Built for the Track
Typically, when we plan to test drive a brand-new Jeep, we expect plenty of mud, rocks and rough terrain to tackle — a press drive course designed to show off the impressive capabilities of the legendary Jeep brand. But this new Jeep is designed to tackle a different terrain — the racetrack.
World’s Fastest SUV
Imagine, if you will, a sport-utility vehicle with room for five, plenty of cargo space, proper ground clearance and a sophisticated 4-wheel drive system. Now give that SUV a supercharged HEMI V8 engine, a top speed of 180 mph and the ability to sprint to 60 mph quicker than the Chevrolet Corvette or Ford Shelby GT 500 Mustang and you have the all-new Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk.
Quicker than a Hellcat
Not only is the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk the highest-powered production vehicle to wear the Jeep logo, the Trackhawk is the most powerful, fastest and one of the quickest SUVs in the world. With 707 horsepower on tap and the traction of full-time all-wheel drive, the Trackhawk is also quicker than its equally-powerful Hellcat cousins —Dodge’s Challenger and Charger.
We Want One
We had the opportunity to fully experience the capability of this muscle Jeep both on the road as well as on the track, and came away not only impressed, but wishing we had one in our driveway.
The Trackhawk resides at the top of the Jeep lineup — not only boasting the most power, but also claiming the highest price. In fact, this is the most expensive production vehicle that Jeep has ever produced.
The base price of the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is $85,900. Although not inexpensive, the Trackhawk comes fully loaded with Nappa leather and suede front seats that are powered, heated and cooled; heated rear seats; a heated steering wheel; a 506-watt Alpine audio system with nine speakers and subwoofer; and an 8.4-inch touchscreen display.
Standout From the Crowd
Also standard equipment for the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk are bi-xenon HID headlights, LED running lights, quad exhaust pipes, performance-tuned suspension, a power liftgate, yellow brake calipers and 20-inch forged aluminum wheels. The black grille, body-color fascias and liftgate spoiler further differentiate the Trackhawk from an everyday Grand Cherokee.
Trackhawk also gets all the most advanced safety features as standard equipment, including blind-spot monitoring, full-speed forward collision warning with crash mitigation, rear cross-path detection, lane-departure warning, trailer-sway control and electronic stability control. Adaptive cruise control with full stop is also standard.
The Grand Cherokee Trackhawk also is available with a Blu-ray entertainment system, a high-performance 825-watt Harmon Kardon audio system, Laguna leather trim and a trailer towing package. A fully loaded Trackhawk will top out around $100,000.
Although we wouldn’t call the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk a luxury SUV, it is nicely appointed inside. The voluminous leather seats are very comfortable, even after spending several hours in them, and the stitching in the seats and dash give the Jeep a subtle upscale feel.
The Uconnect interface is one of the best on the market, presenting a clear, easy-to-read screen that is intuitive. It can be a bit distracting though — not due to confusion, but because there ares so many cool screens to look at — mainly the Performance Pages. These screens can show acceleration times, G forces, horsepower and torque figures — fascinating to monitor.
Rear-seat occupants have a decent amount of legroom and unlike many 5-passenger crossovers, the middle rear position is actually usable by an adult. Two USB ports and a standard 110-volt outlet are located in the rear-seat area so passengers can keep their gadgets powered.
Cargo space is voluminous with plenty of square footage for luggage, golf clubs or other gear that needs to be hauled. Bright scuff plates make it easier to slide items along the floor, and there are eight tiedowns to keep cargo secure. Rear seats can be folded to create a rather large, flat cargo floor.
Under the Hood
We can talk all day about the great features on the Trackhawk, but the main reason for buying a vehicle such as this is what lurks under the hood. Motivation comes from a 6.2-liter supercharged HEMI V8 engine that produces 707 horsepower and 645 lb-ft of torque. All Trackhawks are equipped with an 8-speed automatic transmission with adaptive electronic control and steering-column-mounted paddle shifters.
Power gets directed to all four wheels via Jeep’s Quadra-Trac on-demand 4WD system that features an electronic limited-slip rear differential and a single-speed active transfer case. In normal conditions, 60 percent of the power is directed to the rear wheels. Components such as the active transfer case and rear driveshaft have been strengthened to handle the massive torque generated by the big V8 engine.
Performance figures are impressive on their own — especially for a Grand Cherokee. Jeep says the Trackhawk will reach 60 mph in a mere 3.5 seconds (we actually posted faster times), can cover a quarter mile in 11.6 seconds at a speed of 116 mph, and has a top speed documented at 180 mph. The 5,300-pound Jeep can also stop from 60 mph in 114 feet.
