designers weep; the layouts and materials all project luxury in a manner both subtle yet commanding.
Still, it’s not without flaws. All the haptic feedback Germany can summon isn’t enough to make up for the fact that the Cayenne‘s expansive pane of glass with touch-sensitive “buttons” in the center console is a poor substitute for the (admittedly numerous) hard buttons of the previous version. The back seat feels a half-size smaller than the Jeep’s, while the wide transmission tunnel saps front legroom from the tall. And whoever approved the volume knob — a tiny rolling drum awkwardly mounted behind the gearshift — needs to spend some time in medical school to learn how the joints of the human hand work.
Not surprisingly, the Porsche is a far better-handling vehicle than the Mopar machine. The Jeep sticks to the pavement well enough, but it never feels like it’s enjoying itself as it digs through turns. It still drives like a Jeep; the steering is numb, uncommunicative, and sloppy, though going to Sport or Track mode takes some of the slack out of it. The Cayenne S, on the other hand, drives like a Porsche should — or at least, a Porsche that’s this tall should. The steering is great; sure, it’s electrically assisted, but it’s taut, responsive and quick. Likewise the suspension; it’s compliant and comfortable, but lob it into a turn, and the S feels willing in a way most luxury crossovers aren’t. You won’t find many SUVs quite as skilled at darting through traffic, or comfortable on a winding back road.
The Jeep will outrun the Porsche in a straight line, however. (Which is a sentence I never would have thought I’d write.) Car and Driver‘s testing found the Trackhawk will dash from 0 to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds and crack off a quarter-mile in 12 seconds flat while doing 115 mph at the end of that distance. Yet thanks to a combination of that mass, the all-wheel-drive system and the early-onset power of its supercharged V8, the Jeep never feels explosively quick; rather, it simply feels supremely confident, gaining speed with the invincibility of a Saturn V until well past 100 mph, at which point drag starts to claw its acceleration back towards mortal levels.
The Porsche feels almost lethargic when left to its default settings; the gearbox snaps to the tallest gear possible in the name of efficiency, leaving the 2.9-liter V6 to lope along at speeds too low for its twin turbos to contribute much to the party. Snap the steering wheel-mounted drive mode controller (reason alone to buy the Sport Chrono package, which is the only way to get it) to Sport mode, though, and the snails start to come alive, with the meat of the powerband never more than a quick shift away. Dial it one step further to Sport Plus, and the eight-speed automatic holds the rpms even higher, keeping it wound as tight as a racing driver would. (The car also lowers visibly in that mode, to help it carve corners more aggressively.)
Should you rather not drive around with the engine turning 4,000-plus rpm, the Sport Response button situated in the middle of the drive mode wheel is your friend for passing. Instead of leaving you worried about turbo or transmission lag, punch it with your right hand as you flick the signal with the left by the time you’re in the left lane, you’ll be right in the heart of the power band, with no worries about waiting for the engine and gearbox to sort things out of their own accord.
As an aside: you can opt for an off-road package on the Cayenne, an option not available for the Trackhawk — which means, theoretically and bizarrely, the Porsche is superior to the Jeep off-road. Neither of these is likely to spend much time off the beaten path, except for the occasional bounce down a couple hundred yards of two-track to a hiking trail or fishing spot. Still…again, strange times we live in.
Neither vehicle is really what you’d describe as a great bargain — not at these prices. Still, when you consider that they offer performance comparable to honest-to-God sports cars (the Trackhawk outruns the outgoing Corvette, while the Cayenne S is only a few ticks behind GM’s speed machine), the interior volume of a medium-sized station wagon and the ability to climb over rocks that would murder regular cars.
The Jeep does admittedly suffer at the pump, especially on highway slogs. You can’t fight drag; the faster you go, the more the fuel economy suffers in a brick-like car such as this. I saw an average of just over 16 mpg over about 800 miles, most of that on the highway. The Porsche is solidly better, netting an EPA rating of 23 mpg on the highway versus the Trackhawk’s claim of 17; that may not sound like much, but it works out to 35% better than the Grand Cherokee. To use the EPA’s numbers, you’ll spend an extra $6,000 over five years on gas if you choose the Jeep.
Still, the Jeep does have its value advantages over the Porsche. It’s liable to be cheaper to keep up and fix up over the years, for one thing. And let’s face it: Only one of these has the potential to be a Bring a Trailer special in 20 years, and it ain’t the one from Germany.
The Grand Cherokee Trackhawk comes across as sort of the ultimate 21st Century version of the muscle car recipe: a popular family car, outfitted with the biggest, baddest engine possible. The Porsche, on the flip side, feels more well-rounded, like 2019 America’s version of the E39-generation BMW 540i station wagon: a Germanic two-box designed to balance performance and practicality in equal measure.
In the end, were it my hundred grand to spend on a midsize SUV that was fun to drive…I’d take the Porsche. But it’d be a close call — which says an awful lot about the appeal of this 707-hp Jeep.
2019 Porsche Cayenne S: Key Specs
Powertrain: 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6; eight-speed automatic; all-wheel-drive
Torque: 406 lb-ft
Cargo Volume (second row folded flat): 60.3 cubic feet
Approach / Breakover / Departure Angles: 25.2° / 18.7° / 22.1°
2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk: Key Specs
Powertrain: 6.2-liter supercharged V8; eight-speed automatic; all-wheel-drive
Torque: 645 lb-ft
Cargo Volume (second row folded flat): 68.3 cubic feet
Approach / Breakover / Departure Angles: 18° / 18.4° / 23.1°
Porsche and Jeep provided these products for review.
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