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The Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk Is the Perfect Hellcat

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author photo by William Byrd October 2017

I recently got to spend some time with the brand-new 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, and its ludicrous 707-horsepower supercharged V8 engine from the Hellcat duo, at the annual Washington Auto Press Association Rally. I'll say it up front, the Grand Cherokee is easily the best application of this engine; the visceral, if slightly painful, AWD launch is reason enough to consider buying this new SUV. But is a massive engine worth twice the typical asking price for a new Grand Cherokee? We filmed our encounter with the beast to find out. So check out the video featuring, well me of course, as well as Josh Taylor from RFD and a cameo by Oversteer's second-favorite Will, Will Kinton.

In the meantime, let's chat about why this new, near-$100,000-as-tested SUV is so significant. The Grand Cherokee was unveiled with great fanfare at the North American International Auto Show in 1992 when Maximum Bob Lutz, then president of Chrysler, drove the thing up the stairs of the Cobo Hall and through a plate glass window. Oh, and the mayor of Detroit was riding shotgun. Naturally. Quite the debut, and the Grand Cherokee has been going strong ever since.

Here's the last bit of trivia before we get to the business of performance. The original Grand Cherokee design was already being developed in house when Chrysler bought American Motors -- but nevertheless, Chrysler decided to bring in three designers to help create clay models as a follow-up to the venerable XJ Cherokee. Two of the three were Larry Shinoda (right, that one from Corvette and Mustang fame) and Giorgetto Giugiaro. Right, the Giugiaro. So it's clear that Chrysler wasn't messing around with their new flagship SUV.

This article is about putting a big engine into eveything, though, and Fiat Chrysler has the market cornered on just that. They stuffed a V8 into the first Grand Cherokee back in 1998, but the biggest news happened in 2006, when they put in a 6.1-liter Hemi V8 with 420 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque to create the first of the SRT Grand Cherokees. The WK2, which is the Grand Cherokee we have now, got its SRT on in 2012 with a 6.4-liter Hemi packing 475 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque.

But someone (or someones) at FCA made the certifiably crazy decision to add the 6.2-liter supercharged Hemi V8 from the Charger and Challenger Hellcat (with 707 hp and 645 lb-ft of torque) into the Jeep SRT mix, and call it the Trackhawk. As you saw from the video, it's a beast -- and that's an understatement. If you think a Hellcat launches hard, and it does, check out this thing: 3.5 seconds to 60, while not quite "Demon fast," is easily Hellcat fast. Plus, the Trackhawk does it all while providing you room for five people and their stuff -- and while weighing in around 5,300 pounds (some 800 pounds more than the Hellcats).

The Grand Cherokee Trackhawk also offers some notional bad-weather performance that isn't as readily available in the Hellcat duo -- although it's worth noting that I once interviewed Mark Trostle, head of SRT design and designer of the Hellcats, and he said he drives his Challenger Hellcat daily on snow tires during Detroit winters. Your results may vary. My money is on the Jeep.

So what makes this Jeep Trackhawk thing special? Is it just a giant engine in a $40,000 SUV? To a point, sort of. I own a 2015 Grand Cherokee Altitude, and I noticed that many of the same WK2 bits are there. However, I thought FCA did a nice job on the Trackhawk's interior, successfully ramping up the luxury angle -- which makes sense, as this thing starts at an amazing $85,900. The Grand Cherokee is already a comfortable vehicle, and riding in the Trackhawk is no different. Sure, it's sprung underneath for more performance in the twisty stuff, but FCA engineered the Grand Cherokee to be a comfortable SUV -- and all of that remains. What is new is the raucous burble that this thing makes out of the exhaust pipes on startup. It increases to a vicious, savage roar when you get on the throttle. Seriously, thing thing sounds amazing.

My only criticism of the Trackhawk is that it doesn't really look all that much more "special" than an SRT Grand Cherokee -- and you can have one of those for $66,895. However, I think that criticism is more of a compliment to the SRT, which is a pretty cool-looking SUV already. Plus, having the ability to fly under the radar in the Trackhawk would be kind of fun, since you can then unleash the fury on unsuspecting victims.

Speaking of fury, if you only watch one part of the video, check out the three of us trying launch control. I was a passenger during the "launch control process," which involves simply putting the Trackhawk in Track mode and select "Launch Control." It will say "Activated" and note that the vehicle will launch at 2100 RPMs. Then it kindly asks you to "follow the instructions in cluster to complete launch control." The cluster notes, again, "LAUNCH ENABLED," and it has a meter to monitor brake pressure PSIs.

Pin the brakes, jam on the throttle and make sure your head is close to the headrest. Maybe not in that order: If you don't have your head back, it will take care of that for you. In violent fashion. The supercarlike launch is an experience like few others, and Mr. Kinton likened it to one of those roller coasters that blast you off from a standstill. That's not a bad analogy -- and, like the roller coaster, you can bring your friends along with you to experience Trackhawk launches.

Based in Northern Virginia, William is professional writer and editor and acts as the Editor-in-Chief of Right Foot Down. He misspent most of his youth on tracks in the Mid-Atlantic, as well as killing cones in parking lots, and he once taught at a teen performance driving school.

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The Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk Is the Perfect Hellcat - Autotrader