2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk: Everything is better with 707 horsepower

Starting at $43,395

Jeep says the 2018 Grand Cherokee Trackhawk exists because customers asked for it. Yes, people wanted the 707-horsepower supercharged V8 engine from the Dodge Challenger and Charger Hellcat shoehorned into Jeep's popular SUV, and the world is a better place for it. 

It's better because I can sit on the front straight of New Hampshire's Club Motorsports track, engage launch control and in 3.5 seconds reach 60 mph behind the wheel of a near-5,400-pound vehicle. The exercise is simple, requiring little more than pressing the center console's "Launch" button, smashing the brake with the left foot and mashing of the throttle with the right. The engine rumbles and pops like a dragster, until letting off the brake unleashes a wave of furious torque to shoot the Grand Cherokee hard out of the hole. It is a grin-inducing experience.

If given a longer piece of straight real estate, the Trackhawk can cover the quarter-mile in 11.6 seconds at 116 mph. A really long stretch of pavement will see the five-passenger hauler reach a top speed of 180 mph. The downside is not-so-stellar EPA-estimated fuel economy of 11 mpg in the city and 17 mpg on the highway, but chances are that the people who want this high-horsepower brute don't care one bit.

The Trackhawk needs just 3.5 seconds to get to 60 mph.

Jon Wong/Roadshow

The eye-opening acceleration numbers are thanks mostly to the 6.2-liter supercharged V8 that required some repackaging to fit into the Grand Cherokee platform with a new air induction system, headers and oil sump. Upgrades to the fuel delivery system and low temperature cooling system are also new. The changes yield the same 707 horsepower, but a 645 pound-feet torque rating that's down 5 pound-feet compared to the Challenger and Charger Hellcat models, due to a slightly more restrictive exhaust.

To reliably channel all the power to the ground, the four-wheel-drive system is beefed up with a stronger transfer case, rear driveshaft, differential and half shafts. Time will tell how the hardware holds up, but none of the test cars broke or had launch control lockout because of overheating components during a half-hour of continuous abuse by car writers pretending to be drag racing legend John Force.

The Trackhawk isn't all about straight-line shenanigans, though. It corners with alarming composure for a hefty vehicle with a higher center of gravity. Club Motorsports is a daunting 2.5-mile road course built on rolling, wooded terrain with 250 feet of elevation change, lots off camber corners, and blind turns better suited for something like a Porsche 911 GT3. Thing is, the Jeep doesn't feel out of place here.

A Hellcat heart powers the Trackhawk.

Jon Wong/Roadshow

Gradual curves see the Trackhawk hunker down and carry a lot of momentum through on the optional 20-inch Pirelli P Zero tires (all-season Pirelli Scorpion Verdes are standard). The Bilstein adaptive suspension displays the only slightest roll in Track mode. Also in the Track setting, a 30-percent-front and 70-percent-rear torque split for the 4WD system helps scoot the tail around corners, along with firm and responsive steering to place the SUV where you want it on the circuit with relative ease.

Dropping into tighter turns with too much steam exposes understeer tendencies, but front-end bite is high, all things considered. Most every modern vehicle is built to understeer, because it's significantly more predictable than the rear end kicking out and heading wherever.

All the power is great for blasting up inclines and out of corners, but it's most apparent rocketing down a long front straight. A deep roar from the quad-tailpipe exhaust system accompanies rapid acceleration as the eight-speed automatic transmission rips off 160-millisecond gear changes that are noticeably rough.

The speedometer reads 120 mph before it's time to smash the left pedal to slow for the track's first turn. Six-piston front and four-piston rear Brembo brakes confidently kill speed, but initial weight transfer to the front causes the Grand Cherokee to get a little loosey-goosey, which is unsettling even for someone with a bit of track experience.

While perception-altering straight line speed and race track lapping performance will have future owners gloating to friends, the reality is that most Trackhawks will rarely be wrung out in those environments. Instead, they'll be prowling the streets, where a comfortable ride, well-trimmed cabin and technology features will keep families happy. The drivetrain's Auto mode brings smooth gearbox shifts, a continuously variable damping suspension that gobbles ups road imperfections and lighter steering for my leisurely ride on rural roads in Maine and New Hampshire, many of which feature painfully slow 30-mph speed limits.

Sport mode quickens trans shifts by 50 percent over Auto, enables paddle shifting, firms up the suspension and steering, and engages a slightly more aggressive rear-biased torque split compared to Auto's 40 front/60 rear split. The sharper drive character for an entertaining back road hustles, and still-good ride compliance is a pleasing middle ground between the Auto and Race detents for more enthusiastic street drives.

Bigger air dams for better cooling.

Jon Wong/Roadshow

To visually set the Trackhawk apart from regular Grand Cherokees, the front fascia gets bigger air dams for better cooling, a unique hood with dual vents, body-color wheel flares, a gloss black rear valence and, as you might expect, ample Trackhawk badges. The cabin receives a three-spoke flat bottom steering wheel, Nappa leather seats and chrome-and-carbon-fiber trim. A full leather-wrapped interior package is available for an even more premium look and feel inside the well-isolated confine.

Standard infotainment features include a Uconnect 4 system with an 8.4-inch center touchscreen that's responsive to commands and intuitive to work through to control navigation, Bluetooth and Performance Pages, which displays lap times and instant readouts for horsepower and torque. Uconnect 4 can also run both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for customers who prefer to hand infotainment controls over to their smartphones.

My test car is equipped with an optional 19-speaker Harman Kardon audio system that fills the air with great tunes during the drive route's slow slogs. There's an available dual-screen rear seat entertainment setup, too, which should keep the little ones in back entranced during road trips.

Uconnect 4 infotainment that's Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capable.

Jon Wong/Roadshow

Safety technologies such as adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring and lane-departure warning will also come in handy for road trips and are standard, as is forward collision warning that, to my relief, never triggers due to a false alarm during my 52-mile street drive.

When the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk hits dealers during the fourth quarter this year, it'll carry a base price of $86,995, which includes $1,095 for destination. It's not chump change, but it can be considered a deal when compared to the $112,345 Land Rover Range Rover Sport SVR with just 550 horsepower from its supercharged V8. The value argument gets stronger when cross-shopping it with the 570-horsepower Porsche Cayenne Turbo S that starts at $162,650.

So, if you're one of the people who bombarded Jeep with letters, emails, tweets or phone calls asking them to build the wildest Grand Cherokee to date, you've had your wish granted. The fact that it's a competent well-rounded vehicle that can scorch drag strips and road courses, and then turn around and be docile on the street, is the cherry on top of this high-horsepower sundae.

The world is a better place, indeed.

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