2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk first drive: Hellcat haulerAug 30th, 2017
How do you get a 5,363-pound Jeep Grand Cherokee to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds? It’s all in the details.
It, of course, starts with the engine. The 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, the monstrous, steroid-riddled on-road big brother to the Cherokee Trailhawk, sources all 707 hp and 645 lb-ft of torque from the pushrod-operated 6.2-liter supercharged Hellcat motor. But that’s only the first step, and a simple one at that. That will get you to 60 mph in a hurry…once.
The Trackhawk also has a new, more robust version of FCA’s TorqueFlite eight-speed automatic transmission with stronger everything, a strengthened rear drive shaft, a tougher single-speed transfer case with a wider chain, a four-pinion differential with bigger teeth and either Pirelli Scorpion or three-season Pirelli P-Zero tires. That gets you to 60 mph in a hurry at least a few times with nothing breaking.
SRT models — all SRTs — go through extra punishment during development testing, according to engineers. That includes 50 consecutive launches on street tires. Following that they do 50 consecutive launches on drag radials, which puts a lot more stress on the driveline. Finally, engineers race the cars for 24 hours over three days. That’s eight successive hours a day, only stopping for gas and brake pads. Jeep told us the Trackhawk did it on one set of discs, by the way.
That’s what gets you to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds all day long, all week, all year, reliably.
The torque split is variable. Launch control locks the power at 50/50 front to rear, but in auto mode it rests at 40/60. Tow mode sends more power to the front and track mode sends 70 percent backwards.
During launch control — selectable in the central screen or via a console button –- a new “torque reserve” system positions the supercharger bypass valve to generate boost and minimize manifold filling time while also cutting fuel to individual cylinders and managing spark timing, all so you can get that 3.5-second time. That’s supercar territory.
And after all of that, you’ll probably need to slow this beast down, unless you’re on an airstrip somewhere racing German supersleds. Six-piston Brembos clamp down on 15.75-inch front and four-pots grab 13.78-inch rears. Those fronts are the biggest ever fitted to a Jeep and bigger than both the Charger and Challenger Hellcat. We put them to good use at Club Motorsports, a nearly finished new country club track in New Hampshire.
An independent front suspension uses mostly aluminum parts to save weight along with a hollow stabilizer bar and Bilstein dampers. A multilink rear with coil springs does the same. For those really looking to save weight, the optional matte black wheels save 3 pounds a corner and cost $995.
If you want to spot the big-boy Grand Cherokee Trackhawk on the road you need to look for a few things: The Trackhawk doesn’t have fog lights, which gives it more space for airflow (the 14,600-rpm 2.3-liter supercharger sucks in 1,000 cubic feet of air per minute and makes 11.6 psi of boost). The standard Grand Cherokee grille is a little shorter top to bottom, and there are three new oblong vents beneath. It has dual exhaust tips at each corner in the rear as opposed to one big one on each side like the unblown SRT version. And finally, yellow calipers. That’s the one you don’t want to race.
Hopping in to the slick, optional red leather two-tone interior, everything looks sportier than the average Grand Cherokee. The seats have cool, racy-looking stitch patterns with prominent bolstering, the dash features carbon fiber and metal weave and the pillars and roof are covered with Alcantara. The problem is that it’s all a façade. Rap your knuckles on the suede-look A-pillar and the telltale tap-tap of plastic comes back through. Same with the leather-wrapped and contrasting-stitched dash. Tap-tap. It looks good though, if busy. The perforated-suede standard seats look great too, both are heated and cooled.
The Trackhawk doesn’t start up snarling like the Hellcats. It’s subdued. At least as subdued as a 707-hp controlled-explosion air pump can be. The leather steering wheel is thick, only narrowing where your hands fall at 9 and 3, and there’s enough seat adjustment for anyone between a horse jockey and an NBA center.
Taking off in auto mode, one of five (auto, sport, track, snow and tow), the Trackhawk saunters off strongly but smoothly without any neck snapping jerks, or the split-second pauses of a turbo motor. It’s quieter than expected when cruising with zero exhaust drone to speak of. Less supercharger whine than the Hellcats too. There’s a tad bit of wind noise, but it’s low enough that even Ira Glass’s dulcet tones would cover it up.
There’s only one exhaust mode, so in auto the whole package stays pretty tame. But move it to sport or track on the street and the gauge needles move quicker, shifts come more often and the bark gets louder. Leaving a snack stop at full throttle, the Trackhawk shows its true Hellcat colors.
