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Six Things You Learn Driving the Hellcat-Powered Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk


By Bob Sorokanich, Road & Track

It's here. The long-rumored Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, stuffed with the Hellcat 6.2-liter supercharged V8 and sending 707 horsepower and 645 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels. It's outrageous, and intoxicating, and delightfully unhinged. 

I've just spent the day driving the Trackhawk, on the roads of Maine and New Hampshire and on the brand-new, never-before-raced-on circuit at Club Motorsports in Tamworth, NH. We'll have a full review of the Trackhawk coming soon, but in the meantime, these are the six things you have to know about the world's quickest, most powerful SUV.


1. Hell Yeah It's Fast


Not just fast for an SUV. Extravagantly fast. Deliriously quick. On the road, you throw the hammer down and the thing just rockets away, from any speed, in any gear. Out in rural Maine, where winding two-lane roads taunt you with impossibly short passing zones, the Trackhawk makes even the most daring passes with ease. The TorqueFlite eight-speed automatic rips through whipcrack upshifts that get firmer in Sport mode and downright violent in Track. It's got power everywhere, but the fat part of the power band starts around 3500 rpm. And unlike the other Hellcat offerings, thanks to full-time all-wheel drive, the Trackhawk's acceleration is completely and utterly drama-free.


2. It Might Even Be a Little Faster Than Jeep Claims

© Bob Sorokanich   What You Learn Driving the Jeep Trackhawk

Jeep quotes a 3.5-second zero to 60 time for the Trackhawk, a figure that puts the 5350-lb five-seat SUV neck and neck with a Dodge Viper. I get the feeling Jeep's official number is a touch conservative—on multiple acceleration runs using Launch Control, I was able to cut a 3.3-second sprint to 60 (as measured by the car's Performance Pages dashboard app). Conditions were textbook ideal: The ambient temperature was cool and I was running on the brand-new pavement of Club Motorsport's long straightaway. But there was no magic touch, no delicate finesse required: Just mash the brake and pin the throttle as Launch Control instructs, then drop the brake and let the all-wheel drive system find the traction for you. And speaking of Launch Control...


3. It Shares Launch Control Goodies With the Dodge Demon

Unlike most performance cars, the Trackhawk's launch control doesn't just rev the engine against the brakes. The muscle Jeep utilizes Torque Fill, a system first designed for the 840-horsepower, wheelie-popping Dodge Challenger SRT Demon. Working like an aftermarket "stutter box," Launch Control holds the engine at a preset RPM, spooling up the supercharger and manipulating its bypass valve to build maximum boost as the engine burbles and misfires (or more accurately, mis-fuels) like a drag car on a two-step rev limiter. Jeep opted not to install the Demon's trans brake on the Trackhawk, so a left-foot-brake launch is your only option. Believe me, it's all you need. Drop the brake, and the torque hits like a mallet, the big-body SUV squatting hard on its haunches and ripping through upshifts so forceful, you'll worry that you might swallow your own tongue. Jeep says the Trackhawk is good for an 11.6-second quarter-mile. I believe it.


4. It's Not Just For Straight Lines

With 707 horses and the wallop of an all-wheel drive launch, the Trackhawk is assuredly rad for drag racing and stoplight supremacy. But that's not this pony's only trick. The ultra Grand Cherokee gets Bilstein multi-mode adaptive dampers and specific chassis tuning to live up to its fictitious bird namesake. Around Club Motorsport's 15-corner, 2.5-mile circuit piled with several hundred feet of elevation changes, the hot rod Jeep felt completely composed. You just have to keep reminding yourself what it is. Thundering down the long straightaway, your brain notes the unyielding rocket acceleration, the redline scream of that supercharged V8, and assumes you're strapped into a sports car. Then you bend it into a sweeper and realize that the center of gravity, and your posterior, are both about a foot higher off the ground than you were anticipating. It's giddying, mainly because the big truck never feels out of place on the race track despite its heft and height. There's roll, and it's easy enough to overwhelm the front tires if you're not careful—the Hellcat engine and its requisite cooling upgrades add 200-plus pounds to the Grand Cherokee's snout. But the body motions never turn queasy, the huge Brembo brakes never lose their massive stopping power, and the unbeatable traction makes you want to go full throttle earlier and earlier with each apex.


5. It Doesn't Sound Exactly Like the Hellcats You Know

Perhaps the signature aural feature of the Challenger and Charger Hellcat (and, of course, the Demon) is the high-pitched supercharger whine that accompanies all but the tiniest throttle prods. The Trackhawk announces its forced induction more subtly. A tricky new air intake system utilizes a Heimholtz resonance chamber to attenuate some of the Hellcat's howl. It's effective: At full throttle, the supercharger sound is audible, but not overwhelming inside the cabin, nearly disappearing under lighter loads. Jeep says this subdued sound is more in step with the five-seat, family-friendly Grand Cherokee, a top-rung luxury SUV that, in Trackhawk trim, starts at $86,000. Me? I miss the satanic slide-whistle yawp. Thankfully, an engineer pointed out that the Heimholtz doohicky should be easy enough for an owner to remove.


6. It Bears Repeating, Once Again, How Devastatingly Quick This Off-Roader Is

Consider the Trackhawk's competition. The BMW X5 M commands a smooch over $100,000; the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S adds nearly $60,000 to that. Both do 0-60 in 3.8 seconds, meaning they'd get smoked by the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. This Jeep sprints, turns and brakes to beat Europe's hottest performance SUVs, tows 7200 lbs., sounds like your favorite old-school dragster, and looks menacing as all hell doing it. We'll have lots more to say about the Trackhawk in the coming days, but for now, consider us mighty impressed.



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