Las Vegas in early November might be much the same as any other dry month, if not for the occasional hash tag reminding us of recent tragedy. But Vegas is a showbiz town at heart, and we all know what the show must do. Wherever I wander, I’m never far from a smiling local plying their trade. Hospitality must be hard to carry off in the shadow of Mandalay Bay, but everyone I meet has a brave, even chipper face on and I imagine that’s not only good for business, but also good for picking one’s self up and carrying on — and the good people at Jeep certainly made a wise decision setting up shop at Spring Mountain Raceway in Pahrump, Nevada. To abandon Vegas after tragedy would have been unnecessary, a kind of defeat — staying the course and supporting the city and its inhabitants is only right. And so we made our way to this oasis of speed in the Nevada desert, with its constant changes in camber and elevation, the course proved a good choice for testing the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk’s mettle.
Coming out of the pit my course instructor has me on the power just up until a rise that is followed by big dip and an arcing right-hander. The quick change in elevation offers a chance to unsettle the car, but the Jeep’s Selec-Track system and Bilstein adaptive damping suspension has a way of smoothing out the more jarring chassis compressions. Down the hill you roll on the throttle angling toward the apex and attempt to carry speed through to what becomes the straightest part of the track, where you open up completely reaching peak track speed before braking hard for the next turn. It is in this straight away that you really feel the reach of what Jeep is calling the most powerful SUV ever: its supercharged 6.2-litre V8 engine delivers 707 horsepower and 875Nm. As the car hurtles forward it is very difficult to gauge your own speed as it feels so fast that you don’t dare look away from the road to check the speedo. And by the way, the Trackhawk feels plenty fast here, reminding us that pure numbers don’t really do actual experience justice as descriptors.
The Trackhawk’s beating heart is its supercharged engine designed and manufactured for enough strength and durability to match it’s incredible power. This engine, which got its start in the incomparable Hellcat, is derived from a cast iron block featuring water jackets between the cylinders for optimal cooling. Its forged-steel crankshaft with induction-hardened bearing surfaces is so strong, Jeep says it can “withstand firing pressures of nearly 1,600 psi — the equivalent of five family saloons standing on each piston, every two revolutions.” The SUV’s specially tuned crankshaft damper has held together at bursts of as high as 13,000rpm. This mighty powerplant’s engineers used advanced telemetry measurement to develop high-strength, forged-alloy pistons that are then coupled to powder-forged connecting rods with high-load-capacity bushings and diamond-like, carbon-coated piston pins. All that technology means that this big V8 is mechanically rugged enough to handle being supercharged for maniacal output.
Navigating Spring Mountain’s hairpin is challenging, you’ve got to roll on the accelerator gently while straightening out the car by degrees. At the same time, your eyes are scanning for the turn-in point to one of the most challenging turns in this little course. This late apex corkscrew requires you to crane your head all the way left, ignoring the impulse to look directly in front of the vehicle. The mind knows there’s nothing to hit, but the body’s not so sure. With my neck at full twist something magical would happen — the car simply went where I looked and for once I wasn’t “behind the car” which let me carry more speed through the turn. If I had my way, I’d still be out on that track in the Trackhawk, getting a little better every day, the car a more steadfast companion to my quest for my best lap, but alas there’s only so much time in a (track) day.
For instant gratification, the Trackhawk’s Launch Control feature is a sure winner. With the SUV in Launch Control mode you simply mash the brake pedal all the way down in one fluid move, holding steady with full pressure on. Then, open the throttle completely as the engine speed rises to around 2,200rpm. When you feel a slight shudder, you get off the brake in a hurry and the Trackhawk practically leaps into motion, giving you full appreciation of its monstrous torque, as all four 295/45ZR-20 Pirellis work their magic on the tarmac.
Borrowing a note from its less mannered cousin, the Challenger Demon, the Trackhawk uses “Torque Reserve” to aid launch control. This system turns off fuel to individual cylinders, allowing the engine to rev higher so that the supercharger builds more boost than it would otherwise achieve —6.4 psi at the line.
The yin to Trackhawk’s staggering off-the-line pull is the smooth, effective stopping afforded it by its oversize Brembo brakes. Out on the track you’re encouraged by how well the car decelerates, which underwrites your drive to better each your last lap. The same goes for Launch Control — your confidence upon being fired out of Jeep’s heartiest land cannon is supported by knowing you can take speed off ‘tout suite’.
The Trackhawk’s Selec-Track system uses performance-tuned software to pre-configure five dynamic modes, namely: Auto, Sport, Track, Snow and Tow. The various settings enable drivers to meet their requirements and ambient conditions, each separately controlling the four-wheel-drive system, transmission, paddle shifters, suspension and the electric power steering. Now that being said, I only tested one mode — but I’m pretty sure it’s my favourite. In Track mode transmission shift times are reduced by 68 per cent to 160 milliseconds; while stability control, four-wheel-drive and steering systems are tweaked for the best possible track setup. The SUV’s paddle shifters are enabled, torque is split 30/70 and the suspension is firmed up to its maximum capability on the kind of smooth, dry surfaces that the course at Spring Mountain offers. There’s also a Custom Mode that allows owners to roll their own settings for whatever type of driving they enjoy.
Outside the yellow Brembo’s are the most noticeable facet of the Trackhawk’s silhouette — it’s one of the more stealthy supercharged vehicles you’re likely to come across. Even its exhaust note is a tad subdued...
Underpinning the SUV’s copious power is a short- and long-arm independent front suspension with coil springs, the aforementioned Bilstein adaptive damping suspension, upper- and aluminium lower-control arms aluminium knuckle, aluminium clevis and hollow stabilizer bar. At the back, the rear suspension uses a multi-link design with coil spring, Bilstein ADS, aluminium lower control arm, independent upper links (tension and camber), plus a separate toe link, and a hollow stabilizer bar. The end result is an SUV that, while less aggressive than its Hellcat cousins, feels lithe and car-like when you’re caning it through the turns.
Outside the yellow Brembo’s are the most noticeable facet of the Trackhawk’s silhouette — it’s one of the more stealthy supercharged vehicles you’re likely to come across. Even its exhaust note is a tad subdued compared to its Hellcat brethren, but then this is a Jeep, not a Dodge. Look closer and you’ll notice Jeep has removed the fog lights to make room for the oil cooler on one side, and a cold-air intake on the other. There’s also “Trackhawk” badge on the liftgate and you’ll spot the word “supercharged” below the Grand Cherokee marque on the front doors. The sillplates get Trackhawk logos too, and the Speedo goes higher than standard, but that’s about it for differentiation.
On the whole the cabin recalls the SRT Grand Cherokee — it’s roomy, and comfortably seats driver and passengers while affording plenty of room for storage. Grand Cherokee is practically the granddaddy of the SUV segment, so it’s no surprise that Jeep have this vehicle cabin very finely honed after many iterations. Sure, the Trackhawk’s stiffer ride isn’t as forgiving as the many lesser Grand Cherokees, but just conisder those vibrations gentle(ish) reminders that you’re piloting a 707 horsepower super SUV. You could also open the throttle, but only where appropriate.
The Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is a limited edition product, and one that is likely to see quite a lot of demand. I’m not sure how many are actually coming to the Middle East, but I’d be surprised not to see one on Beach Road eventually, as this is a motoring enthusiast’s kind of car.
It will gladly hold its own with, and is faster than many of the European super SUVs, but it has a distinctly Jeep personality. Need I say more?