YOU can imagine the laughter when Jeep boss Mike Manley told us he was going to put the 697bhp 6.2-litre V8 engine from the Dodge Challenger Hellcat into a Grand Cherokee. He wasn’t joking, though, and the Grand Cherokee Trackhawkis a deadly serious machine – such is the depth of engineering that has gone into it – although it will have you giggling like a school kid.
Auto Express was invited to Jeep’s private test tiack at the company’s HQ in Michigan to drive a pre-production Trackhawk- a car that claims the title of world’s fastest SUV. Sadly, Michigan was in the middle of a thunderstorm when we ventured out on to a sodden test track, yet the combination of 875 Nm of torque and four-wheel drive meant that the incredible force from the engine was still very much present. You’ll get shoved back into your leather seat like little else when, even in the wet, the Jeep does its best to match its 0-60 mph time of 3.4 seconds (which is faster than the Ferrari Portofino, revealed on Page 16). But this engine just gives and gives, with power that will carry on long after the first straight. Top speed is a claimed (and easy to believe) 180mph.
All that performance is matched by a monumental soundtrack. At lower speeds there’s a mechanical supercharger whine, before it’s overshadowed by an almighty bellow from the exhaust. It’s a sound that’s as exhilarating as it is hilarious – we’d download it as a phone ringtone if we could. That power has to have plenty of control, and the bespoke Brembo brakes with their yellow calipers deliver huge stopping power. Combined with all-season Pirelli tyres on 20-inch titanium-finished wheels, the reprogrammed ABS system wasn’t bothered – even in atrocious conditions.
Of course, this big, heavy SUV can’t defy the laws of physics. It makes a pretty good job of trying, though. Sure, there’s a bit of body roll, but you have to remind yourself that this is a car you step up in to rather than stepping down, as you would in a sports car. What roll there is, isn’t helped by the steering’s slight slack around the straight ahead. It’s acceptable in Auto mode, but dial through to Sport and then Trade, and the steering doesn’t react quickly enough. As with many manufacturers, Jeep seems to be confusing steering weight with steering feel, too. Making it heavier doesn’t necessarily result in greater feel. Still, Jeep will review the settings before the cargoes on sale.
It rides pretty comfortably a round Jeep’s circuit and its roads; performance-focused cars are often much stiffer and crash over bumps. The supercharger whine is amusing at first, but might become wearing after a while; the answer is simply to put your foot down to enjoy more of the exhaust note. What is impressive, given the car’s all-American roots, is how the quality of the interior and the available technology have reached European standards – that wasn’t the case when this generation of Grand Cherokee was launched.
The stealth-like look of the car on the outside is carried over on the inside with sumptuous leather, metal and plastic around the cabin, and subtle Trackhawk logos throughout. A handsome and well sculpted flat-bottomed steering wheel is included, as is a panoramic sunroof. There’s an impressive amount of tech on board, with an 8,4-inch infotainment screen that offers Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Plenty of safety features such as adaptive cruise are fitted, and there’s even a system to help connect a trailer; yes, this car can tow, too. Performance isn’t the Trackhawk’s only trump card, though. It’s also likely to undercut slower rivals sue has the BMW X5 M, Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 and Porsche Cayenne Turbo, with prices starting from around £80,000.