Outdated, but never outdone
THE GOOD
  • Overall outrageousness
  • Family-friendly
  • Tons of towing
THE BAD
  • Outdated interior
  • Expensive
  • Few competitive amenities

As I sit comfortably, nestled deep within the chesterfield-like recesses of the driver’s seat, the world rushing past on either side, it dawns on me: I shouldn’t be doing this. No, wait – I shouldn’t be able to do this.

For here I am, hurtling through the hot summer air like I’ve been shot from a cannon, reaching speeds at which Johnny Law would no doubt like to have more than a brief word, yet it feels so effortless. Loud? Sure. Slightly terrifying? Without a doubt. But it barely feels like the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is breaking a sweat.

Power: 10/10

Making this momentary pause for reflection possible in the first place is the supercharged 6.2L gorilla tucked inside this army-green suit. You’ve no doubt read about it at length and watched countless videos of Hellcat-powered cars racing everything from Teslas to Lamborghinis. It’s the old-school engine that half the world loves, and the other half loves to watch lose.

I happen to be firmly entrenched among the former, with few modern engines making me happier – modern, of course, being something of a stretch. As the rest of the industry turns to turbocharging en masse, this Hemi hearkens back to a time before emissions-cutting technology; there’s no cylinder deactivation or idle-stop here, just big power.

To generate the numbers it does – 707 hp and 645 lb-ft of torque, for those keeping score – the 6.2L comes with a massive twin-screw supercharger bolted to the top. While the engine’s bore is the same as the 6.4L motor that powers the SRT version of the Grand Cherokee, its stroke matches that of the popular 5.7L Hemi – a combination that’s supposed to boost the strength of internal components.

But back to that supercharger. Put simply, it’s massive, with a displacement of 2.4L – more than the average engine in a compact car. It’s addition by subtraction here, with about 80 hp needed to run the big blower in exchange for a few hundred horsepower, not to mention a bucketful of extra torque.

Driving Feel: 10/10

There’s no doubt in my mind that a more approachable application of such a maniacal motor has never been produced. To unfurl this kind of power shouldn’t be as easy as it is in the Trackhawk. Unlike the turbochargers used to amplify output in most super-sport utilities, the supercharger bolted to the top of the big V8 here results in unparalleled throttle response.

Automakers have had fantastic success reducing turbo lag – sticking the turbos between the cylinder banks in a so-called “Hot V” configuration has provided a big boost, both literally and figuratively – but it’s impossible to eliminate altogether since turbochargers need time to spool up before forcing more air into an engine. Auto writers like me often make a big deal about peak torque and how quickly it’s reached in a turbo motor; right around 2,200 rpm in the case of the BMW X5 M and X6 M twins. However, it’s a steep climb to get to that point, resulting in that momentary pause known as turbo lag until the torque arrives.

With a pulley-driven supercharger like the one under the Trackhawk’s hood, the effects of forced induction are swift. The blown V8 cranks out about 400 lb-ft of torque from barely a whisper – just 1,200 rpm, which isn’t much more than idle – and climbs steadily towards its 645 lb-ft peak at 4,800 rpm. It tapers off only slightly from there, delivering right around 600 lb-ft of torque all the way up to the 6,200 rpm redline.

Horsepower is the sexy number that’s splashed across banner ads and TV commercials, but torque is the stuff that matters most when it comes to acceleration. Since the Trackhawk sends torque to all four wheels, there’s no need to feather the throttle the way you would in the rear-wheel-drive Challenger or Charger powered by the same motor – just drop the hammer and go. Jeep says the rolling sprint to 100 km/h takes right around 3.5 seconds, which is insanely quick for any production vehicle, let alone an SUV that tips the scales at nearly 2,500 kg (5,512 lb).

You know that feeling when you’re strapped into a rollercoaster and the shoulder harness locks into place? The way all that excitement and nervous energy starts swirling around in your stomach, the chain click-clacking away beneath you as you climb that towering first hill? That’s the Trackhawk all the time. Quite frankly, if you’re not filled with just a little bit of that same kind of fear each and every time you’re behind the wheel, then the Trackhawk probably isn’t the right vehicle for you.

One would be forgiven for checking the door mirrors for the occasional nearby GM W-Body with a bad steering pump, so loud is the whine from the supercharger. I happen to like the high-pitch squeal, which acts like a deer whistle for would-be challengers, most of whom are wise to reconsider their approach upon closer inspection.

Of course, it takes two to tango, as the saying goes, and I found myself quite content to cruise within the confines of the law after some early kicks. Then again, doing so is a bit like using a pneumatic nail gun to hang your kid’s latest class picture. Translation: it’s overkill – like, way over.

For better or for worse, enjoying the Trackhawk the way it’s supposed to be isn’t difficult. Think of the average throttle pedal like a dimmer switch; turn the knob, control the brightness. In the Trackhawk, it’s like a conventional switch – either off or on. Modulating the pedal isn’t particularly easy since the torque kicks in so quickly, and the eight-speed automatic transmission snaps off shifts quicker than any manual could.

