by Craig Duff
JEEP'S Grand Cherokee Trackhawk should be called the tomahawk. This is a heavy object to be thrown around and carve through everything it encounters.
When the 2.4-tonne SUV arrives in Australia in December it will do a hatchet job on its rivals to be easily the best value performance soft-roader on the road. And that's the caveat: this is one Grand Cherokee that was never intended to run off-road.
In the GC line-up, it's a bookend to the insane off-road Trailhawk, which will go where most Wrangler owners fear to roll.
The Trackhawk on the other hand will eat performance prestige SUVs. Fitting a supercharged 6.2-litre V8 (522kW/868Nm) transforms the Grand Cherokee from family-friendly SUV to frankly terrifying behemoth that hits 100km/h in a shove-you-into-the-seat 3.7 seconds.
Fiat Chrysler Australia has yet to announce pricing but, based on the US-spec cars and the fact Jeep will promote this vehicle as a bang-for-your-buck bargain, we can't see it being delivered in Australia for more than $140,000.
Bargain is a relative term when you're dealing with supercar levels of performance and the mechanical reinforcement and engineering development needed to ensure nothing breaks.
It will have Pirelli P-Zero tyres, 19-speaker Harman-Kardon audio, panoramic sunroof, Nappa leather interior and infotainment set-up with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity. The safety suite runs to adaptive cruise control, blind-spot and lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alerts and forward collision warning with crash mitigation.
With a four-digit PIN, the Trackhawk can be locked into valet mode, limiting the engine to 4000rpm, disabling the drive modes and launch control and locking out first gear on the eight-speed automatic, lest anyone is tempted to burn rubber on the way to the car park.
Jeep global head Mike Manley says the Trackhawk extends the capability of the GC range from the Rubicon to the racetrack
The Trackhawk doesn't advertise its performance credentials.
The massive yellow Brembo brake calipers are an obvious giveaway.
Get closer and a "Supercharged” decal now sits below the badge on the front doors, the front fog lights have been replaced with air vents to cool the engine and protruding at the rear is a quartet of four-inch exhaust tips.
Mirroring the marketing approach of European brands, FCA has announced a "Launch Edition” limited to 62 vehicles packing everything in the Grand Cherokee arsenal.
Think premium leather-wrapped interior, lightweight alloys (saving about 1.4kg on every corner over the regular 20-inch rims) and bespoke interior fitout including a dual-screen rear entertainment centre with DVD player. Also think a price of about $160,000.
ON THE ROAD
Stab the right foot in an urban environment and the risks run from the neighbours shunning you for wantonly disturbing the peace to the police stunning you by putting the Trackhawk on a truck for exceeding the speed limit by an obscene number.
Show some restraint and the Trackhawk won't ruffle anyone's feathers. Induction and exhaust noise is muted to modern civility standards.
Passengers will be surprised to find the hi-po Jeep rides as well as its lesser stablemates over potholes and lumps, the latter due to the versatility of the adaptive Bilstein dampers. They're supple in the standard auto drive mode and astonishingly stiff when set to track.
beyond varying the suspension, the drive modes affect steering, stability control, throttle and transmission response, along with adjusting how much torque is distributed to each axle. The default is 40-60 front to rear, the snow setting splits torque evenly and the tow mode - the Trackhawk is rated to haul 2949kg - sends 60 per cent to the front. Conversely, sport uses a 35-65 split and track sends 70 per cent to the rear.
The interior feels premium, if not quite as prestigious as more expensive rivals. That's fair enough, given the anticipated price difference.
ON THE TRACK
There were two telling issues at the newly opened Club Motorsports track in New Hampshire. The first was Jeep's faith in the robustness of the drivetrain.
Engineers encouraged the assembled media to perform as many "launch control” starts as they wanted, which meant some cars cranked out 10 runs to triple digits with little time in between.
We had three cracks and matched the claimed 3.7 second time on every run, so it's virtually idiot-proof.
Jeep expects US customers to take this car to the drag races, so the software enables owners to preset the starting revs via a display in the infotainment panel to allow for track temperature and traction.
The second was the regimen for keeping the brakes workable. The six track-use Trackhawks were rotated in groups of three for laps around the undulating, high-speed circuit. Each run involved a warm-up lap, a full-on charge and a cool-down loop.
The Trailhawk was nudging 200km/h on the front straight before being hauled down to 80km/h for the first corner. That process has the Jeep bucking and moving on the tyres and needs a touch of steering input to compensate.
Fast in, phenomenally fast out is the only way to drive the Trackhawk. Keep the accelerator nailed and the weight of the supercharged V8 pushes the SUV wide in the corners. Lift off a touch and the Jeep's back end steps out to boost turn in.
SRT vehicle dynamics boss Erich Heuchele says his team wanted to let the Jeep be "driven on the throttle” and they've succeeded.
There's nothing within $50,000 to match the Jeep Trackhawk for ferocity, SUV-style. The electric Tesla Model X P100d is faster but costs twice as much and reports indicate it doesn't appreciate multiple launches, a feat the Trackhawk accomplishes with ease. Likewise the Porsche Cayenne is better-balanced through the turns but the Jeep will make up for the cornering deficit as soon as the steering wheel straightens.
OTHERS TO CONSIDER
BMW X5 M, $197,910: The 4.4-litre V8 turbo (433kW/750Nm) is good for a 0-100km/h sprint of 4.2 secs. Quick but not quick enough.
Mercedes-Benz GLE 63, $193,211: Benz's 5.5-litre V8 turbo (430kW/760Nm) matches the BMW's sprint time but it is no match for the Jeep.
Porsche Cayenne Turbo S, $289,900: The pick of the prestige crop, the Porsche hits 100km/h in 4.1 seconds thanks to a 4.8-litre V8 turbo (419kW/800Nm).
AT A GLANCE
JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE TRACKHAWK
PRICE $140,000 (est)
WARRANTY 5 years/100,000km
ENGINE 6.2-litre V8 supercharged, 522kW/868Nm
SAFETY 5 stars, 6 airbags, AEB
FUEL 16L/100km (est)