Car reviews - Jeep - Grand Cherokee - Trackhawk
Immense supercharged Hemi V8, fantastic exhaust note, settled ride quality, comfortable seats, menacing styling
Room for improvement
Fuel consumption, foot parking brake, loud exhaust maybe too much for some, huge power requires constant vigilance when driving
30 Jul 2018
IF YOU asked someone with a casual knowledge of cars, which is the most powerful SUV on sale in Australia, chances are you might get answers like Mercedes-AMG, Land Rover, Bentley or even Lamborghini.
However, they would be wrong. The award goes to Jeep with its monstrous Grand Cherokee Trackhawk that packs 522kW/868Nm of brash, American V8 muscle under its bonnet.
The Trackhawk is a huge statement from the brand, one that shows it can mix it with the best performance SUVs Europe has to offer, while maintaining its reputation as an industry-leading off-road marque.
Its performance figures are certainly impressive on paper, but how does 522kW worth of supercharged V8 translate to real-world driving?
Price and equipment
The Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is priced from $134,900 plus on-roads, making it easily the most accessible way into 500kW+ of car.
When comparing it to other high-powered SUVs, its rivals require much deeper pockets. Competition comes from the likes of the 478kW Lamborghini Urus ($390,000), 447kW Bentley Bentayga ($423,600), 423kW BMW X5 M ($189,100), 423kW Range Rover Sport SVR ($238,200), 430kW Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S ($193,211) and 382kW Porsche Cayenne Turbo ($239,400).
Forgetting for a minute what lies under the bonnet, the Trackhawk features all the expected specification for a car of its price point, offering buyers 20-inch alloy wheels, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, black chrome finishes, Nappa leather and suede upholstery with embroidered ‘Trackhawk’ logos, ventilated front pews, heated front and rear seats, 7.0-inch digital instrument cluster display, and 8.4-inch Uconnect multimedia display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, as well as an array of performance-oriented readouts and timers including instantaneous power and torque measurements.
It also comes standard with the Premium Metal Package that adds metal trim throughout the interior, as well as other extra specification including active noise cancellation, leather-stitched accents on the instrument panel, doors, centre console and armrest, Berber floormats and an 825-watt, 19-speaker Harman Kardon audio system.
Driver assistance features include adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision warning with crash mitigation, front and rear park assist, lane departure warning, hill hold control, seven airbags, advanced brake assist, and tyre pressure monitor.
When it comes to a performance-to-price ratio, the Trackhawk is an anomaly. One could argue the supercharged V8 powertrain is enough to justify the $134,900 pricetag on its own, with the rest of the specification just an added bonus.
With that in mind, we think the Trackhawk may be the best value-for-money performance car in Australia.
One problem plaguing many high-performing sportscars is a low level of interior comfort, with firm, lightweight seats, difficult ingress and egress, poor noise insulation and a cramped seating position.
Not so the Trackhawk. Despite its performance credentials, it still offers the comfortable driving experience of a large SUV with a well-equipped and opulent interior.
Our test vehicle came upholstered in red Nappa leather, which is either eye-catchingly cool or obnoxious, depending on who you ask. The seats offer superb comfort, with well-bolstered side support, generous cushioning, and heating and ventilation.
More red leather adorns the lower door trim, while the upper dash and door, as well as steering wheel, are finished in black leather.
The 8.4-inch UConnect infotainment system works well, but falls short of the segment-leaders in terms of ergonomics and usability. In particular, the navigation system is too bright at night, and does not switch to a ‘night-mode’ colour scheme when the headlights come on.
Gear-heads will love the readouts available in the Performance Pages section of the infotainment system, which gauges metrics such as instant power and torque figures, G-forces, lap times, oil and coolant temperatures, and boost pressure.
The digital instrument cluster is easily customised and navigated through the no-nonsense steering wheel-mounted buttons. A heated steering wheel is also a bonus in winter.
Like other Grand Cherokee models, the Trackhawk comes with a foot-operated parking brake, which takes up room in the footwell and feels a bit cheap. We would also like to see the power-operated tailgate have an open/close button accessible from the driver’s seat.
Two USB, two 12V and one auxiliary port are present in the front row, offering extra media playback options through the excellent harman/kardon surround sound system.
Rear legroom is only fair, however rear occupants are treated to heated outer seats, A/C vents, two USB charging ports and adjustable seat backs.
Boot space is generous with a 12V port, shopping hooks, 60/40 split-fold rear seats and a near full-size spare tyre under the boot floor. The open/close button for the power tailgate is located on the side pillar instead of the bottom of the tailgate, a detail that more car-makers should adopt.
The Trackhawk’s interior is stylish and well-specified, and while we haven’t driven every 500kW-plus vehicle in Australia, we would hazard a guess that it is a good chance of being the most comfortable inside.
Engine and transmission
To the surprise of no one, the main drawcard of the Trackhawk is its hulking powerplant – a 6.2-litre supercharged Hemi V8 that cranks out an earth-moving 522kW of power and 868Nm of torque, fed to all-four wheels via an eight-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission.