Using the small, wheel-mounted paddle shifters, changes from the eight-speed come quickly. Redline is low at 6,200 rpm and power, as expected, feels endless.
Like other SRTs, the Trackhawk has a separate “performance pages” display in the central screen to adjust the drive modes, as well as customize them. Sport makes the steering, suspension, throttle and shifting more aggressive and track mode goes even further.
The new Jeep isn’t overly stiff in auto. This is 100 percent a daily-driving car. Auto is probably a step stiffer than the standard Grand Cherokee, sport is another step up from that, followed by track. Body control is good on city streets — there isn’t a bunch of lift on takeoff, unless you really mash the throttle. Rough roads are felt with a little more bounciness than expected from the driver’s seat, but the Pirellis aren’t low-profile enough to bang up any kidneys or damage rims.
But 5,363 pounds is still a lot of mass. And one can only bend physics for so long. The 2.5-mile, 15-turn Club Motorsports track with 250 feet of elevation works out some of those equations.
The straightaway masks all that mass. On the throttle, this SUV gets up to speed comically fast. It doesn’t feel big at that point, physically. Emotionally though, your brain is thinking “this is probably too fast for a car this big, should I brake now…maybe now? At some point the fear threshold in your brain takes over and your right foot goes for the clampers. And that’s when it starts to feel big.
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The first few sessions I alternate from too much brake input, causing some antilock, to too little, which requires more steering and a mid-corner stab. A few times on trail braking the back end of the Trackhawk threatens to come all the way around, but the stability control kicks in — even in track mode — and keeps me out of any real trouble. Normally it understeers, which is to be expected in something this big.
There isn’t a ton of lean in corners, but you can feel that moment of inertia when the body is about to move, and you’ll want to keep inputs as even as possible. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. Smooth is also safe, in this case.
But what the Trackhawk really relishes is the chance to climb one of the several serious uphill corners at Club Motorsport. That’s when all 707 horses and 645 foot-pounds combine to shoot you toward the sky, at least until those braking cones come up again. Just don’t jerk the wheel and brake (in fact, there’s really no time you should ever jerk the wheel and brake).
After the track session, SRT setup a launch control demo where I got to feel the full power of a perfect 5,363-pound launch.
First off, it’s not as violent as you would expect, or as violent as some other launch-control systems. Once the mode is set to launch, the driver pins the brake, pins the throttle to the floor and then sidesteps the brake when the light goes green. The back-end hunkers down about six inches while the front first rises up, then planes out as the vehicle crosses 40, 50 and 60 mph. At that point, in track mode with the throttle pinned, the Trackhawk finally gets loud.
The 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk starts at $86,995, including destination. That feels like a lot, even though the basic SRT version starts at $68K. But, one must think about the super SUVs that the Trackhawk competes with: Range Rover SVR, BMW X5M, the G-Wagen and the Cayenne Turbo S. Those all start north of six figures. Granted, optioned up with the good wheels ($995), upgraded audio ($1,995), rear seat DVD players ($1,995), trailer tow group ($995), “signature leather wrapped interior” ($4,995) and panoramic sunroof ($2,095) our Trackhawk crested $100,000 too. But that’s the maximum. The Jeep’s interior is well-done, stylistically, but it’s definitely not up to the level of the Euro competitors. There’s your tradeoff.
The Trackhawk is both a family car and a hot rod. Cruising around at normal speeds, in the auto driving mode, it’s no more difficult to handle than the base Grand Cherokee. When needed, say if you have an open runway in front of you with a life-saving cure at the other end, it’ll do 60 in 3.5 up to 180 mph, as many times as necessary. It’s two cars in one. Of course, you could always buy a well-equipped regular Grand Cherokee and have $40-some-K to play around with at the car auction. But, if you only have ONE spot in your garage, the Trackhawk fills both niches perfectly.
Jake Lingeman – Jake Lingeman is Road Test Editor at Autoweek, reviewing cars, reporting on car news, car tech and the world at large.
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Base Price: $86,995
Drivetrain: 6.4-liter supercharged V8, AWD, eight-speed transmission
Output: 707 hp at 6,000 rpm, 645 lb-ft at 4,800 rpm
Curb Weight: 5,363 lb
0-60 MPH: 3.5 sec.
Fuel Economy: 11 city/17 highway(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)
Pros: You can beat Mustangs in an SUV
Cons: It’ll never be a real sports car; very thirsty