What is this?
It might not give many visual cues – the non-functional quad-tipped exhausts and new wheel design being the only non-verbal hints – that this Grand Cherokee is packing some serious extra heat. On first read you could easily mistake this as the regular 392-engined SRT Jeep. But the giveaway when you look a little closer is right there, writ large on each of the front doors. This is no normal Jeep GC. This one is supercharged.
Which in the US FCA family today means it’s fitted with the company’s 707bhp 6.2-litre V8 monster engine, as first fitted in the Hellcat Charger and Challenger. And then most recently, with some trick upgrades and another 133bhp, in the Demon. Which in anyone’s language means it’s fast. Really, really fast.
Try a 180mph unlimited top speed allied to a 3.3-second 0-60mph time – we know, we did it several times, just to be sure. That makes it quicker to 60mph than most cars with exotic names. No, it’s not as fast as the Tesla in Ludicrous mode. And, no, it’s not as fast as the Nissan GT-R. But, this is a Jeep SUV weighing 2,433kg which can tow 3,266kg and can travel incognito right up until the point you simply disappear at the lights.
But it can’t handle, can it?
Not like a sports car, no. The extra 100lb+ weight of the big engine is right up there at the front, helping to induce understeer. So you’d be forgiven for thinking that it pushes like a bulldozer through every corner. And it does if you just try to get it through the corner on steering alone. The trick, which SRT’s engineers - all avid racers - will tell you is you have to steer with the throttle.
A Jeep you steer on the throttle?
As unlikely as it may seem, they have designed and built in a level of lift-off oversteer in Track mode that gets the big rig rotated and into the corner more easily than you could imagine. Line it up, lift off until the nose is pointing at the corner exit, then pound the throttle, unleash all those horses and it rushes through the corner like a scalded bull elephant. Hilarious.
What about that 0-60mph time. Easy to achieve?
Yes, very. Couldn’t be simpler. Just press the launch control button, squash the brake pedal, then the throttle, sidestep the brake and BOOM! You are off the line in a haze of 1.4g acceleration, tyre squeal and supercharger roar. Then, if you followed those instructions, just 3.4 seconds or less – our best time was 3.3 seconds – you will sweep past 60mph and whatever car was stupid enough to challenge you to a race.
How reliable is that going to be? Can’t last long, surely?
The system was tested by doing over 150 consecutive launches on three different types of tyre – all season, sport compound and slicks. It didn’t break then and it gave us zero sign that it wasn’t as happy as we were to keep doing it until its petrol ran out.
How does it manage that reliably?
The Trackhawk’s real secret is that the Jeep guys didn’t scrimp on beefing up the drivetrain when they installed the Hellcat motor up front. Every single component downstream of it, other than the bits which couldn’t be changed for packaging reasons, has been given super strength. They couldn’t find metals strong enough in the automotive field, so they used aeronautical stuff instead. Reassuringly expensive aeronautical stuff.
What’s it like on the road?
Just like every other Grand Cherokee, just with a newly explosive Jekyll and Hyde character. It will cruise quietly, the engine sound melting into the breeze, but stab the throttle to pass a truck – or just because you feel like it – and it drops several gears before positively exploding into life with that trademark Hellcat bellow. It might be a little quieter here than in the other Hellcat equipped cars, but there is, we are told, an easily removed resonator which quickly will restore any lost voice…
They have designed and built in a level of lift-off oversteer in Track mode that gets the big rig rotated and into the corner more easily than you could imagine
Handling wise, the standard 392 SRT GC is sweeter and lighter on its toes. No question. The extra weight up front gives the Trackhawk more of a deliberate, slightly slower battleship feel than its lower-powered sibling. But it’s not anything extreme. Plus you can always counteract any directional delay with a blast on the accelerator.
Anything else I should know?
The only other remarkable thing is that it does all of this without any sacrifice in any other area of the car. It is still the practical workhorse you expect a Jeep Grand Cherokee to be, complete with five seats, a yawning rear load area and all the flexibility you want. Plus, as I mentioned above, it can tow over 7,200lb. So it’s very fast, but it’s still just as practical and rational as ever.
So should I buy one?
The Trackhawk was designed and built to beat the best super SUVs in the world. The development benchmarks included the Porsche Cayenne Turbo and SVR Range Rover Sport. Fair to say it’s crushed that brief. It doesn’t just out accelerate them and walk past them on top end, it also manages to have a great sense of humour and theatre about the way it does everything. So, yes, you should if you can. The Hellcat engine turned the Charger and Challenger from contenders into winners. And now it’s done the same for the Grand Cherokee. Starting at $85k we shouldn’t call it a bargain. But it is. And a hilarious one at that.