BRUTE FORCE

THERE’S NOTHING SUBTLE ABOUT THE PHYSICS-DEFYING, 522KW/868NM JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE TRACKHAWK

BY LOUIS CORDONY

EVEN HUNDRED horsepower – if it were an entry requirement for a nightclub, it’d fill with only the most exclusive, exotic, or exciting cars. Inside you’d find scenes like a Lamborghini Aventador SV screaming Italian into the ear of a Porsche 911 GT2 RS. You’d see a Tesla Model S P100D scrambling for a spare charge cord behind the bar or Ferrari’s 488 Pista would strut over from the dance floor, with melted tyre flicked around its wheel guards. Then a Jeep Grand Cherokee walks in. Suddenly, the music cuts and everybody stares.

A Jeep with 522kW. It’s a ridiculous idea, isn’t it? Anyone with a sane grasp of physics would lose their mind about injecting that much power into something with a roll-centre higher than a labrador. Yet that’s the brief for the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. And we’ve been awaiting its arrival Down Under.

Its bulbous nose shelters one of the world’s most unhinged engines. Created originally for the Challenger Hellcat, Dodge and Jeep’s SRT engineers took a Grand Cherokee SRT’s 6.4-litre Hemi V8 – itself bristling with 624Nm – and redesigned it from the oil-pan up. A forged steel crank was used to cut stroke measurements and displacement, then a 2.4-litre twin-screw blower was lowered into its vee.

Naturally, supercharging a V8 is going to unlock a lot of power. But 522kW and 868Nm? You can find Bentleys with more torque, or Ferraris with more power, but nothing currently on sale trumps the Trackhawk on both outputs. On top of being 48kW and 53Nm more than HSV or GM could wring from a LS9 in the GTSR W1, its brawn costs $135K, putting dictator levels of power in relative reach of the masses. And, hallelujah, it’s all blessed by Jeep with a factory warranty.

We’ve planned a blat into rural Victoria to feel the brunt of the Trackhawk’s power. Thumbing the start button, eight pistons fire into life with a gravelly snarl, like a lion that’s trod on a tack. Not much else gives away what lurks underneath.

Except as the Hemi throbs at traffic lights, gently rocking in its cradle, you’re quickly seduced into scanning traffic for gaps into which you can unleash hell.

You will always remember the first time you unshackle the Trackhawk’s 700 horses. Instead of apocalyptic wheel spin, the Trackhawk squats on its rear haunches like a startled grizzly, hauling forward as it begins to blur the scenery. The engine emits a deep burp as it consumes another gear and involuntary cackling erupts from anyone on board.

Accompanying its phenomenal acceleration is a demonic, anti-social noise. The rear pipes blast a throbbing blare under load and the supercharger’s high-pitched whine mixes in nicely. It might never reach the harmonies of eight cylinders with overhead cams, instead stirring on a menacing lower octave almost like a Merlin Spitfire engine.

It’s difficult to use full throttle on the road, and our VBOX data from a drag strip reveals why. Acceleration is, frankly, ridiculous. Jeep claims it generates more G-force during launch than most sports cars do in corners, which is not so far-fetched when you consider the Trackhawk squeezes 868Nm through one very strong all-wheel drive system.

The Trackhawk hits 100km/h in a claimed 3.7 seconds and you’ll need launch control to extract those brutal figures. It’s easy to use – provided you have the legs to stall the meaty torque converter with enough brake pressure – and when you let go, brace yourself. Our data says the Trackhawk can lunge forward with 1.2 times the force of gravity, gobbling up 60km/h in 1.65sec and 100km/h in 3.70sec.

You’d swear that SRT engineers built the drivetrain to withstand mine blasts, too, in how it can cop launch after launch, let alone a single one. With 2.43 tonnes being catapulted at the horizon, Jeep beefed up almost everything in the way of the Hellcat engine’s fury. From the transfer case back, things are bigger, uprated, or stronger.

Considering the Trackhawk is making 168Nm more than the base SRT’s transmission can handle, Jeep bolted in a new eight-speed torque converter with a 950Nm torque rating. It houses the same ratios as a V6 Grand Cherokee, but that’s no bad thing. The shortly stacked gears keep the engine breathing between its 4800rpm torque and 6000rpm power peaks.

As a result, the Trackhawk shifts into sixth gear just before 400m. By then it’s bludgeoning through the air at 188.14km/h and trips the beam in 11.8 seconds. That might seem unimpressive for something as powerful as a McLaren 720S, which can run low 10s, but any doubt surrounding the Jeep fades quickly in comparison to its rivals – it’s the quickest fullsize performance SUV we’ve tested by half a second.

On a roll the grunt still hits as hard as Thor’s flying hammer, blitzing the 80-120km/h test in 2.29 seconds. For reference, that’s faster than the original Jaguar F-Type V8 S. But this type of stuff is expected. After all, this is what Jeep calls a Trackhawk. And while it excels on ‘track’ (which Americans more often use to mean a ‘drag strip’) we’re more interested in finding out how the brand came up with the word ‘hawk’.

