I recently had the opportunity to drive the 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. This doesn’t sound all that special. You’ve been hearing the “Jeep Grand Cherokee” name for years; decades, even. Meanwhile, “Trackhawk” sounds a lot like “Trailhawk,” which is a fairly standard trim level of the regular Grand Cherokee with some off-roading stuff. If you didn’t know, you’d think the Trackhawk was just another, every day, run-of-the-mill Grand Cherokee. See the 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee models for sale near you
But you know.
You know, for instance, that the Trackhawk is the most powerful SUV of all time, with 707 horsepower. You know that it’s among the quickest (0-to-60 in 3.3 seconds) and fastest (the top speed is 180 miles per hour). You know that a Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is a Hellcat engine shoved into a midsize family SUV, the result being 411 hp more than a Toyota Highlander, with roughly the same dimensions.
Interestingly, you wouldn’t really know just by looking at it. The Trackhawk has only minor changes compared to the already-high-performance Grand Cherokee SRT: Different wheels, deleted fog lights for increased engine cooling, a “SUPERCHARGED” badge on both doors, a very subtle “Trackhawk” emblem in back and … that’s it. You won’t know what you’re looking at unless you know what you’re looking at. And if you know what you’re looking at, you’ll be thrilled.
But not quite as thrilled as I was when I got behind the wheel. The Trackhawk I drove belonged to a viewer near Annapolis, Maryland, who had picked it up — one of the very first new Trackhawk models sold to a customer — four days before I arrived to film with it. When I got behind the wheel, it had just 222 miles. The owner instructed me to have fun. I followed his instructions.
Here’s what I learned about the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk: it’s fast. It’s not a little fast. It is sensationally, absurdly, ludicrously fast. From a stop, it does take a beat or two to build power, as it’s a heavy car and it doesn’t just get going like a supercar. But when you floor the throttle at 40 miles per hour, there is simply nothing like it. Nothing. I recognize it’s probably just as fast as a regular Hellcat, and it’s probably slower than the exotic cars I drive, but it feels faster than everything. There is zero lag. Drop the hammer at 40, and you truly feel like you’ve been hit from behind by an unseen, and very angry, force. A very loud, unseen and angry force.
I drove the Trackhawk for a little while, and the entire time I could barely focus on the driving experience aside from the acceleration: it was just so brutal. Brutal in a way I really feel like I’ve never experienced before — maybe because it was an SUV, maybe because it was all-wheel drive or maybe it’s really just that fast. The Trackhawk is the first SUV I’ve driven that wasn’t just fast “for an SUV.” The Trackhawk does 0-to-60 in 3.3 seconds. It’ll hang with supercars. It’ll beat supercars. And you’re sitting on a ventilated seat, several feet off the ground, looking down at a Jeep steering wheel and a full-color gauge cluster with a configurable display. It’s mind-blowing.
But, eventually, I did pay attention to the other stuff, and here’s what I think: The Trackhawk’s steering is relatively vague, not for an SUV, but for a $100,000 vehicle that can do 0-to-60 in 3.3 seconds (and yes, I said “a $100,000 vehicle”; the sticker price on the Trackhawk I drove was $98,600 — for a Jeep Grand Cherokee). It’s sharp for an SUV, though it doesn’t handle like the competition from Porsche and BMW; there’s some body roll, and there’s a lack of precision you’d expect from a sports car. Of course, this isn’t a sports car, so that’s easily forgivable.
The interior is nice. It’s not Porsche Cayenne nice, but you don’t expect it to be; a Cayenne Turbo costs like $75,000 more than this thing, and it’s slower. Yes, the Trackhawk has Cayenne Turbo features, but the overall quality just isn’t there: I like the stitching, I like the carbon fiber, I like leather, but there’s enough cheap-grade Chrysler plastics to remind you that you’re in a car made by the same people who crank out Dodge Journeys just as fast as Enterprise orders them.
Visibility is good. Rear seat room is good. Cargo room is good. Technology is good. Really, this is just a Jeep Grand Cherokee, meaning it’s the kind of thing you can use to drive around your family — to soccer practice, music lessons, school or whatever. It even behaves like a normal Grand Cherokee when you aren’t mashing the throttle. It’s supremely comfortable and the suspension is surprisingly compliant, giving you the luxury-vehicle ride you’d expect when you pay $98,000 for any vehicle.
But when you do mash that throttle, everything changes: It transforms the Jeep from a competent, reasonable, well-equipped, decently-appointed, comfortable family hauler — everything we already like about the Grand Cherokee — into one of the most laughably crazy things I’ve ever driven in my life. I love the Trackhawk. I want the Trackhawk. I hope some Trackhawks survive the next few years undamaged, so I can pick up a used one someday. If I had a Trackhawk, the smile would never come off my face. Find a 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee for sale
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.