No sooner have you decided to dump more air and fuel into the engine at cruising altitude than the transmission has kicked down a cog or two, putting the powertrain in prime territory to launch the Trackhawk into the stratosphere. That it’s all-wheel drive also means the rear end won’t step out the way it can in the Challenger or Charger when you drop the hammer, though the torque split can be adjusted to taste. From 60/40 front-to-rear to a maximum 30/70 rear bias in track mode, it’s not just that the light switch is always ready to be flipped on – it’s that it’s always usable, too.

Go-fast parts aplenty, but there’s also more than enough stopping power here. Tucked behind the 20-inch wheels shod in extra-wide all-season Pirelli rubber – stickier Pirelli P-Zero performance tires are optional – are some of the biggest brakes around. Unique to the Trackhawk, 400-mm rotors up front are grabbed by six-piston calipers, while the 350-mm rotors in the back get four-piston calipers. No, you can’t option this grandest Cherokee with carbon-ceramic brakes, but your wallet will thank you. And besides, the binders do just fine when it’s time to slow the two-and-a-half-tonne road rocket.

True, the Trackhawk may not have the same sharp corner-carving abilities as rivals like BMW’s M twins, but it’s not far behind. If either one of those is like cutting through drywall with a reciprocating saw, the Trackhawk will gladly smash through it with a 20-lb sledgehammer. Not exactly precise, no, but certainly swift and effective.

The suspension setup is identical to the decidedly less diabolical SRT trim: there are adaptive dampers at all four corners, though ride height is fixed at 206 mm (8.1 in). It’s firm no matter the setting – Street, Sport, and Track – though the differences between them is immediately noticeable. It’s not the suspension gets altogether stiffer but rather the rebound rate is dialled up to the point of near nonexistence. I found myself sticking to the softest Street setting during my week-long test for the added compliance it offers.

Features: 8/10

Diving into the drive modes allows the very character of the Trackhawk to be fine-tuned suit the driver’s preference. Of course, there’s the self-evident Track mode that sets everything to their most maniacal levels, but those keen to explore their favourite settings can do so via the infotainment system. Prefer a softer suspension? Go ahead and pair it with track transmission and all-wheel drive mapping. (And while you’re at it, go ahead and set the steering to track, too; while responsive, the rack lacks adequate resistance even in its sharpest setting.)

Drive mode settings are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to interacting with the Trackhawk’s performance persona. There’s a rotary dial on the console to adjust the all-wheel drive torque split, as well as a button-activated launch control. Head back into the infotainment system to adjust the engine speed the system will maintain before taking off, or call up any of the various gauges to track horsepower, torque, or g-force in real time. The digital gauge cluster can also be configured to display some extra gauges – boost pressure, internal temperature – or launch and lap timers.

There are, of course, more conventional features to be found inside. The infotainment system, operated via an 8.4-inch touchscreen, runs the brand’s most up-to-date software, resulting in crisp graphics and good response. There’s also built-in Wi-Fi and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as heated and ventilated front seats, and a heated steering wheel and rear seats. My tester featured a bunch of pricey extras – upgraded leather, 19-speaker stereo, panoramic sunroof, rear-seat entertainment system – that I’d probably do without if for no other reason than to save the nearly $13,000 it all adds to total.

Despite the extensive leather package added to my tester, it can’t come close to any of its premium competitors in terms of luxury appointments. Outside of the infotainment system, it looks like any old Grand Cherokee built in the last 10 years inside – mostly because it is. At least the $95 red seat belts are a nice touch.

User Friendliness: 9/10

What the Trackhawk lacks in flash it makes up for with a disarming approachability. While some of the Trackhawk’s premium counterparts require a computer science degree to do just about anything, a Grade 8 education will do the trick here. The centre stack is adorned with chunky knobs and buttons, the infotainment system is as simple to use as any other on the market, and the rest of the controls are exactly where they should be. Want to activate launch control? It’s right behind the gear selector. Need to change the drive mode first? It’s adjacent to the launch control button!

Safety: 9/10

I’m generally a big advocate for automakers including advanced safety equipment in its vehicles, and this version of the Grand Cherokee certainly isn’t short of them. There’s everything from blind-spot monitoring to lane-keep assist, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and adaptive cruise control. Heck, there’s even a self-parking system that will pull into both perpendicular and parallel spots, and pull out of the latter.

Granted, it all works as advertised and doesn’t add any more to the price tag. But high-performance vehicles like this are the last place I want all the extra weight these systems and their associated components add. For that reason alone, I’d prefer to see Jeep offer the Trackhawk without those features. The seven standard airbags are, however, most welcome.

