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Trackhawk: Driving one of Mopar’s greatest—ever

by Patrick Rall on

The 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is one of the most anticipated vehicles in the modern era of American high performance. After spending a day driving a few of them around Maine and New Hampshire, I can say that this Hellcat Hemi-powered SUV is everything that we had all hoped it would be.

Jeep has created a 707 horsepower SUV with all of the comfort and on-road function of any other Grand Cherokee, but packing more power than any other sport utility vehicle in the world. The Trackhawk is one of the greatest performance vehicles in the storied history of the Mopar world.

The Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat and Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat raised the bar for the American performance car market, packing more power than any other American production road cars, ever. They hold current records in their respective segments for top speed, quarter mile times, 0-60 times, and engine power, but due to the traction limitations, achieving the record-setting performance numbers takes a fair amount of driving skill.

On the other hand, the 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk takes that supercharged 6.2L Hemi with 707 horsepower and 645 lb-ft of torque (5 less than the Dodge cars due to greater restriction in the exhaust manifolds) and affixes it to a high performance all-wheel drive system, allowing you to make use of all of that power without the traction issues.

With the Hellcat cars, if you put it in track mode, slightly preload the torque convertor and mash the throttle, you don’t get a hard launch…you get a massive smoke show. With the stock tires, the Hellcat cars can’t get near wide open throttle if the driver wants to maintain any sort of traction, but with the Trackhawk, you can floor the throttle from a stop and while the tires might spin a touch – the heavy duty all-wheel drive system grips the ground and away you go.

And when I say away you go…I mean away you go. Jeep claims that the Trackhawk will dash from 0-60 miles per hour in 3.5 seconds, but during testing, I found that to be more of an average number. Even with a passenger, a full tank of gas and the air condition running on an 80 degree day, I was able to get down to a 3.4 after running several 3.5s. I have also seen reports of some people at the media drive getting down to 3.3, and I believe it. On those runs, we used the Launch Control system, which includes the supercharged Jeep’s Torque Reserve system and is far better than the Launch Control system in the Hellcat cars.

Thanks to the all wheel drive, the Trackhawk is able to make use of much more power much more quickly, so when coupled with the Torque Reserve system, this Jeep launches at a much higher torque output level than the Challenger or Charger. The weight transfer nearly pulls the front wheels off of the ground and there is still a touch of wheelspin, but time after time, the Launch Control setup got my test Jeep to 60 in 3.5 seconds or less. On those runs, the Trackhawk was pulling 1.3-1.4 Gs, which is likely the greatest acceleration force that most people will ever experience from a road going vehicle.

Numbers aside, the feeling of launching the 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is truly breathtaking. As you might imagine, pulling 1.3+ Gs in a 5,000+ pound SUV is incredible, but when you add in the unique grumble of the supercharged Hemi when Torque Reserve kicks in along with the roar of the exhaust at wide open throttle – there is nothing in the world that offers the driving experience of this new Jeep. Really, the only vehicles in which I have felt the same incredible level of acceleration forces were the new Dodge Demon, a modified Nissan GTR, and a few Global Rallycross cars.

I am certain that we will see plenty of 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawks at the drag strip – or just winning drag races on the open road – but this supercharged SUV isn’t just a straight line missile.

To see how well the Jeep Trackhawk performs on every level, our road drive (which we will get to later in this review) took us to Club Motorsports, a 2.5-mile road course in Tamworth, New Hampshire. In addition to 15 turns of varying difficulty, Club Motorsports has some extreme elevation changes during the course of a lap, giving us a chance to feel how well this 5,000lb SUV climbs a hill at high speed and how well it got slowed down after barreling down a steep hill at 100+ miles per hour.

We know that few 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk owners will be racing at their local road course, but our time at Club Motorsports showed how well this two-and-a-half ton handles a curvy race track with lots of elevation changes. The steep uphill grades will be a struggle for many vehicles, especially large ones, but the blown Hemi roars up the hills with ease while the AWD prevents (most) wheelspin. The steep downhill portions allowed us to experience how well the massive Brembo brakes will get this 5,000lb+ SUV down from high speed; these big brakes slowed these heavy performance machines time after time for the better part of three hours, and braking performance at the end of the session was just as impressive as it was at the beginning.

The other key aspect of testing the 2018 Jeep Trackhawk on a road course was how well it handled, and while it is still a big, 5,000 pound SUV, it sticks to the corners surprisingly well. With the Drive Mode set to Track, the adjustable electronic dampers shift to their most aggressive settings, making for a stiffer ride and sharper handling. Body roll is practically non-existent even when blasting into a tight turn at high speed and with the advanced, heavy duty AWD system, the 707hp Jeep will accelerate through a sweeping turn like a low-slung performance car.

