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Anatomy of the Hellcat Jeep Grand Cherokee

How does a mega-horsepower Jeep Grand Cherokee fit into a brand built on capability and utility? How does that work exactly? At 475 hp, we thought Jeep had wandered a bit off the reservation with the introduction of the Grand Cherokee SRT. Now they’ve upped the ante even more with the 707-hp Hellcat-like Trackhawk version.

Don’t get us wrong. We love to go fast and rarely consider the ramifications of cramming more ponies under the hood; but when we heard Jeep’s plans for dropping the corporate Hellcat V8 into the Grand Cherokee, it made us wonder about the decision-making process, as well as how Jeep adapted its flagship to handle more than another 200 horsepower.

No Brainer

The decision to develop the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk was a result of the same process FCA management always follows, Jeep brand director Scott Tallon assured us. First and foremost, it had to make business sense. While Grand Cherokee is certainly a member of the Jeep family, Tallon pointed out, FCA considers it the most expansive nameplate in the industry — almost a franchise in itself. As such, it has a broader mandate than others among the Jeep fold.

Grand Cherokee Trackhawk isn’t breaking new ground. Several performance brands, like Jaguar, Maserati and Porsche have unleashed high-horsepower SUVs. For Jeep product planners and developers, such high-performance entries raised the bar on what the public considers the ultimate SUV. The Grand Cherokee SRT simply wasn’t out in front of this performance pack. More horsepower, they decided, was the answer.

With the 6.2-liter supercharged Hellcat V8 already in FCA’s engine inventory, it was the logical go-to powerplant for increasing Grand Cherokee performance.

Performance Versus Capability

Does a 0-to-60 time of 3.5 seconds run counter to Grand Cherokee’s core goal of being a highly effective off-road luxury SUV? Here again, Tallon was adamant that there is no conflict between speed and capability. Neither Jeep nor FCA’s SRT performance gurus, whose fingerprints are all over the performance vehicles on Chrysler’s side of FCA, lost focus on the capability target. “But,” he added, “in this vehicle, speed is capability.”

With speed as a definition of capability, the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk more than fills the bill. Sprinting the quarter mile in 11.6 seconds, it boasts a top speed of 180 miles per hour. It can also come to a full stop from 60 mph in 114 feet.

Jeep is marketing Trackhawk as the most powerful and quickest SUV ever; yet, it still will head off pavement with the best of them. According to Tallon, it had to offer all the off-road capability of the regular Grand Cherokee. Armed with Jeep’s Quadra-Trac on-demand 4-wheel-drive system with full-time active transfer case, Grand Cherokee Trackhawk maintains its role as a highly competent off-roader. And, it can still tow 7,200 lbs.

Sum of the Parts

You won’t find much in the way of unnecessary bric-a-brac on the Trackhawk. Sure there is some badging, a unique steering wheel and Trackhawk is embroidered into the leather/suede seats, but things weren’t added just to add them. Jeep is happy to leave it to owners to gussy up their Trackhawks. “If it didn’t help capability, performance or aerodynamics,” Tallon said, “we didn’t do it.”

Among the key changes they did make was adapt the 8-speed automatic transmission to the rigors of managing the Hellcat engine’s extra torque. Jeep strengthened the drive shaft and rear axle. Engineers shortened the transfer case, dropping the fill level from 2 quarts to 1 qt. The rear differential sports a new housing design and mounting scheme to balance the load and also account for the extra engine torque. Trackhawk’s yellow brake calipers (6-piston front and 4-piston rear) spotlight the Brembo brake system that includes the largest front brakes ever on a Jeep. And, the list goes on.

Bottom Line

With an entry-level price tag of $86,995, which includes destination charge, the 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk won’t be a volume seller, but Jeep doesn’t expect it to be. What it is, is a track-ready asphalt gobbler with civilized road manners and tremendous off-road capability.

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