On the Road Review: Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

For many drivers, there is a little “Walter Mitty” inside each of us; wishing, dreaming and otherwise envisioning exploits beyond our reality. In case you ever wondered what it would be like to have a Saturn Five rocket under the hood of your Subaru, Honda or otherwise safe family wagon, FCA’s Jeep Division has taken the liberty of delivering on such possibilities with an outsized version of the classic Grand Cherokee.

The Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is like nothing sold from GM, Ford or Toyota. It is a vehicle that aggressively competes, and outduels, the more expensive German wunder-cars that populate our market, SUVs with names like Porsche, Mercedes and BMW. The Trackhawk will steal your heart like no previous automotive dream.

With a starting sticker price almost triple the cost of a conventional Grand Cherokee, the Trackhawk is obviously not for the faint of heart, or the otherwise prudent driver looking for steady, all-season, commuting comfort. The Trackhawk is a seductive demon — with a conscience.

For the uninitiated, the Trackhawk looks just like a regular Grand Cherokee — until you peer closer. The 20-inch tires and wheels fill the fenders like its peers, the bright yellow Brembo brake calipers (only yellow, no other color) signal something special in the braking department (certainly is), while the quad tailpipes suggest power, which is readily confirmed on start-up. There is no hood-scoop like on the Grand Cherokee SRT, just a pair of heat extractor vents. There are no fog lamps either, as one is used as an intake-funnel for the hyper-drive motor behind the grille.

The last two clues will excite real gearheads as they signal only one possible powertrain for such a performance icon — the Hellcat-based 6.2-liter supercharged Hemi V-8, in all its glory, with 707 horsepower.

Backed by the incredibly competent eight-speed ZF automatic transmission, with strengthened half-shafts, CV joints and larger driveshafts, plus double the normal size rear spider gears to handle the 645 pound/feet of peak torque running to the Quadra-Trac full-time 4WD system, the Trackhawk is a blistering fast crossover that doesn’t care if the road is dry or snow-covered.

At startup, the Hellcat engine’s deep baritone burble is luscious. Tickle the throttle and the supercharger whine is evident as the 5,300-pound Jeep leaps into action, filling holes in heavy traffic or outpacing annoying left-lane bandits with an ease the majority of drivers have never experienced.

At full wail, the Trackhawk throws everything not attached to the vehicle into the back seat. The quad pipes issue a dual-mode guttural scream just like the Challenger and Charger Hellcat’s, a viscous soundtrack that you will push play, again and again. Redline shifts raise the level of “woke-ness” even further, tapping into an inner sanctum inside you that old Walter Mitty never knew existed. This five-door grocery-getter is stealthy fast — especially in subtle Sting-Gray clear paint.

OK, so like the Saturn Five rocket, fuel economy is … not so much. It was very easy to see single-digit fuel mileage while exploiting the supercharger’s intoxicating pitch. Driven without your hair on fire, the EPA suggests up to 17 mpg, which is conceivable, perhaps not probable. At least you can buy regular grade fuel — no premium gas needed.

Otherwise, the Trackhawk is the familiar Grand Cherokee that makes this, in its 11th year, the top-selling midsize SUV in America. Based on the former Mercedes M-series (now the GLE) from 2010, the interior has held up well. Jeep makes continuous improvements to the industry benchmark U-connect info/entertainment system that now includes updated nav operation, Apple and Android functionality, plus 4G Wi-Fi Hot Spot. The suede and leather sport buckets, heated and cooled, are all-day supportive, plus the knurled knobs and easy-to-find steering wheel controls create an ergonomically correct cabin.

There is a dual-panel sunroof on top (with a black painted roof) plus you get a suite of safety electronics that rival anyone’s offerings. The cargo hold is expansive, the rear seats roomy, and the car is actually quite quiet on the highway — when not plying the “go-pedal.” The Trackhawk is even available with a Class 4 tow package, able to haul up to 7,400 pounds.

Drive-wise, the Trackhawk offers a taut suspension with excellent steering and braking and crisp road manners. The Jeep tracks down the rutted highway like it was on rails, while swallowing up rural road imperfections impervious to the surface below. Some recent wannabe sporty wagons lacked this composure.

You could say that the price, $88,395 to start, $17,000 more than the SRT version ($103,000 as shown, with rear DVD, 19-speaker audio and more) doesn’t offer the interior opulence of the German sports SUVs. But this price gets you more performance for a fraction of what the premium brands extract from customers’ wallets.

The Trackhawk is the most powerful and most expensive Jeep ever. Dreams aren’t limited by cost.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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