Essentially, it’s two of the US’s motoring loves – large, comfy SUVs and raw, powerful muscle cars – mashed together to create a supercharged, supersized beast… that would still be practical for a school run. A potentially very quick school run, obviously.
The Hellcat produces a supercar-rivalling 697bhp and 645lb ft of torque at 4800rpm (a slight reduction on its use elsewhere due to a more restrictive exhaust), powered through an eight-speed automatic gearbox with a manual mode.
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With power to all four wheels, the Trackhawk can go from 0-60mph in 3.5sec and hit 100mph in 8.8sec. It has a claimed top speed of 180mph, which SRT says is determined purely by the vehicle’s aerodynamics; this is no wind tunnel-crafted sports car, remember.
We were only given a very brief ride in the Trackhawk, totalling a handful of laps of the Spring Mountain race circuit in Nevada. Clearly, that’s not enough time to draw any firm judgement – but it was enough to illustrate that the Trackhawk has been engineered well enough that it makes far more sense to drive than it does on paper.
For a start, it doesn’t feel as brutal as you’d expect from a car with a supercharged V8 engine stuck in the front. Sure, mash the pedal and there’s a satisfying growl and a whack of acceleration; but until you start to play with launch control – we’ll get to that in a bit – it’s far more manageable than you’d expect.
That’s not to say it isn’t quick: the Trackhawk certainly shifts and it’s when you get to the end of a straight that it challenges your preconceptions again. For a big, bulky SUV with a big, heavy V8 up front, it doesn’t feel cumbersome when cornering. It turns in well at speed, with little of the understeer you’d expect - credit to the independent front suspension, Bilstein dampers and other tweaks. And it maintains admirable stability through a sequence of corners. It’s never going to match a lightweight sports car, but it does offer a more involving experience than a heavy SUV has any right to. And, don’t forget, it would be far more practical than a lightweight sports car on a trip to Ikea.
It would be quicker out of the car park too, thanks to its launch control mode. The system, accessed through the same infotainment system that offers such SUV standards as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, uses clever alchemy to pre-position the supercharger bypass valve, effectively preloading it to build up torque – which it then delivers with a hefty whack, propelling you forward so fast that you’ll forget you’re in an SUV… at least until it’s time to brake.
Then there’s the more prosaic reason: our short test made it impossible to draw any firm conclusions, especially given we don’t yet know what tweaks will be made to the US spec when the Trackhawk reaches the UK around April or May next year.
Still, an all-too-brief outing was enough to highlight that the Trackhawk is a surprisingly serious – and actually quite refined – car rather than some terrifying mash-up. Serious, then, but still hugely enjoyable. Enough to make us excited to try it for a longer period.
Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk
Where Nevada, US; On sale mid-2018; Price TBC ($85,900 in the US); Engine 6166cc, V8, supercharged petrol; Power 697bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 645lb ft at 4800rpm; Gearbox 8-spd automatic; Kerbweight 2433kg; Top speed 180mph; 0-62mph 3.7sec; Fuel economy 20.4mpg; CO2 rating TBC; Rivals Bentley Bentayga W12, Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S, Range Rover Sport SVR