There was a time when big money used to flow into big sedans. The bigger the better, in fact with crazy money chasing cars that defined wealth. Rolls-Royce built its marque on delivering cars that screamed ‘money’, while offering a silent ride. Sports car marques from England and Italy delivered just the opposite in terms of auditory pleasure – screaming cars that also declared that you had lots of money in your Playboy life.
But now it is the turn of the SUV, the vehicle that actually expands its acronym to Sports Utility Vehicle, to hunt down the tag of being the go to format for the well-heeled. And it didn’t take the coming of the Bentley Bentayga to do that. Marques like Range Rover, Porsche, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have well and truly chipped away at the task, so that you no longer are surprised when the next SUV lands up being the talk of the rich end of town – all you are looking for is the obligatory single digit numberplate on said utility vehicle.
This is where SUV powerhouse Jeep has found itself at a bit of a disadvantage. Everyone who ever enjoys the outdoors in the region is both familiar with and loves the Jeep Wrangler, whether stock, lifted, balloon-tyred or completely modified. Yes, they are even happy with the Unlimited. But the vehicle is everyone’s SUV. What about it can a moneyed buyer use to state about wealth?
The new age of attracting big money is built around standing out from the regular guys. And that’s something that the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is trying to do better than anyone else. Remember, it has a tough battle on its hands – for a start the regular Grand Cherokee with the 3.6-litre V6 engine is sold as a family SUV. An entry point around the US$45,000 mark does not need money, it just needs someone who wants a large and capable runabout. And standing out from that doesn’t become so much easier when you have the various ramp up options from there – 5.7-litre Hemi, R/T, SRT and even the Hellcat now. The problem is actually one of plenty – the Jeep Grand Cherokee fits your bill regardless of how much more money you can throw at it.
Which of course, brings us to the 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. It’s still on the WK2 platform that has brought us all the way from 2011. There really isn’t too much that you can fault the platform with – it offers space, a good planted attitude and can take the whole gamut of CJD performance engines. In the years, the basic backbone has been beefed up – now you get proper latest generation electronics and controls, the electronic driver assists are going up and the fuel efficiencies are still meeting their end of the bargain.
But the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is almost a SEMA custom mod that has been standardised. It fits in nicely with the brand’s two-pronged approach to performance. The Trailhawk badge sits on cars that are demonstrably superior on the off-road paths, while the Trackhawk is meant to sate your appetite for on-road excellence.
Visually, the Trackhawk GC is actually a little muted from the Hellcat version. The aim here is to create an identity but one that depends on matte finishes on the wheels, a dark undercurrent on the paint job and strictly functional use of additional air intake slots on the fascia. Even the four exhaust tips are strictly black on a surrounding black rear skid plate. If at all there is a sense of exuberance about the underlying powerhouse, it is visible on the contoured and purposed hood.
The interiors also move towards that middle ground of a slightly understated purpose. The IP still has the central tachometer based layout of a performance SUV, ala the SRT version of the car, although the IP is not so stark – the speedo sits as counter balance to the fuel and oil meters and the central screen uses the new generation 8.4″ screen with UConnect 4 and integral Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
There’s Trackhawk badging on the interior to match the rather loud signage on the front door panels of Grand Cherokee Supercharged, the badge is on the cutaway lower part of the steering wheel, on the seats and then you get the obligatory carbon-fibre look treatment around the cabin. But that is kept pretty minimal – there is actually less of an overt Sports interior on the Trackhawk.
The Trackhawk however gets an additional launch control mode button on the drive mode selector, albeit at the cost of looking just a little posterish – with its standing lights graphic.
The engine is the star of the show on the car – not so aggressive as to fall in the crate Hellcat engine variety, but with a tuning that makes the most of its 6.2-litre volume and supercharging. In the USA the engine is rated at 707 horsepower, however we are told that it falls to 700hp when sold in the Middle East region. The supercharging also offers a torque band that starts off rather low and holds through till the 4,000rpm level.
The engine had to be beefed up in order to take this level of supercharging – remember, it is a rather antiquated push-rod V8 design to start off with and every bit of technology that has been thrown at the engine over the years now allows it to offer a very sophisticated header and cylinder on demand to assuage the needs of fuel-efficiency.
Some of the takeaway technology in the engine include an induction-hardened forged steel crankshaft, a specially tuned crankshaft damper, powder forged connecting rods and carbon-coated piston pins.
