Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk: World's fastest SUV track tested
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Two gaping air vents on the bonnet and the absence of front LED driving lights are the first signals that this Grand Cherokee 4x4 is far from normal.
Both changes are not mere cosmetic features — they’re fully functional made in the pursuit of outright performance, channelling more air in and out of the engine bay of the world’s most powerful SUV – the new Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk.
While the Trailhawk is billed as Jeep’s go anywhere Grand Cherokee, the Trackhawk has been conceived to embarrass its European sports SUV competition on track and at the drag strip.
But don’t write off this 2.4 tonne SUV as a gimmick, because the Trackhawk is the most highly engineered Grand Cherokee Jeep has put into production.
While other fast SUVs such as the Porsche Cayenne, Maserati Levante, Audi SQ7 or soon-to-land Lamborghini Urus rely on turbochargers for headline performance, Jeep has kept the Trackhawk’s recipe in tune with classic American muscle cars.
Powering Jeep’s halo SUV is the same 6.2-litre supercharged Hemi V8 used in the Dodge Hellcat sold Stateside.
Despite the supercharger, the engine is still a vastly different unit to that found in the naturally aspirated SRT. The Trackhawk V8 features water jackets between the cylinders for better cooling, a crankshaft strong enough to deal with firing pressures of 1600psi (that’s the equivalent of four sedans sitting on each piston) and aluminium-alloy cylinder heads with sodium-cooled exhaust valves.
The updated internals mean the Trackhawk’s V8 is capable of producing a supercar-shaming 522kW of power and 862Nm of torque as the supercharger inhales up to 500 litres of air every second.
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To deal with the added performance, the Trackhawk features a heavily revised eight-speed automatic transmission with stronger components and improved shift times of up to 160 milliseconds in its track setting.
Mud and Snow drive modes have been replaced with Launch Control in Jeep’s Quadra-Trac four-wheel drive system, configuring the engine, transmission, driveline, steering and suspension for maximum effect.
With a stronger driveshaft and differential, the Trackhawk can comfortably accelerate from 0-100km/h in 3.7 seconds and has a top speed of 289km/h.
Jeep engineers say the Trackhawk’s launch control and drivetrain was stress-tested with more than 2000 repeat launches during testing without failure.
If that’s not quick enough, the Selec-Track performance system found in the 8.4-inch touchscreen display allows you to select the ideal launch rpm for the condition, and on-track at Phillip Island in Melbourne, I saw 0-100 times as low as 3.3 seconds. The system has five pre-configured drive modes that control how much torque goes to each wheel. In Auto, the Trackhawk uses a 40/60, front/rear split. Tow mode moves torque forward with a 60/40 split and adjusts suspension to control yaw, and there’s a Snow move which splits torque evenly front-to-rear.
But it’s in Sport and Track mode where the Trackhawk comes into its own.
Sport mode speeds up shift times and Track mode will make the transmission even quicker as well as sending more power to the rear with a 30/70 split.
Track mode also firms up the independent front and rear coil spring suspension and Bilstein adaptive dampers. Sitting on bespoke 20-inch Pirelli P Zero tyres (there’s an all-season version available, too) and the largest brakes fitted to a Jeep, the Trackhawk lives up to its name on a closed circuit.
Ex-V8 Supercar driver Karl Reindler was my driving instructor for the Trackhawk’s launch at the fast and flowing Phillip Island race track where, as a testament to the SUVs durability, I was free to exploit as much of the Trackhawk’s performance as I dared.
With Reindler leading the way in a naturally aspirated SRT Grand Cherokee, the step up in performance to the supercharged Trackhawk became evident as soon as we left pit lane.
The Trackhawk’s four-wheel drive system kept the SUV on-line onto the front straight with ease, and as the corner opened you could apply full throttle before catching up to the seasoned racing driver leading the way.
Only half throttle was needed by the time you crossed the finish line in tow.
Braking at the 100m board at turn one, the Trackhawk allows you to lean on the front end with complete confidence as the 295 section tyres provided ample grip under load and in the braking zone.
The 2.4-tone did feel tall in long, double apex corners, so to deploy full throttle required the perfect line and patience upon corner exit to avoid understeer.
Jeep admits that the Trackhawk is a completely over-the-top performance SUV, but in a market where you can now spend over $300,000 on a track-capable high-rider, it does represent bang for buck. The Trackhawk is priced from $169,990 with an array of safety kit and technology fitted as standard.
Will an outlandish SUV with an average fuel economy of 16.8-litres/100km sell? Well, it already has.
Half of New Zealand’s 70-unit allocation for 2018 is already accounted for.