Something this big doesn’t remind anyone of a small, swift bird. Especially when the supercharger and extra cooling circuits add 100kg of flab. However, because Jeep demanded the Trackhawk survive sustained circuit laps in searing heat before signing off the project, it knew more than an impressive bench press was needed to pass track and field.

As a result it stiffened the springs coiled around newly tuned adaptive dampers and fitted reinforced Pirelli P Zeros. The brakes are also uprated to the size of flywheels. Bigger 400mm discs slice six-piston calipers up front and its electronic stability systems have been retuned. Amusingly, you can put your Trackhawk on a small diet, too, with optional 20-inch forged wheels that drop 5.5kg per corner.

Driving the Trackhawk through small, winding passages is like trying to ride a buffalo through a grass hedge maze. It feels claustrophobic, like its huge wheel tracks are spilling over road lines. Straights don’t allow more than short bursts of light throttle, and with so much power pushing its mass you know a mistake could carry seismic consequences. Progress becomes a game of managing its temper rather than poking its limits.

On wider, more flowing tarmac you can raise commitment, though patience is key. Keep things smooth, controlled, and its eagerness to hunker down on its huge 295mm wide tyres is surprising. Nail your trail braking and you won’t need bulging biceps to turn its nose. You might even feel its three metre long wheelbase pivot around an apex.

ON A ROLL THE GRUNT HITS AS HARD AS THOR’S FLYING HAMMER

The faster you go, the more vision you’ll need. With its centre of gravity so high, braking earlier helps settle its weight. The rear will jump around if you brake too late. And you’ll be thankful Jeep didn’t skimp on anything but Brembo’s biggest hardware. Our data shows the Trackhawk reels itself in from 100km/h in 37.9 metres.

Of course, being as aerodynamic as a parachute helps slow things down. Credit where it’s due, though, we’ve seen cars half its weight sail past that distance. We only wish Jeep firmed up the Trackhawk’s brake pedal and shortened its travel a little. With so much mass to hustle, you’d appreciate more control.

It’s the same story on the way out of a corner. You’ll need to feed in power slowly to keep the Trackhawk from lunging wide. The transfer case drills anywhere between 40 and 70 per cent to the rear depending which drive mode you’re in and the ZF-built electrically locking differential does a good job of pasting grunt to the ground. Only in tight corners on full throttle might you feel the rear axle wiggle. Perhaps wisely, the undefeatable ESP shuts down wheelspin straight away. Lurid four-wheel power oversteer? Not here.

Jeep’s HP95 transmission plays a fantastic partner to the Hellcat engine. Upshifts happen quick and crisp, even if they take longer than a sorted dual-clutch transmission’s, and it’ll gear down without fuss while cruising. It’s super intuitive in Drive, with mapping that some of the German brands wouldn’t turn a nose up at.

We’d take the Trackhawk to a circuit just to hear it cycled through gears. The noise while downshifting into a corner, as the supercharger vents a slither of boost and yelps into higher rpm, is magic.

Realistically, most owners will uncork that monstrous V8 only in short bursts for a few giggles, then lazily cruise to their destination. During calmer driving, those adaptive Bilsteins and chunky tyres smooth out roads, even if the ride’s on the firm side. The interior’s insulated enough to drown out the engine’s war cry with the windows up, while its plethora of creature comforts and adjustable driving position will pacify most fussy drivers.

Marking it down are those front pillars that seem thicker than bridge beams, they’re a hazard and often hide pedestrians. The foot brake can trap your left clog and Jeep should have further specialised the Trackhawk’s exterior. We’re not fans of its infotainment system, either. And the steering follows road cambers with a vagueness just off centre at highway speeds.

But rationality was never written into the Trackhawk’s script.

It is, after all, an off-road SUV that thinks it’s a sports car, which compromises it being excellent at either. Meanwhile its exceptional weight and grunt means it drinks a small nation’s worth of fuel, too. Our most behaved driving cycle yielded 470km from a 93 litre tank, at 19.7L per 100km, 80km short of Jeep’s quoted range for a combined cycle. And when you’re up it? Absolutely terrifying.

THE NOISE AS THE SUPERCHARGER YELPS TO HIGHER RPM IS MAGIC

In its defence, to focus on what the Trackhawk isn’t would entirely miss the point. It’s not the most refined SUV, but why should it be? At $134,900 it’s $60K cheaper than its European rivals and it’ll flog almost every one of them in a straight line. And there’s something about doing that in a Jeep that would feel so inherently right. Plus, we reckon the car’s powertrain would outlast civilisation at the Friday Night Drags.

But what’s most charming about the Trackhawk is it sidesteps monotony in a different way, by being excessive, brooding and intimidating. Sure, it would look out of place among sexy metal in our imaginary nightclub. However, it’s more like the big bouncer that welcomes you with a smile and could throw you out in an instant under one arm. Now we just need Jeep to convince Chrysler to cook up a 300 with a Hellcat engine to join the Trackhawk on the door.