And that’s before you check out the supercharger itself. Open the engine bay and you can see the size of the assembly sitting in between the V of the engine, partly necessitating the slight central bulge of the hood. The supercharger volume is 2,380cc and can take a maximum boost pressure of 11.6 psi. The twin screw rotors are coated with a combination of resins, teflon and nano wear-resistant particles that allows the screws to run really close. The supercharger is sealed for life and spins at up to 14,600rpm. This is on top of the large 92mm throttle body that maximises intake airflow.
The engine is cooled in a combination of high-pressure, high-flow oil cooling and a lower temperature air-cooling system that uses a heat exchanger to maximise the flow of heat.
The eight-speed TorqueFlite automatic gearbox is also beefed up to handle the higher torque output of 875Nm and combines with an electronic limited slip differential and a single-speed transfer case with a wider chain and sprocket assembly to handle the torque. This focus on handling the extra torque extends to the rear half-shafts that are made of ultra high strength 300M grade low alloy vacuum melted steel.
Our drive of the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk took place on a rather tight handling track in the hills around Las Vegas in Nevada. The Trackhawk is meant for the open road in as much as it has a curb weight just around 2.5-tons to match the huge power and torque on offer. We didn’t get that bit done, but had to limit our exuberance to two laps on what turned out to be a rather short circuit. And to top that, we had an over-zealous minder on board who didn’t mind throwing in a bit of unwanted steering correction as we took the Trackhawk around the track.
To begin with, the supercharged engine has the right sort of burble to it. It ramps up through the tonal range to deliver a full-throated roar around 4,000rpm. You can hit the 6,000rpm before you begin to get any hints of starvation and by then the roar has transcended into a scream.
Weight distribution is towards the front-wheels, although most of the power delivery is always on the rear axle ranging from 30:70 in track mode to 35:65 in sport and 40:60 in regular Auto mode. That is of course when you aren’t in launch control mode where everything including the kitchen sink is being thrown at the rear wheels. Track mode allows you to handle the weight shift on the rear by feathering the accelerator and powering in, if you lift off, you only aggravate the loss of grip. The Trackhawk sits on its haunches at full throttle and uses its adaptive damping to the fullest extent on corners and switchbacks.
Then you come to launch control. It has been designed for dummies by some of the smartest guys in town – after all you can’t get the joy of a drag strip Hellcat without knowing launch control. Activate the button, use both feet, hold the brake down and stomp really hard at the accelerator. You can hear the engine go through the aural spectrum we described and the body begin to rock and once you hit a decently high tach level just let go of the brake. Take off is seamless and we are pretty sure we hit the standing 100km/h in its rated 3.7 seconds. Both times. The whole idea is not to let the complexity of what’s going on underfloor and the irritating co-driver throw you off a smooth switch off the brake.
Jeep says that the process includes building up a torque reserve in the spool up by “pre-positioning the supercharger bypass valve to generate boost and minimise manifold filling time, while cutting fuelling to individual cylinders and managing spark timing”.
If you are really into powerful SUVs you cannot get much more power than that offered on the Trackhawk. However performance on the track isn’t that cutting edge ahead of anything. You can feel the weight of the SUV on the curves and while the combination of short and long arm front and multilink rear suspension tries hard to feel track like it has to battle the sheer bulk of the GC. We love the launch control and can see it being used by some free hearted souls at traffic lights in the region.
The main clincher is that despite targeting some real moneyed pockets, the Trackhawk gets a sub US$90,000 price tag in the US. That does not mean you will get the same deal out here in the region, but frankly you know exactly which SUVs you are taking on with that price band.
2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk
|Model||Grand Cherokee Trackhawk|
|Body style||SUV Uniframe|
|Length Width Height (mm)||4822 x 2154 x 1778|
|Engine||6.2-litre V8 Supercharged HEMI|
|Power HP@RPM||700 @ 6000|
|Torque Nm@RPM||875 @ 4800|
|Gearbox||8-speed TorqueFlite Auto with paddle shift|
|Fr Suspension||Short and Long arm with adaptive dampers|
|Rr Suspension||Multilink with adaptive dampers|
|Brakes||Front: Brembo six-piston directionally slotted, Rear: Brembo four-piston directionally slotted|
|Wheels||20 x 10 Alloys|
|Tyres||P295/45ZR20 Pirelli P-Zero|