Fuel Economy: 1/10

Fuel consumption is as comical as playing with the throttle pedal itself. Every meme you’ve seen of a fist stuffing stacks of cash directly into the fuel filler applies here, with the Trackhawk burning premium-grade gas to the tune of a combined 17.7 L/100 km, according to Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). That’s by far the worst rating of any SUV in the federal agency’s fuel consumption guide, topping even the Lamborghini Urus. I managed to stay close to that number during testing, consuming 18.0 L/100 km over the 570 km I covered.

Practicality: 9/10

Of course, it’s unlikely that fuel consumption is leading your list of reasons to buy a Trackhawk. Outright utility probably isn’t a linchpin in the decision-making process either, but it easily could be. Looking to tow? The Trackhawk is rated to pull as much as any other V8-powered Grand Cherokee – a hilarious 3,266 kg (7,200 lb).

Inside, too, it’s as practical as any other two-row SUV of this size on the market. There’s more than enough room in the front and rear seats for a family of four (it is a Grand Cherokee, after all), never feeling cramped or crowded. However, it could stand to benefit from some extra space for personal items; the cubby in front of the gear selector is barely big enough for a wallet and a phone, while the console bin is surprisingly small – a problem only made worse by the optional DVD player in my tester.

When it’s time to head to the cottage, there’s plenty of space to stick a family’s worth of gear behind the back seats. The 1,028 L is similar to the Chevrolet Blazer‘s cargo hold and isn’t far off the five-passenger Toyota 4Runner – a sport utility that also comes in a three-row configuration. Fold the second row flat and the boxy area expands to 1,934 L, which remains competitive with the Blazer.

Styling: 9/10

That the Trackhawk can pull double duty – family hauler and drag-strip slayer – bleeds into the design as well. Sure, there are a few obvious change points; the bright yellow brake calipers and massive heat extractors in the hood are signs of what’s lurking beneath the sheet metal. But for the most part, it looks like any other Grand Cherokee.

Inside, too, it looks just like a conventional version – though here it’s a detriment. Without the optional seat belts and the launch control button, the only clue that this version of the Grand Cherokee is something special lies in the embossed Trackhawk wordmark on the front seats. Does it meet my expectations of a six-figure sport utility? Not even close.

Comfort: 8/10

The seats are comfortable in the same way your grandfather’s favourite armchair is. Sure, they’ll soak up hours of driving with few complaints, but they won’t do much to keep occupants from sliding around when the road starts to wind. Big, bulky, and bland, they lack any contouring or sporty bolstering. While any of the Trackhawk’s luxury adversaries offer seating that’s as stylish as it is supportive, these chairs miss on both marks.

When it comes to ride quality, the stiffness of the suspension does penalize comfort but not to the point of the Trackhawk being anywhere close to unbearable. It prefers rolling pavement to that of the broken variety, but it’s more than tolerable most of the time. Instead, it’s the low-profile nature of the 295-mm-wide tires that ensures just about every crack and crevice in the road is felt inside, while squeaks and rattles in the dash and door panels betray its six-figure asking price.

Value: 7/10

The Trackhawk’s cost conundrum is problematic for a couple of reasons. Forget any extras for just a second and focus on the starting price: at a shade less than $114,000 before fees and taxes are added, the Trackhawk carries a $35,000 premium over a Hellcat-powered Charger – the closest comparison given its interior accommodations and the fact it, too, is only offered with an automatic transmission. On the other end of the spectrum are the nine or 10 performance SUVs it competes with. Sure, most are more expensive, but they feel like they’re worth the price of admission by comparison. Adding insult to injury is the $3,000 gas-guzzler tax that’s added to the Trackhawk’s selling price. While warranted, it’s a significant chunk of extra change to account for.

The Verdict

Considering it costs almost as much as an X5 M Competition – or, in the case of my $134,000 tester, more than that badass BMW – the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk lacks the kind of cabin and amenities befitting of a six-figure super-sport utility. And that’s what I struggled with most both during and after a week together.

There’s little doubt that what you’re paying for here is an absolute thrill machine. The way your brain meets the back of your skull as the Trackhawk charges ahead is an experience that few vehicles can deliver. Fewer still add the type of aural sensation that comes from a supercharger the size of a briefcase and an exhaust this menacing. Whether I’d be willing to pay so much for that uniqueness is another story altogether, though.

Specifications

Engine Displacement 6.2L   Model Tested 2020 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk
Engine Cylinders Supercharged V8   Base Price $113,745
Peak Horsepower 707 hp @ 6,000 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 645 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm   Destination Fee $1,895
Fuel Economy 20.9 / 13.8 / 17.7 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $133,735
Cargo Space 1,028 / 1,934 L seats down  
Optional Equipment
$17,995 – Signature Leather Package, $6,995; Gas-Guzzler Tax, $3,000; Rear Seat Entertainment Package, $2,150; Harman/Kardon Stereo, $1,995; Dual Pane Sunroof, $1,695; Titanium Alloy Wheels, $995; Tow Package, $825; Green Metallic Paint, $245; Red Seat Belts, $95