A selector in the center console allows the driver to choose from one of five modes: Auto, Sport, Track, Tow and Snow. These modes adjust the 4-wheel drive system, transmission shift times, suspension and power steering.
Set Up for Performance
Sport mode reduces shift times by 50 percent, tightens the suspension and steering, and the 4-wheel-drive system directs 65 percent of power to the rear wheels. Track mode drops shift times to 160 milliseconds, suspension is set to its firmest setting, while steering, stability control and 4-wheel drive are optimized for maximum track performance.
One way the Trackhawk differentiates itself from a typical high-performance sports car is in towing. When properly equipped, this high-performance Jeep will tow up to 7,200 pounds. Setting the mode to Tow aids in this endeavor by altering torque for smoother acceleration, while the suspension gets automatically adjusted to handle pitch and yaw often associated with towing. The 4-wheel-drive system directs more power to the front wheels for better stability.
Proper Ground Clearance
The Trackhawk has ground clearance around 8 inches, so handling a little snow wouldn’t be a problem — assuming the driver has opted for all-season or winter tires. Snow mode sets a torque split of 50/50 between the front and rear axles, while horsepower gets reduced. Personally, we can’t think of many ways to have more fun in the snow than with a 700-horsepower Jeep.
On the Road / Track
We spent a day with the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, on public roads as well as on track — certainly the makings of a good day when driving a 700-plus horsepower Jeep.
Easy to Drive Slowly
The most impressive aspect of this high-powered Jeep: sometimes drivers will forget the Trackhawk has incredible power. With a smooth ride and a surprisingly quiet cabin, drivers will find it easy to turn up the high-end sound system and simply cruise. Our test Jeep had ultrasoft Laguna leather trim, which made the big bucket seats extremely comfortable. But when Trackhawk drivers approach slower-moving vehicles they simply must pass, its raison d’etre returns rather quickly.
Easy to Drive Fast
Full throttle in the Trackhawk results in a glorious mix of supercharger whine and throaty V8 growl, and immediately occupants get pinned to their seatbacks as the Jeep quickly puts lesser vehicles in its rearview mirror. But as quickly as this Jeep becomes a monster, it can revert into a comfortable cruiser — a bit of automotive Jekyll and Hyde.
The Trackhawk is not a small vehicle — weighing in at a touch over 5,300 pounds, it has a lot of mass to move around. But with sport suspension, Pirelli P-Zero tires and full-time all-wheel drive, this big Jeep offers impressive grip. And with all that power on tap, the Trackhawk is simply a blast to drive when the roads get twisty. Even on a long, straight road — one blast of the throttle immediately alleviates any boredom.
Heading to the Track
Lucky Trackhawk drivers cannot really experience the full capabilities of this monster Jeep until it goes off public roads — so that’s what we did. Jeep took us to a new facility called Club Motorsports in Tamworth, New Hampshire, where attending auto writers had the opportunity to take full advantage of those 707 horses without fear of offending the local constabulary.
Earning Its Name
On a track the Trackhawk clearly earns its name. The course in New Hampshire has considerable elevation changes, but climbing hills barely slows this Jeep thanks to so much available power. The gargantuan slotted Brembo brakes with 6-piston calipers at the front, 4-piston at the rear, easily slowed the heavy Jeep with complete predictability and stability. And with excellent traction and power going to all four wheels, the Trackhawk can take full advantage of its massive power as it scoots out of corners with ease.
The Trackhawk isn’t only great on a track — it has another trick up its sleeve to have fun at a dragstrip: launch control. Trackhawk allows launch rpm to be preset. Then a press of the Launch Control button in the center console, a push of the brake pedal to the floor with the left foot, a push of the throttle to the floor with the right foot sets things up for fun. Then let go of the brake and hold on. We performed this sprint multiple times (it’s so much fun, we could have done it all day), and each time the readout displayed 60 mph in a mere 3.4 seconds.
VIDEO: Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk Launch Control
Right for You?
Many driving enthusiasts suffered the loss of trading in their favorite performance cars for an SUV or crossover to handle the everyday tasks of hauling people and things. With the new Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, there’s no reason to make that tradeoff. With plenty of cargo room, a comfortable high-end interior to keep the passengers happy, and full-time four-wheel drive for when the weather turns foul, the Grand Cherokee certainly checks all the right boxes. And with 707 horsepower on tap and fun tricks such as launch control, the Trackhawk puts a big check in the performance box. For those who want it all, the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is the most likely candidate to fit the bill.
Pros: Outstanding performance; easy everyday use; Uconnect system.
Cons: Expensive; Fuel thirsty; not meant for off-roading.
Bottom Line: A perfect combination of extreme performance with everyday utility.