Likeable Larrikin - Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

 

Some reigns at the top are short lived, but the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk held on to its title of the world’s most powerful SUV for a couple of years.

Words: Kyle Cassidy   |   Photos Tom Gasnier
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Even the Europeans couldn’t dethrone it but it has recently been usurped. And by a member of its own family, as is so often the case with power struggles. The US-only Dodge Durango SRT has been given the Hellcat treatment too, and its version of the 6.2-litre supercharged V8 makes 710hp, besting the Jeep by three measly horses.

But a herd totalling 707 is still nothing to be sniffed at, and the Trackhawk remains one mother of a weapon. A couple of years after we first encountered it, the GC Trackhawk is still an adrenaline-filled SUV experience that’s quite unlike any other.

We did intend to line up a competitor for the Trackhawk when it was offered to us but, alas, there are few competitors about and we couldn’t get a date to align. However, we’ve driven some fast and furious SUVs lately, so we can make a few comparisons along the way. We drove the AMG GLC 63 S last month, and while the German is the more dynamic machine thanks to its lesser weight and dimensions, the Trackhawk still has the power to excite.

And would you believe this big brash American does the everyday stuff in superior comfort and refinement? The transmission is smoother, the low speed progress more polished, the turning circle better. So is the round-town ride, with less road noise too.

It’s a big dance partner, but willing, and engaging in a way you simply don’t expect.

We really shouldn’t like the Grand Cherokee for it’s a grandaddy of a vehicle, the platform dating back years. The architecture shows its age with bits like the foot-operated park brake but the top Jeep still presents well in the cabin, with leather and quality plastics in the right places, while the infotainment system is up to task. The seats are more cosseting than those of its competitors, more accepting of a larger frame within their cuddly bolsters.

That said, the Trackhawk is all about the engine and its mammoth power. SRT has designed this to deliver strongly, always. In the Auto (street) mode, a gentle nudge of the gas pedal is accompanied by a downshift to ensure the drivetrain delivers more thrust than is strictly necessary. There is torque everywhere with this V8, and every throttle input gets the charger whining and the surge starts spewing out.


Front seat passengers are intrigued by the launch button on the console, attracted by the drag strip christmas tree illustration. This primes everything for the hastiest of getaways. You hold the Trackhawk back on the brake as best you can as you floor the gas and then it lets rip, the front treads clawing at the tarmac as it reels back on its haunches and roars forward. The gear changes are appropriately savage quick.

Even without the launch antics, it’s furiously fast off the mark. In Sport, the adaptive Bilsteins stiffen, the steering sharpens up, the active AWD system reserves more power for the rear wheels and the ESC enters a more playful mode. This hulking machine turns remarkably well, the steering responsive and the grip up front impressive. We kinda like that the Trackhawk isn’t nannied by a mass of active dynamic helpers. Things like the SQ7 and GLE 53 with active roll control, tricky torque vectoring and RWS are impressive but ultimately tamed. This is more visceral, wilder, scarier.

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With so much power, some throttle finesse is required, particularly on the corner exit; you can’t be too enthusiastic but pick your moment and this blasts off the bends. The transitioning weight requires some careful management, especially under brakes where the rear can get a bit loose under hard applications. It’s a big dance partner, but willing, and engaging in a way you simply don’t expect. The Hellcat revs eagerly, but is well done by 6000rpm. However, with such a broad spread of torque, the top end is not often needed. It sounds thunderous too. And the ZF eight speed has it all well processed, quick and snappy on the shifts, both up and down the ratios, without any need for the paddles.

Fuel use is as expected; horrendous. It gets into the 20s without having to try, and will always be in the mid- to high-teens even for everyday usage. At $169,990 it’s quite a wedge for a Jeep, but undercuts its like-sized Euro rivals by a wide margin. It’s not hard to like, as long as you’re not a Green party member.

The Stats

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Model Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk  Price $169,990

Engine 6166cc, V8, SC/EFI, 527kW/875Nm

Transmission 8-speed auto, all-wheel drive

Vitals 3.78sec 0-100km/h, 16.8L/100km, 385g/km, 2464kg

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