WHEN looking at a list of ‘most powerful’ vehicles in Australia, Italian supercar-makers mostly have the top locked down thanks to the likes of the Ferrari 812 Superfast, Lamborghini Aventadaor S and Pagani Huayera Roadster.
The McLaren 720S also makes it , but it’s not a list you would expect to find a brand like Jeep, let alone with its full-sized Grand Cherokee SUV.
But, by shoehorning the Dodge Challenger Hellcat’s supercharged 6.2-litre Hemi V8 under the bonnet, Jeep’s Grand Cherokee Trackhawk cracks the top five comfortably with 522kW/868Nm on tap.
Jeep has also reworked the suspension, brakes and transmission to accommodate the monumental thrust on offer as well, but is that enough to keep the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk amongst such esteemed company?
If necessity is the mother of all invention, then it’s time to fess up – who actually needed a more hardcore Jeep Grand Cherokee to sit above the already manic SRT?
The SRT already delivers a mighty 344kW/624Nm from a naturally aspirated 6.4-litre petrol V8, what good can possibly come from wringing more performance from Jeep’s near 2.5-tonne Grand Cherokee large SUV?
Turns out, a whole lot actually.
Whoever convinced the boffins at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) to wedge a supercharged 6.2-litre Hemi V8 into Jeep’s Grand Cherokee needs to be applauded because the Trackhawk justifies its existence with the near-perfect blend of pace, practicality and presence – at least on a racetrack.
The powerplant is shared with the drag-strip-focused Dodge Charger and Challenger Hellcat variants, and in Aussie-spec Trackhawks, it produces 522kW of power at 6000rpm and 868Nm of torque at 4800rpm.
For those keeping score, that makes the Trackhawk the fifth most-powerful vehicle on sale in Australia, and this country’s beefiest SUV, even out-muscling the Lamborghini Urus, Bentley Bentayga and Jaguar F-Pace SVR.
Power is delivered to the tarmac via an eight-speed TorqueFlite automatic and Jeep’s Qaudra-Trac four-wheel-drive system (unlike the Dodge pair’s rear-drive set-up) for a zero to 100km/h time in a claimed 3.7 seconds.
We managed to consistently hit the landmark triple digits in 3.6s with a slight decline at Phillip Island’s circuit during the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk’s media introduction last week, thanks to an easy-to-use (and addictive) launch control system.
Hit the button next to the drive-mode selector, build up pressure in the brake pedal, floor the throttle, side-step the brakes, and strap in for acceleration that will shame most sportscars.
The exhaust system, as you would expect, is also an enjoyable aspect of the Trackhawk, helping the engine transmute petrol and air into thunderclaps and sheer noise.
Jerk the wheel though, and something mind-boggling happens – this large SUV actually turns!
Of course Jeep didn’t just shove a monster engine into the Grand Cherokee and call it a day, engineers have added Bilstein adaptive dampers all round, beefed up anti-roll bars and thrown on specially designed Pirelli 295/45 tyres to help when things get twisty.
And boy, does it boogie in the bends.
Around Phillip Island’s rhythmic sweeping turns and hairpins, there is ample feedback from the Trackhawk’s steering wheel to allow drivers to at least aim at the apexes.
We say aim because there is just no getting around the fact that the Trackhawk tips the scales at 2399kg, and while the engineers at Jeep have done a stand-out job at making the flagship Grand Cherokee agile, they’re still yet to crack that fundamental science known as ‘physics’.
As a result, the Trackhawk can punish inattentive or overly-confident drivers who get on the brakes too late or mash the throttle out of a turn too early, as the laws of inertia and momentum dictate.
The Trackhawk’s sheer mass maybe a negative to the corner lovers out there, but we actually found the never-fail mantra of ‘slow in, fast out’ the best approach to control the pitch and bodyroll, which actually made the flagship Grand Cherokee more rewarding when we got it right.
Will it ever be as quick and nimble around a circuit as a Porsche 911 or BMW M4? Obviously not, but the Trackhawk is certainly wholly satisfying and infinitely pleasing in a track setting, much to our delight and surprise.
And it is testament to Trackhawk’s sheer brute force when it can quickly close the gap to the Grand Cherokee SRT pace car down a straight at only half throttle.
With a top speed of 289km/h (we only saw about 230km/h at Phillip Island by the way), Jeep has had the forethought to equip the Trackhawk with 400mm and 350mm front and rear brake discs – the largest set yet to grace a production Jeep.
Six-piston Brembo callipers clamp down the ventilated discs at the front, while four-piston units work the rears, which enables a 100km/h-0 braking distance of just 37 metres.
Even after more than a few laps, the brake pedal still felt firm under foot and the stoppers continued to scrub speed excellently from the V8-powered behemoth.
Despite its strong performance credentials though, step inside the Trackhawk and you are still greeted by a well-appointed, fully featured interior that sports comfortable (if not overly supportive) leather bucket seats with heating and cooling functions, 8.4-inch Uconnect infotainment touchscreen, satellite navigation, digital radio and dual-zone climate control, as well as the gamut of safety technologies such as seven airbags, reversing camera, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning and adaptive cruise control.
In fact, aside from the Trackhawk badging on the steering wheel, central tachometer and variant-specific performance read-outs, Jeep’s top-spec Grand Cherokee feels just as comfy, and plasticky, as any other.
Being a Grand Cherokee, the Trackhawk boasts considerable storage solutions, including big door bins, large central storage tub and enough rear cargo space to fit a stroller and groceries, or an extra set of track-day tyres.
Somewhat limiting its appeal however, is the official fuel consumption figure of 16.8 litres per 100km, but we will have wait to get the Trackhawk out on public roads before verifying these claims.
However, adding to its versatility, the Trackhawk is also equipped with different driving modes that switch up torque distribution for slippery road surfaces, as well as the racetrack, and will even tow nearly three tonnes.
Priced at $134,900 before on-roads, the Trackhawk is almost $44,000 more expensive than the SRT, but absolutely justifies its price, due to its performance potential and the fact that nothing else will go this fast for this little money.
Who knew that you could have your cake and eat it too? Jeep did apparently, and totally pulls off marrying supercar performance with SUV practicality in a package we didn’t know we wanted, but now can’t get enough of.
However, we only managed to sample the Trackhawk in a closed-track setting and are keen to see if our love of Jeep’s flagship Grand Cherokee transfers to the open road. Keep an eye out for our full road test in the coming months.
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