Granted, the impressive road course-carving capabilities of the Trackhawk are difficult to experience on your average daily drive, but the fact that it will handle the rigors of a high speed road course with severe elevation changes means that it will handle the twisty roads by your house without a problem. More importantly, while the Track setting might be a little stiff in terms of ride quality, switching to either Sport or Auto softens the ride a great deal, but it does so without killing the cornering abilities. The softer damper settings might reduce high speed grip in the corners, but even in the least aggressive settings, the Trackhawk hugs the road like few other SUVs in the world – all while being smooth and comfortable enough for the daily drive to work.

Although we spent the better part of four hours – four glorious hours – at Club Motorsports with the 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, we also spent a few hours making our way from the hotel in Portland, Maine to the track in New Hampshire and back. Along the way, we drove on crowded, multilane highways, narrow backcountry roads that were barely two lanes wide and everything in between. During the portions of our drive which included lots of traffic, we left the Drive Mode in Auto and enjoyed the comfortable ride, seated in the plush leather seats with the cooling feature turned on as the premium sound system provided the tunes.

Although the Trackhawk is loud when you rev the engine or accelerate hard, when driving around in traffic, the supercharged Hemi is surprisingly quiet – likely too quiet for some buyers. Inside of the cabin, the exhaust under gentle driving conditions is quiet enough that you will have no problem talking to the rear passengers or talking on the phone. Then again, when you put the accelerator pedal to the floor, the exhaust roars much more loudly and more aggressively than any SUV and most performance cars which I have tested.

In short, the 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk uses 707 horsepower and a high tech Torque Reserve system to dash to 60 in the mid-to-low 3-second range, but when being driven like any other Grand Cherokee, it is just as comfortable as any other Grand Cherokee. In fact, with the SRT models receiving the longest list of interior features, the Trackhawk is the most well-appointed Jeep – making it the best performing and the most luxurious Jeep ever.

Finally, while the least important aspect of the 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is likely fuel economy numbers, ours were good enough to highlight. The EPA rated the Trackhawk at 13 mpg around town and 19 mpg highway (15 mpg combined), but on our road drive, which covered more than a hundred miles of country roads and highways alike, we averaged just under 18 mpg. Even with some spirited romps, the number only dropped as low as 17.1, but the bottom line is that like the Hellcat cars, the Hellcat Jeep will almost certainly offered better fuel economy than the EPA expects.

Last, but most certainly not least, the 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk will tow 7,200 pounds with the optional towing package. We did not do any trailer testing, but the supercharged Jeep achieved that rating under the SAE J2807 standards, so this Jeep will tow a pretty good sized trailer. My 1972 Dodge Demon 340 in its enclosed trailer weighs less than 7,000 pounds, combined, so the 707 horsepower Jeep could easily pull my Demon in the trailer and when we got to the track, the Trackhawk would beat my classic Mopar muscle car to the finish line.

So, now we come to the least pleasant aspect of the 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk – the pricing. With destination, the Trackhawk starts right around $86,000, but when loaded up with items like the gorgeous glass roof, the lightweight performance wheels, the premium interior spread and the other various bells and buzzers, the price rises up around the $100,000 mark. For many people, that seems like an incredible amount of money, but we have to look at the fact that the Trackhawk offers greater performance than some of the world’s top sports cars, a premium luxury interior to rival the high end European SUVs with room for five people, the ability to pull a 7,200 pound trailer and, most importantly, the Trackhawk can be driven year round in any weather conditions.

While some Mopar traditionalists will scoff at my calling the 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk one of Mopar’s greatest performance vehicles of all time before a single one has reached the hands of an owner, we need to keep in mind that there is no other vehicle in the world which combines all of the features of the Trackhawk into one vehicle. It is the highest performance SUV in the world while offering all of the functionality of the award winning Grand Cherokee, but if that isn’t impressive enough for you, the Hellcat Hemi-powered Jeep will also outrun many of the world’s greatest performance cars.

The Trackhawk offers performance which would be stunning in a sports car, but in packing this performance into a larger SUV, Jeep has created a vehicle which will forever be a big part of Chrysler’s high performance history.

2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

Patrick Rall was raised a Mopar boy, spending years racing a Dodge Mirada while working his way through college. After spending a few years post-college in the tax accounting field, Patrick made the jump to the world of journalism and his work has been published in magazines and websites around the world.

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