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Driving the 707-horsepower Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

Cherokee Trackhawk News

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As if a 475-horsepower SUV wasn't enough, why make a 707-horsepower beast? Because Jeep can and has in the 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk.

Using parts from SRT, the performance division of parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles who brought to market the Hellcat performance line, the Trackhawk is more than just popping a Hellcat engine into the Grand Cherokee SRT.

Trackhawk looks like the Grand Cherokee SRT except for additional air intakes replacing the fog lights, quad exhaust tips, yellow brake calipers and a titanium "Supercharged" badge on the door.

The supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 engine is tuned to "meet the refinement requirements of a Grand Cherokee customer," said chief engineer Joe Kubina. It's quiet enough for your grandmother to tool around in and not realize what obscene power lurks beneath.

Not long ago, it would have been unthinkable to have 700 horsepower and the compliant manners of a regular Grand Cherokee. That changes with a stomp of the pedal.

We clocked a 3.5-second zero-to-60 run using Launch Control. Stand on the brake, mash the throttle to the floor, let go and take off with the engine already revved up. Be sure to take a deep breath first - this is supercar territory.

Many racetracks prohibit trucks and SUVs, but with Track in the name, this Grand Cherokee is right at home around the new Club Motorsports track in Tamworth, N.H. Selecting the Track setting quickens the shifts, with a hair-raising report on each gear change. For a taller vehicle weighing in at a substantial 5,300 pounds, Trackhawk had no tendency to lean over in turns thanks to track mode automatically firming up the suspension. It is appropriately fitted with massive brakes specifically developed for it. Going into corners too fast resulted in the mass making the front wheels push, so the remedy was to go deeper and to brake harder earlier, taking entry a notch slower and catapulting out. With great grip, it was never too soon to start applying power on a corner exit.

Jeep designers and engineers resisted the temptation to make this halo model look different for the sake of being different. Jeep Brand director Scott Tallon explained there were other moves that could have increased performance while sacrificing the luxury-leaning ride and aesthetic qualities of the Grand Cherokee. "We didn't do a hood scoop because it didn't make it go faster," he said. "Everything is purpose-built. ... We didn't want to lower it 2 inches or take out any sound deadening."

Among the five drive mode selections, Snow mode cuts horsepower and splits torque between front and rear axles to maximize traction. With the optional trailer-tow group, the Trackhawk can pull 7,200 pounds; selecting Tow Mode modifies torque delivery and sets the suspension to counter pitch and yaw.

While a 17-mpg highway rating may not sound great in the big picture, the Trackhawk did deliver an indicated 17.7 mpg over a 50-mile run on back roads and secondary highways at legal speeds. "Everyone thinks we're not paying attention to efficiency," said Erich Heuschele, motorsports engineering manager for SRT. "The original Grand Cherokee SRT in 2006 with the 6.1 (-liter V-8 engine) got 17 mpg with 300 less horsepower."

Dodge Hellcats are surprisingly civilized for all the power on tap (as long as you don't turn off stability control.) Add in the all-wheel drive traction, the leather-lined luxury, a measure of SUV practicality, and the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is an absurdly compelling package. Its advent may have the unintended consequence of rendering the Grand Cherokee SRT obsolete. It costs $20,000 more than the SRT, but now claiming the title of quickest and fastest SUV, Trackhawk is a relative bargain compared with other performance SUVs.

Read more on Chicago Tribune.
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