In Auto mode torque distribution is set at 40:60 front/rear, which can change up to 30:70 in Track mode, or even 60:40 in Tow mode.
As one would expect, performance is immense from the Trackhawk’s V8. A huge shove of power and torque is available from just about anywhere in the rev range and at any speed, and comes on immediately after throttle input.
So immense is the power that it can accelerate almost as fast from a 100km/h rolling start as 40km/h, making highway overtaking laughably easy.
The eight-speed automatic transmission does a good job handling the immense amount of engine power, able to shift smoothly and quickly kick down gears when sticking the boot in. It does well to keep revs low when cruising, and sits under 2000rpm at highway speeds.
One of our favourite aspects of the Trackhawk is its booming exhaust note, which gives off an exhilarating roar when revving and sounds like a gunshot when shifting. The whine of the supercharger is also clearly heard when revving and adds a cool extra layer to the impressive aural experience.
For those who enjoy turning heads when driving, few cars can best the Trackhawk.
The all-wheel-drive system does a good job of effectively channelling the power to road while minimising wheel slippage, with instances of traction loss a rarity.
Day-to-day driveability is actually solid for such a powerful vehicle, however one still has to be careful on the throttle as the engine can spring to life with even a slight input from the accelerator.
The one clearly negative aspect of the Trackhawk’s donk is its prodigious thirst, which recorded an economy figure of 17.4 litres per 100km. Owners should get used to filling up at the bowser, as it sure does like a drink of premium unleaded fuel.
However there is one caveat, and try not to laugh at us for saying this, but we were actually slightly pleasantly surprised by the fuel economy figure. In the past when driving vehicles like the Grand Cherokee SRT and Chrysler 300 SRT with the aspirated 6.4-litre V8, fuel consumption was closer to 20 litres per 100km, so Grand Cherokee SRT owners looking to upgrade to the Trackhawk should not be too intimidated by the potential fuel bill.
Overall, the Trackhawk’s powerplant lives up to its on-paper figures, with huge amounts of power on tap and an amazing aural experience to boot. People looking for a reaction from passers-by need look no further.
Ride and handling
Despite its performance credentials, the Trackhawk’s ride is actually quite comfortable and settled, as befitting a large SUV.
Suspension is on the firmer side which is understandable in Sport mode, however we would like to see a slightly softer tune in Auto mode.
Bumps and road imperfections are soaked up well, especially at higher speeds, and the 20-inch rims avoid detracting from the ride quality due to the large, high-profile tyres wrapping the alloys.
Handling performance is good for a Grand Cherokee, however it is still a large SUV tipping the scales at nearly 2500kg, so it is not the perfect vehicle for performing on twisty roads. It also means throttle input through corners must be carefully measured, as too much can easily bring you unstuck in Sport or Track mode, where traction control systems are dialled down.
Steering is well-pointed and sharp for an SUV, although we would like to see the steering feedback be a bit firmer in sport mode.
Braking performance is formidable thanks to six-piston front and four-piston rear Brembo brakes with ventilated rotors, a godsend when driving a hefty SUV with over 500kW of power at your disposal.
Active noise cancellation means noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels are kept to a suitable level despite the roaring exhaust note, which requires windows down for the full experience. The thick doors and abundant soft-touch materials help NVH levels remain low.
While the Trackhawk’s handling cannot match it with other similarly powerful vehicles, its comfortable ride ensures daily-driving a 522kW vehicle is an entirely reasonable proposition.
Safety and servicing
The Grand Cherokee Trackhawk comes with Jeep’s five-year transferable warranty with unlimited roadside assistance and five years/60,000km of capped-price servicing, with intervals occurring every 12,000km or 12 months, whichever comes first.
Scheduled servicing costs range between $595 and $2175, and average out at $1073 per service.
The Grand Cherokee range was tested by the Australian New Car Assessment Program in 2014, achieving a five-star rating.
Driver assistance features on the Trackhawk include adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision warning with crash mitigation, front and rear park assist, lane departure warning, hill hold control, seven airbags, advanced brake assist, and tyre pressure monitor.
After a week in the Trackhawk, we can say that its real-world performance matches its staggering on-paper performance figures. Acceleration is so potent that it causes the nose of the car to lift, and the engine’s prodigious power is matched only by the barking exhaust and gunshot gear changes.
Jeep has done a great job of making so much power so financially accessible, as trying to purchase one of its less powerful, performance-oriented rivals will set you back at least an extra $50,000.
The Trackhawk is also surprisingly well-mannered in day-to-day driving, making the prospect of daily-driving a 522kW vehicle a reality.
Some small gripes aside, the Trackhawk is one of the most fun, ostentatious and also versatile vehicles available for the money.
Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S 4Matic+ from $193,211 plus on-roads
The Affalterbach-tuned GLE packs a 430kW/760Nm wallop from its 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8, matched with a premium interior layout and German build quality.
BMW X5 M from $189,100 plus on-roads
The closest rival to the Trackhawk price-wise, the X5 M develops 423kW/750Nm from its 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 used on a number of larger M models. A new version is not far off with the brand revealing the fourth-generation X5 in June.
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